History of Harley Davidson

Harley-Davidson Inc. is a motorcycle manufacturer in the United States. Founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Harley-Davidson now offers a complete range of rider-inspired motorcycles and riding gear, including cruisers, touring motorcycles and electric bikes.

Harley-Davidson also offers motorcycle parts, accessories, riding gear and apparel under its Harley-Davidson MotorClothes® brand. The company markets its products worldwide.

Harley-Davidson dealerships are found in more than 100 countries on six continents. According to the 115th Anniversary Report of Company’s Inc., there were 118,931 Harley-Davidson motorcycles on the road as of August 31, 2017. In January 2014, Harley-Davidson announced that it would be closing its factory in Kansas City and transferring operations to York, Pennsylvania over a three year period ending December 2018. The first factory built outside the US was in Manaus Brazil; however due to economic downturn Brazil has been one of H-D’s worst markets. The second in Thailand has been more successful, and the third was announced to be India by 2020.

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company was founded on August 12, 1903 – when William S. Harley drew up plans for a prototype with a engine he dubbed “the Dragonfly”. Of four built, three are still known to exist.[4] The first two were given away to team members as presents,[5] one to his fiancée Violet Vanbever (Harley married her the next year), and one to tinker-turned-dealer Carl H. Lang.[6][7][8][9] It is unknown what happened to the fourth motorcycle, but it might have been sold or given away.

Harley-Davidson’s motorcycle namesake, the Harley-Davidson “Hog”, was born in 1905 with a V-twin engine followed by the Model D in 1906. The company produced only a few dozen motorcycles between 1903 and 1904 before manufacturing several hundred more after establishing an assembly line in 1908; then building over 10,000 units that same year.[10] By 1913, thousands of Harley-Davidsons were being ridden on roads and race tracks around the country.

In 1914, a Harley-Davidson was driven across the United States from Seattle to New York City in nine days, 14 hours and five minutes. And while production nearly stopped at the start of World War I (1914–18), demand for the motorcycles increased instead. Harley-Davidson produced more than 300,000 units in that war and nearly half a million during World War II (1939–45) – which made it the largest military motorcycle supplier of the time.[11][12]

In 1903, William S. Harley drew up plans for a small engine with lateral radiator cooling on each side of the front wheel. The engine’s designers, therefore, placed the spark plug in the center to allow an unobstructed airflow to both sides as opposed to positioning it off to one side or another where riders would run into issues with their knees and clothing hitting either arm of the carburetor; though this decision was later revised when developing its successor: the “Knucklehead” engine.[13]

The prototype “Runabout” motorbike was completed by Harley and his team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the summer of 1904. It was officially unveiled on September 17, 1904 at the Cycle Manufacturer’s Challenge Cup, a race held by the Wisconsin Motorcycle Manufacturers Association (WMMA) during the Chicago World’s Fair. This first machine differed from other motorcycles of its era because it cost $1000 ($22,321 today). The term “bob-tail” describes an early style without rear suspension that was changed in 1907 to incorporate the first spring fork; making this motorcycle also one of several predating BMW while its four-inch wheels make it unique among its predecessors when compared with those made by R. Otto & Son of Chicago.[14]

In February 1907, the company’s first factory opened in what would later be known as Davidsonville (now a part of Baltimore), Maryland. The company relocated to larger factory buildings in 1912 when they were sold to Harley-Davidson Inc. by David H. Walker.[15][16] It was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in June 1920 and became a publicly traded corporation ten years later listed on the American Stock Exchange and eventually becoming part of the S&P 500 Index until it was bought out by AMF in 1969 who merged with Carlton Co. in 1972.

The machine became so popular during World War I that riding clubs sprung up for soldiers to learn how to ride motorcycles.[17] These clubs were created by the thousands, and many members moved on to become motorcycle police in their cities and towns when they returned home. Most of the Harley-Davidsons produced during this time period were used for military purposes.[18]

Harley-Davidson had a reputation for its large engine displacement size compared to most other manufacturers in the United States. For example, an Indian with its 303 cu in (4.9 L) was seen as being a “little” larger than an HD with its 356 cu in (5.9 L) engine; thus it had more torque, power and speed at lower rpm.[citation needed]

After WWII, Harley dropped some of its models before reintroducing the Big Twin in 1948. In response to Indian’s offering of a new model for the police market, Harley introduced the “Knucklehead” in 1936 with an overhead-valve 60° V-twin motor.

By 1941, the company had sold 200,000 military motorcycles.[citation needed]

In 1966, Buell prewinder prototypes were built by Erik Buell on his own time and expense with assistance from Harley-Davidson engineers.[19] These machines evolved over several years into the production XR750 racing motorcycle that Harley-Davidson would produce beginning in 1969.[19][20] The XR series continued through 1994. American Machine & Foundry (AMF) purchased the Motor Company in 1969. In 1973, Harley-Davidson’s Milwaukee-Eight engine was introduced, the first of a series of new XR models built on the same platform.[21]

In 1988, AMF sold Harley-Davidson to a group of eleven investment firms led by Clayton Dubilier & Rice,[22][23] for about $813 million. They also received help from former president and CEO, Vaughn Beals, who guided the Motor Company back into profitability beginning in 1994.[24] During this period they went public again but kept their listing on the New York Stock Exchange until June 2006 when they switched to NASDAQ; less than five years later another private equity firm cut loose from the investment firms with an initial public offering of 13% of the company on June 22, 2011,[25][26] which was suggested as being under pressure from hedge fund investors to monetize on their investment.[27] At this time there were concerns expressed that Harley-Davidson did not do enough to retain its “heritage”.[28]

Harley also entered into an agreement with American Honda Motor Company Ltd. in 1999 to consolidate the production of high performance motorcycles by setting up a joint factory in Thailand called Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Asia Co. Ltd.[29] This venture produced mixed results for both companies due primarily to cultural differences between workers and executives.[30][31] For example, Harley expected workers at the plant in Thailand to have experience working at an automotive assembly plant, which many of them did not.

Harley-Davidson eventually realized its investment in the venture was not delivering the desired results and decided to sell most of it back to Honda.[32] By April 2009, the Motor Company had divested itself of all but a small percentage of ownership; fully exiting by late 2010.[33][34] Most production from this joint venture is sold in Asia. For some time after this business arrangement with Honda ended, Harley-Davidson continued producing two models for sale only in that market: the Fat Boy Lo and V-Rod Muscle, rebadged versions of their original bikes. These motorcycles remained available until July 2011,[35] before being discontinued without explanation on August 30, 2011.[36]

Harley-Davidson was one of the first American manufacturers to employ mass production techniques, which it began doing in 1913; two years before Ford Motor Company.[citation needed] They used an assembly line and other strategies very similar to Ford’s innovations. It built a large factory that opened in 1910, which was two-stories tall with extensive fireproofing,[2] safety features and measures aimed at reducing noise.[citation needed] The project that became this plant originated in 1904 as a joint venture between Harley-Davidson and the War Department; plans were made for a new facility to house production of motorcycles for military supply,[37] but when World War I broke out on July 28, 1914, instead being called upon to make engines for airplanes,[38] itself a new invention.[39][40]

1936 VL-powered Harley-Davidson XA

During World War II, Harley-Davidson was government-contracting to both the Allies and the Axis powers; initially they provided motorcycle components for the British Army,[41] but after that conflict erupted in Europe, it started making aircraft engines for the United States military. In addition, from 1942 until 1945, all motorcycles made by Harley-Davidson were converted into military style with front and rear bumper and large headlights that turned on when running lights were activated.[42] In 1941, an air raid destroyed much of their Gyroscope factory in Steubenville Ohio.[43] The United States government then prohibited the making of motorcycles due to their use in combat, so Harley-Davidson concentrated solely on making engines for military aircraft.[44]

Harley-Davidson produced 90% of all US military engines during World War II,[45][46] and was awarded two Army-Navy “E” Awards, one in 1943 and a second in 1944, which were made possible by its war plant being christened with an E.A.A (E for excellence) stamp; this plant went on to produce upwards of 70 million dollars worth of airplane engines during the course of the war effort—the most valuable defense contractor in America at the time.[47][48] (see also: Production figures). In addition, W.A. (Bill) Davis, Harley-Davidson’s engineering vice president at the time, was awarded a Medal for Merit for his work on precision machine tools that contributed to the war effort.[49]

In popular culture

The King and His Court at an awards dinner in 1967

Harley-Davidson has long been considered an emblem of “old America” by Europeans,[50][51] especially in Great Britain where antique American motorcycles are highly prized,[52] and often command prices exceeding 30 times those commanded by identical machines made postwar in Europe or Japan.[53][54] This romanticism is due partly because prior to World War II, European manufacturers were not able to compete with Harley-Davidson motorcycles sold in Europe.

Postwar, European manufacturers were able to produce competitive machines that outsold Harley-Davidson until the mid 1960s.[55] In his book, American Makers,[56] Russell Lynes writes: “Harley-Davidson offered riding comfort as well as power and speed…. To millions of riders around the world it represented America and everything that was good about a democratic society.” Its reputation for durability allowed owners to disregard some mechanical problems, and people living in rural areas would often rely on their motorcycles even when they lacked basic amenities like indoor plumbing.[2] This made Harley-Davidsons popular among farmers—the company’s founder once said, “A farmer is born behind every engine57s/58s.” Postwar, the company was able to move quickly into the motorcycle market once production resumed because of its established dealer network.

Harley-Davidson has sponsored many events, particularly in the Tourist Trophy Series and later for Formula One races.[57] It also sponsors or hosts various riding schools. The most famous is Harley-Davidson University founded by Willie G. Davidson in 1978. However, it was originally started by Bill Davis as “Davis’ Riding Academy” in 1948, and originally had a different objective than today’s school.[58][59] Upon founding Harley-Davidson University (H.D.U.), Willie G. stated that his goal was not only to see how fast riders could go on the track, but also to see how well riders understood their machines. Today H.D.U. is a full-fledged university that offers courses that examine the history of Harley-Davidson and motorcycle technology.[60]

In 1970, Willie G.’s friend and colleague at the Milwaukee plant, Horace “Cap” Houghlin,[61] founded “The League Of American Wheelmen” or (L.A.W.) Clubhouse at the original factory site as an after hours meeting place for men employed by the company, with approval from his superiors.[62][not in citation given] Today, Willie G.’s son Eric heads up The L A W Club which works together with local charities like The Salvation Army Angel Tree program, mentors at-risk youth, and gives assistance to local hospitals for children.[63][64]

In the 1990s, European manufacturers re-established Harley-Davidson’s image as an American brand. Two million Harleys are sold annually worldwide,[65] with a 60% market share in the U.S.A.[66] In addition to being a “status symbol” overseas, its customers include police departments in the U.S., such as New York City Police Department (NYPD).[67]

Harley Davidson motorcycles were used by British secret agents during World War II – known as ‘secret squirrels’ or SOE (Special Operation Executive), who were infiltrated into Nazi occupied France and trained in guerrilla warfare for missions behind enemy lines.[68]

Official histories maintain that during the 1980s, while focusing on increasing sales to baby boomers, Harley-Davidson ignored its middle-aged and older customers. The Japanese company Honda’s CB750 had been a motorcycle “game changer” in 1969,[69][70][71] attracting a new group of riders who came to be called “motorcycle commuters.” At that time, Harley-Davidson executives worried their core customer would be offended by this model with its comparatively low air cooled V four engine and unstreamlined solo seat, which was marketed to young people as well as other focus groups outside of their traditional customer base.[72] David Edwards argued the company should have focused instead on the traditional market and made a product for them. This would have kept the company’s core customer base happy and also ensured they did not lose market share to any competitors.[73]

Harley-Davidson announced an investment of approximately $25 million in June 2010 through 2011 into Canadian operations. The plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba is used for manufacturing Harley-Davidson Touring motorcycles and is expected to create as many as 200 new jobs at the facility before its expansion.[74] The company made a $50 million investment in the Springettsbury Township assembly plant to expand as well. Despite these investments, Harley-Davidson still plans on closing its assembly plants in York, Pennsylvania (current capacity 100 bikes/day) and Tomahawk, Wisconsin (current capacity 70 bikes/day) and moving to a new plant which was to be built in Thailand. The company has been criticized for its plans, especially in the face of increasing sales in America.[75]

According to industry observers, by mid-2008 Harley’s traditional US market share had fallen from 85% to 60%, its lowest level since 1990.[76][77] Despite an 8.9 percent increase in U.S. motorcycle sales from 2006–07, only 20% of those motorcycles were Harleys.[78][79] Sales dropped again by 4.2 percent in 2008 while other major manufacturers’ motorcycle sales grew; Harley’s domestic shipments declined 7.3 percent leading up to the financial crisis of 2007–08.[80] In 2009, major industry trade magazine Motorcycle and Powersports News reported that through 2008, Harley-Davidson had “lost more than 1 million US heavyweight motorcycle customers” since 1996.[81][82][83]

Harley-Davidson’s market share in the cruiser category slid from 74.5 percent in 2006 to 66.7 percent in 2012.[84] Despite strong support among its traditional customer base, a large part of Harley’s sales decline resulted from mainstream buyers’ rejection of cruisers,[85][86] which comprise the majority of sales for Harley-Davidson. A larger share of those sales went to Japanese manufacturers Honda (13%), Yamaha (12%), Kawasaki (6%) and Suzuki (5%). Still, cruisers made up almost two-thirds of all motorcycle sales in 1981 and just under half of all sales by 2008.[87]

In a 2006 New York Times article, Bill Wyman wrote that Harley is losing market share because the “trendy lines of the Yamaha V-Max and Honda Gold Wing are attracting young riders who see them as real motorcycles. Meanwhile traditionalists want more power, better handling and less chrome from their Harleys.”[88]

Harley introduced the VRSC (V-Rod) model line to compete with Japanese manufacturers’ higher spec bikes, creating a segment known as muscle bike. With 1,000 cc (61 cu in) or larger engines these were marketed as sport bikes for those wanting performance rather than the traditional Harley cruiser, which emphasize styling and tradition. The VRSC series has been a sales success for the company.[89][90]

Gilmore Schjeldahl of The New Yorker described criticism from “classic” enthusiasts as overblown; he noted that contemporary cruiser motorcycles use engines with overhead cams rather than valves operated directly off the pushrods and chaincase, have 6-speed transmissions (as opposed to four or five speeds), and can be equipped with anti-lock braking systems, belt final drives, and other improvements. Harley’s Sportster models were still made with 1,200 cc (71 cu in) engines while the Japanese cruisers had 1,500 cc (93 cu in) engines. As Japanese manufacturers used more expensive materials in their cruisers (e.g., handlebars and wheels replacing the metal ones on traditional Harley cruisers), they can be priced higher.[91]

Corporate culture, marketing and brand identity [ edit ]

Harley-Davidson’s corporate culture has long been representative of its working-class customer base, cultivating an image of “macho”, the company itself having long been referred to as a “doggle-wig” or “doggle wig”. In 1950, William S. Harley wrote to a friend, ‘We are not barroom boasters nor are we corner table poets.’ He concluded: ‘We like people who like motorcycles… We never yet have considered the potentialities of the ‘youth market’. We have had but one thought: build a better motorcycle. In that we have not been disappointed.”[92]

As U.S. President, Harley-Davidson often invited groups of small-town factory workers to his summer home for picnics, as he did in 1906.[93][94] The company remains family-owned and closely held. It is administrated by a board of directors with James Wm. Matthews serving as Chief Executive Officer (CEO).[95]

Unlike some other major companies, it does not have any dominant share holder or owners’ trust controlling the company.[96] While the Harley brand has long enjoyed high levels of customer loyalty, partly due to this unique structure, but also due to their brand loyalty, it has been criticized in the financial and sports sections of major newspapers for not paying any dividends.[97][98]

The company sponsors a highly successful family-oriented motorcycle riding academy teaching basic riding skills.[99] The H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) is an international organization that promotes unity among Harley owners.[100] There are more than 1 million factory-certified Harley riders in the world as of 2006.[101] Riders are often called Harleyists, or “HDs” (H.O.G. Dudes).[102][103] In some circles they are referred to as “Harlies”. Members of this group can be seen wearing black-and-white “club colors” of the Harley Owners Group, or HOG for short.

Harley-Davidson has had an official mascot named “Project RUSHMORE”, a skull wearing sunglasses and riding a Harley motorcycle.[104][105] Also commonly seen are the words Live to ride written on rear vehicle mudflaps, windshields and elsewhere. This slogan is not only used by Harley riders but also Jeep enthusiasts/owners to symbolize their love of the open road. The company’s headquarters complex in Milwaukee has been nicknamed ‘Harleyville’ by locals.[106]

In 2010, as part of its 115th anniversary celebration, Harley-Davidson opened nine temporary storefronts around the U.S., where customers could interact with Harley owners and customize their bikes. Each storefront featured a show bike built by the company’s Wauwatosa, Wis., factory, as well as artwork created by local tattoo artists.[107]

In October 2013, Harley-Davidson released an advertisement campaign entitled “Hog Heaven” that was criticized for its portrayal of India. Harleys have never been officially sold in India and critics said that the ad perpetuated negative stereotypes about India’s roads and traffic which are widely reported to be chaotic.[108][109][110] In February 2014, Harley-Davidson issued an apology letter due to this controversy.[111] Despite this apology, sales fell 14 percent during the last three months of 2013 compared to the previous year. The decline continued the following quarter, when Harley’s worldwide revenues fell 9%.[112]

The company headquarters in Milwaukee is also known as “Harley-Davidson Museum”, and has a display of Harleys dating back to 1903. The museum also features exhibits that showcase the history and culture of motorcycling. Ten galleries total more than 1,300 square feet (120 m2) including one gallery dedicated to women in motorcycling and another focused on motorcycling in movies.[113] Admission is free for visitors 12 years or older.[114]

In October 2014, Harley-Davidson opened Menomonee Valley Operations (MVOP) Center,[115][116] with an initial estimated investment of $100M over the next 10 years.[117]

In September 2017, Harley-Davidson donated $5 million to help construct a 130,000 square foot museum in Milwaukee dedicated to telling the story of Milwaukee’s role as America’s birthplace for motorcycling.[118] The future National Museum of American Motorcycle History will also showcase some of Harley-Davidson’s current and former bikes. The company estimates that it will serve 4 million guests annually and create 500 jobs during its planning phases.[119][120] Groundbreaking is expected in 2018 with plans to open in 2020.

Harley-Davidson operates a temporary retail store in downtown Milan, Italy for its customers and potential customers while the full operations are being relocated from Bresso near Milan to Papenburg, Germany.[121][122]

In 2017, the company has signed sponsorship deals with musical groups such as Coldplay and Maroon 5. In the same year they also announced a partnership with Apollo Tyres for two years in India.[123]

Between 2018-2025 Harley Davidson will be working on a new electric motorcycle that will be called LiveWire. The motorcycle is estimated to have a range of 130 mile (210 km) on one charge due to the lithium battery pack built into the bike. It is set to compete against already established electric motorcycles from Zero Motorcycles and Mission Motors. [124]The retail price of this model went up significantly in 2018 thus making it unavailable for purchase by most buyers other than affluent individuals.

The retail price of this model went up significantly in 2018 thus making it unavailable for purchase by most buyers other than affluent individuals. In October 2018, the company announced plans to utilize current and former manufacturing facilities in Europe to assemble motorcycles for sale in the United States and elsewhere beginning as early as 2020.[125]

On November 14, 2018 Harley Davidson opened a new production plant near Kansas City, Missouri with an initial investment of $750M over 5 years from 2019 through 2023.[126] The Kansas City Plant will have flexible manufacturing capabilities for assembling Harley-Davidson motorcycles available exclusively in North America and additional models exported globally from India. It is estimated that this move will create 400 high skilled jobs which will be filled from the local area and retain 800 jobs from Harley-Davidson’s plant in York, Pennsylvania.

Since 2004, the company has been producing a Police version of their motorcycles that is designed for police use.[127] The bikes are stripped of chrome features and have sirens, computers and radios pre-installed or integrated into the motorcycle itself. Carscoops reported, “The factory upgrades also include beefed-up suspension to handle the added weight of accessories such as lights, sirens and radios.”[128] In 2013 there was an investment of $15 million by Wisconsin taxpayers to help train workers for positions at Harley Davidson’s new factory in Kansas City with 100% tax credits. That year it was announced that these plans would be put on hold as the company experienced an 8.3% decrease in worldwide retail sales for 2013. Then CEO, Matt Levatich announced that a smaller version of the bike would help with future growth and development.[129]

In October 2017 Harley Davidson formally announced plans to close its Kansas City plant which was around 6 years old at the time with no replacement facility planned initially.[130][131][132] The following year it was reported the company had invested in a new project building a 540,000 square foot manufacturing facility near Bawal, India with plans to build 500 jobs. This move is expected to reduce shipping costs overseas by roughly $2 million per year while also reducing trade tensions due to President Trump’s policy changes against international trading partners.[133]

When Harley-Davidson announced they were closing their plant in Kansas City, Kansas the former employees of this facility started a Facebook group called “Save Our Bikes” that has over 20,000 members.[134] This group provides information to Harley owners about topics such as why employee layoffs are taking place and what can be done about it.

On June 13, 2018 President Trump hosted a White House dinner for some Harley Davidson motorcycle company executives and union leaders at which he made comments regarding the potential closure of their manufacturing facility in Missouri.[135][136][137] The following day Bloomberg reported that the company’s chief executive officer Matt Levatich said U.S. tariffs could have unintended consequences on its international business as motorcycles will be subject to a 31% tariff. Levatich said “The tremendous cost increase, if passed onto its dealers and retail customers, would have an immediate and lasting detrimental impact to its business in the region, reducing customer access to Harley-Davidson products and negatively impacting the sustainability of its dealers’ businesses. Therefore, Harley-Davidson will not raise prices to Dealers beyond what they already expect for the remainder of 2018.”[138][139]

On June 25 it was announced that President Trump met with executives from the company following increasing backlash after his comments regarding tariffs earlier this month.[140][141] Following these talks Harley Davidson released a statement noting “We are encouraged by the dialogue with President Trump and (trade) officials … We will continue to advocate for global opportunity.” The company also announced they will build a new factory in Thailand citing positive potential export opportunities while having no effect on U.S. jobs.[142] WCCO-TV reported that this move has nothing to do with President Trump’s comments, stating that the company planned to make overseas plans since 2012 and pre-dates his presidency by four years.[143] According to Harley Davidson spokesman Michael Pflughoeft “Harley-Davidson either had plants built or was planning factories in India, Brazil and Thailand well before Mr. Trump’s surprise victory.”[144]

CNN reported that although the company notes they’ve seen an 11% increase in motorcycle sales compared from last year there is uncertainty as of June 29 2018 whether the company will be able to make a significant profit from sales and continue its growth.[145][146]

Employees [ edit ]

Workers go through an intensive training before working on production floors. Motorcycles are built in one of two plants, York, Pennsylvania, or Kansas City, Missouri; engine manufacturing occurs at the Milwaukee plant. All motorcycles produced by Harley-Davidson have been assembled in the United States since 2009.[147] The only models that were made overseas (assembled from complete knock down kits) were sold in certain markets such as India due to tariff structure implemented by that government.[148] In January 1997, 13 union leaders at the Tomahawk plant near Milwaukee chose to have their wages cut by up to 23% after the plant was threatened with closure by the parent company, for a period of two years.[149] In 1999, Harley-Davidson closed its York, Pennsylvania assembly plant. The Milwaukee-made engines were shipped to York for final assembly and cabling.[150]

A dispute arose in 2004 between management and organized labor when the company announced plans to close its motorcycle assembly plant in Kansas City, Missouri , where it had been headquartered since 1919; while in 2007 all engine manufacturing also migrated away from Wisconsin. Production of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles is now based overseas in Australia India , and Brazil . The effect of these changes has led some critics to refer to the company as “Harley-Davidsonorporated.” Meanwhile, Harley-Davidson remains the top seller of heavyweight motorcycles in the world, with 40% market share.

Harley-Davidson is an example of an American manufacturer that was able to survive by adopting lean manufacturing techniques.[151] Unionized labor has also proven to be a stumbling block for the company economically and culturally; during World War II , when its military contract ended, it failed to diversify and modernize.[152] However, on July 15 2014 union workers voted against going on strike. The vote came after contract talks stalled between Harley-Davidson Inc., and the groups representing machinists union members at two factories in Wisconsin. The outcome was announced just hours before some 400 union members were set to walk off their jobs and begin protesting outside the company’s headquarters in Milwaukee.[153]

Sales [ edit ]

Harley-Davidson stated that 2011 sales were flat at U.S. dealerships, with the number of new customers down by 70,000 to 1.1 million.[154][155] The 2005 to 2010 period saw Harley-Davidson struggle against strong competition from Japanese manufacturers; however, the Japanese suffered from lower fuel prices throughout this time, whereas Harley-Davidson had high fuel costs due to its large engine displacement (and hence poor fuel economy). A more positive selling point was also introduced for the competing models: they were made in Japan (which has a reputation worldwide for well-made products) where Harley-Davidson, as well as other U.S. manufacturers, were not producing their bikes at the time.[156]

In 2010 Harley-Davidson lost its title of top heavyweight motorcycle seller in the world to Honda . By 2013 it had also been overtaken by Yamaha . Its global sales fell 3 percent that year.[157] In 2011 Indian manufacturer Hero Group replaced Harley Davidson as the largest producer of motorcycles in India with an 11% market share.[158] Worldwide in 2012, Harley-Davidson’s market share was 4.5%, down from 6.2% in 2002.[159][160] Although revenues continued to rise throughout this period,[161] so did costs; labor costs had increased 40% and material costs had risen nearly 50% from 2006 to 2011.[162] At the same time, the company had significant cost-cutting pressures and reduced output due its manufacturing moving offshore.[163][164]

As of December 31, 2014,[165][166] Harley-Davidson’s worldwide retail sales were 38,776 motorcycles compared to 46,535 in 2013. The top five markets for year-end retail sales were U.S. Flat (down 1%), Canada (up 2%), Mexico (up 6%), India (no change), and Thailand (up 41%). In 2014 a total of 874 new dealerships opened and closed globally. Total global revenue was $6.5 billion with $170 million in profit.[167] Harley Davidson has lost market share in the US market to Indian, Japanese and other manufacturers.[168]

Harley-Davidson’s major competitors include Triumph Motorcycles, Ducati, Honda, BMW , KTM , Moto Guzzi (owned by Piaggio ), Kawasaki and Yamaha . In the U.S., however, as of 2002 Harley-Davidson also faced competition from Victory Motorcycles a subsidiary of Polaris Industries that was founded in 1997. Harley Davidson has also been criticized for not being environmentally friendly due to its gas guzzlers. However it has made a push in recent years to have lower emissions.[169] This is still not enough for all Harley fans who are trying to convince the company that there is more money in going green than in having a product that is all about the gas guzzlers.

In 2013, for the first time in more than a decade Harley-Davidson had a year of positive growth in its U.S. market.[167] Sales rose 3% for the year to 188,923 motorcycles from 181,692 in 2012. In 2014 Harley-Davidson Inc saw its US revenues grow by 2.4% to $6 billion with net income attributable to HOG increasing by 7% over the previous year to $853 million . This was attributed partly to new product offerings and also due partly to lower costs related to manufacturing operations as the company has been outsourcing production offshore.[170] At this time, global revenue was $6.5 billion although it has been falling for several years .

In 2015, Harley-Davidson plans to close two manufacturing facilities in Kansas City and Manaus. The former is a consolidation of work being done at the company’s plant in York, Pennsylvania.[171] The closure of the Kansas City factory will result in about 260 full-time employees losing their jobs.[172] In 2017, there were talks with Polaris Industries about removing itself from the American stock market which would protect it from activist investors that are calling on Harley Davidson to shift its production offshore and reduce costs.[173][174][175]

The company sold nearly 40,000 motorcycles during the first nine months of 2016, an increase of 4% over the same period in 2015. According to industry analysts, the gains came as the 100th Anniversary of Harley-Davidson was approaching.[176]

By December 2016, analysts were beginning to note a possible decline in interest in Harley Davidson motorcycles. As an example, during the week of Black Friday 2016 there was very little promotional activity from dealers for new bike sales but multiple promotions on used bikes.[177] For 2017 total motorcycle unit sales declined 7.5% over the previous year to 48,535 units as international markets were impacted by currency exchange rates and weak consumer spending .This followed three consecutive years of growth since 2013 . The company declined to comment on whether this would continue into 2018.[178][179]

For 2017 total revenues declined 3% to $5.9 billion while operating income fell 24% to $873 million. The results include restructuring charges and changes in foreign currency exchange rates. Sales declined again in 2018 despite a new model line.[180]

In 1998 Harley-Davidson sued Chrysler for trademark infringement after Chrysler introduced the “Viper Harlequin” edition Dodge Vipers which featured a black and orange paint scheme similar to Harley’s . David Sokol , chief financial officer of EDS, was quoted as saying that had it not been for the lawsuit Harley Davidson would have ended up with only about 20% of its current market share.[181][182]

Harley-Davidson was criticized by some law enforcement officials over their costs associated with sound silencing on touring motorcycles.[183][184] However, Harley-Davidson pointed out that cost of sound silencers was a drop in comparison to the general cost of each bike.[185] In 1998, two police organizations filed complaints with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) seeking an investigation into whether Harley Davidson violated antitrust laws. The DOJ took no action on either complaint.

Harley has also been sued by some states for not meeting state emission standards for motorcycles. The company recently agreed to pay $12 million to settle a class action suit brought by owners of its touring bikes . Owners claimed the engines’ catalytic converters did not function properly and resulted in higher emissions than allowed by law in certain states.[186][187] Another class action lawsuit is currently pending in the state of Minnesota.[188] Harley-Davidson denies any wrongdoing and has stated that it will vigorously defend itself in court.

In March 2003, Microsoft sued Harley-Davidson over claims that its trademark HOGs hog is an acronym for Harlequin Operation Group . The company owns the “Harley-Davidson Winks” series of cartoons which use the phrase (e.g., ), and markets them on video and DVD . In April 2003, a U.S. District judge ordered the software giant to stop marketing products using the term Harley-Davidson after finding they violated Harley’s trademark rights.[189][190] However, Microsoft won on appeal in 2006 when a federal appeals panel ruled that there was no evidence to show that Harley-Davidson hadn’t created the term.[191]

In mid-July 2008, Harley invited its U.S. dealerships to build and display Electra Glide trikes as a tribute to founder William Harley . They were asked in particular to display them on Friday , July 18 – the 99th anniversary of his birth, coinciding with the company’s annual dealership meeting in Milwaukee . The project was called “Bringing it Home”, which is also the name of an advertising campaign expected to begin at or about that time. Pictures of these displays appeared on Harley Davidson’s website <http://www.harley-davidson.com/en_US/Community/Projects>. It has been rumored that a limited number of Electra Glide trikes will be sold to the general public later in 2008.

On June 5, 2009 , Harley-Davidson announced that it would close its factory in York, Pennsylvania . This move resulted in 220 lost jobs at the plant and 800 more within local dealerships.[192] The manufacturing plant closed on August 31, 2009 . In a statement Harley-Davidson said “The decision to end motorcycle production at this site is consistent with our objective to become … more agile and responsive to changing consumer demand.” Some motorcycle parts will continue to be manufactured there.[193]

In January 2018, Harley Davidson announced that it would transfer much of its European business based in Italy (Milano) to an assembly plant in Thailand.[194]

Harley-Davidson forbids its employees from using the terms “hog” and “hogshead” in official communications. Employees who work on Harley motorcycles are required to use the proper terms (such as Big Twin or Sportster ).[] The company has a similar policy regarding the names of motorcycle parts, referring to them as either Big Twin or Sportster components.[195][196] At times, these policies have been controversial among both dealers and riders. For example, owners sometimes retrofit their bikes with non-approved accessories; this can cause problems if owners seek replacement parts directly from Harley-Davidson since they will assume that all authorized parts must fit properly. Some dealers cannot obtain inventory for res because they use the wrong terminology to order parts.[]

In 2008, Harley-Davidson changed the design of its Twin Cam 88 engines (used in both touring and softail motorcycles) due to an issue with crankshaft failures. The redesigned engine has a crankpin that is supported by three bearings instead of two, and uses Smart Oil Control System; previously only used in the high output Screaming Eagles.[197][198]

Harley Davidson has been criticized for its distribution strategy in India. The company announced plans to sell 100 bikes from August 2011 through select dealerships but did not give any further information on product availability or pricing.[199][200] In February 2012, HDI launched HOG to be sold at Rs. 1.5 crore . At the same time, HDI launched HOG to be sold at Rs. 3.4 lakh which is completely out of reach of 90% Indians who are first time two wheeler buyers.[201] The company does not have any plans in place for assembling bikes in India.

On March 16, 2016, Harley-Davidson announced it would close its assembly plant in Kansas City , Missouri due to a competitive market and manufacturing costs.[202][203]

In 2017, Harley released an electric motorcycle named LiveWire . This was followed by the production of other electric models beginning in 2018 with a “streetfighter” style model called Street Rod .[] In 2019, Harley will release the Pan America adventure touring model. This model will come standard with a front fairing, a seperate saddle bag and hard luggage among other things. A two-model semi-electric touring lineup is planned for 2020.[204] In total, Harley plans to have 50 new models of electric vehicles by 2027.[205] Harley has been criticized over its decision to produce electric motorcycles as opposed to smaller capacity internal combustion engined bikes that may be more suitable to developing markets.[206]

Harley Davidson was the first company in the world to equip all production models with anti-lock brakes . The system is called ABS (Anti-Lock Breaking System) and it was developed jointly by H-D and Bendix . Until recently, however, Harley’s implementation used standard hydraulic brake lines and conventional steel-braided brake hoses – a system that, despite its sophistication in other respects, is fundamentally outdated. This was because the cost of an all-metal brake line adequate to handle the pressures developed by modern brakes had proven prohibitive. A stainless steel braided line strong enough to resist bursting from internal pressure would have been both very expensive and heavy.

In 2006, Harley announced that it would install its proprietary blended aluminum/magnesium alloy “Benelli M-Steel” twin spar frame on all touring models as well as CVO bikes with detachable fairings between mid-2007 and late 2008.[207] The new frame will replace the EL technology used previously by H-D. ISO Stewart Stud Welding produced the M-Steel frame for Harley in its Cleveland, OH factory. This followed long development and testing.[208][209]

Starting with the 2008 model year, all models were equipped with ABS brakes as standard equipment.[207] The company first introduced anti-lock disc brakes on an experimental basis in 1998 and has been using them on Softails since 2002 and Dynas since 2003. Although most of its competitors have adopted similar braking systems, Harley’s implementation is distinctive due to the use of a conventional hydraulic brake master cylinder instead of more advanced (and expensive) dual channel fluid/hydraulic master cylinders used by others. A motorcycle rider can bleed the front and rear brake lines separately through a one-way bleeder valve built into the caliper to equalize line pressure. In addition, even when the front and rear brakes are applied simultaneously, disc locking is not possible because the hydraulic fluid in each circuit operates at different temperatures.[]

In 2015 H-D introduced a new frame design that was lighter and stronger than the EL based design it replaced. The new chassis also incorporated a rubber mounted engine with associated vibration isolation components.[210][211] Dealer motorcycles built after 2017 are now being produced on this updated platform with further components planned for an update in 2020.[212][213][214] The revised suspension, braking system and wheels all work together to offer better handling over previous models.[215] All Harley-Davidson touring models now use tubeless radial tires as standard.[216][217]

As of 2019, Harley-Davidson has undergone two main corporate restructurings: the first occurred in 1969 (Harley-Davidson Motor Company became AmericanMotor Corporation ), and the second was a bankruptcy reorganization in 1984.[218] In 1999, The Parts Group subsidiary was created to sell parts directly to customers through authorized dealers; it now operates as an independent company within Harley-Davidson.[219]

In January 2008, Harley-Davidson announced that Mark-Hans Richer would be appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) effective July 1, then CEO later in 2008. This came after previous COO Keith Wandell resigned from his position in December 2007.[220] A few months later, on June 5, 2008, Richer was named President and CEO. He immediately set out to revise the company’s product lineup to boost sales, stating that Harley-Davidson will discontinue production of certain models in order to funnel resources into the Street family of motorcycles.[221] He also wished to return the Roadster (a concept model that had been unveiled a few months earlier) to production status.[222]

In an effort to protect its U.S. market share,[223] Harley-Davidson announced plans in April 2009 to build a factory in Thailand for complete motorcycles destined for distribution throughout Southeast Asia.[224][225][226][227] The Thai plant is expected to produce 20,000 bikes a year by late 2011, with production possibly expanding to 50,000 a year later on.[228][229] Harley-Davidson stock fell 10% in the two weeks after the announcement; it had risen 36 percent in 2008.[230]

On August 12, 2009, in an effort to save costs due to declining sales and low profit margins from retail operations,[231] Harley announced plans to close its motorcycle assembly plant in Kansas City , Missouri , which employed around 700 workers. At the same time it would open a new assembly plant in York, Pennsylvania . The move is expected generate cost savings of $30 million annually by 2012.[232][233][234] In February 2010 it was announced that about 250 union employees will be laid off at the York facility by September 2010.[235] Following the Kansas City factory closure, Harley-Davidson began manufacturing motorcycles at a new plant in India . Some industry analysts have suggested this move may presage future expansion into other low cost manufacturing countries.[236][237]

On February 1, 2013, Keith Wandell announced he would retire as CEO by June 2013 and remain until December 31, 2013 as non-executive chairman of the board. The former COO Matt Levatich was appointed CEO on May 8, 2013.[238][239] In January 2016 Scott Douglas succeeded Levatich as President and COO; Mark-Hans Richer continued to serve as Chairman and CEO,[240] a position he had held since 2008 following his appointment that year as COO.

In January 2018, the company announced plans to close its factory in Kansas City in 2019 with the loss of 800 jobs.[241]

Labor relations at Harley-Davidson date from 1914 when five workers were dismissed for attempting to organize a union . The Motor Company responded by locking out its entire workforce except for a few watchmen, and rotating shift work was begun at the plant.[242] This dispute is famous becauseBig Bill Haywood and two other Wobblies (IWW or “Wobbly”) leaders were arrested while speaking on behalf of the locked-out workers, their trial became a cause célèbre among left-wing sympathizers, and they were later acquitted.[242][243] After the acquittals, Haywood, George Speed, and Guy Miller toured the country giving speeches on labor reform .

In 1936 the company was hit with another wave of unionization attempts prompted largely by a desire to secure wage increases during the Great Depression . This time Harley-Davidson hired attorney Emil G. Kieckhaefer (later a U.S. Senator) who systematically broke the United Motor Workers Union by getting rid of union leaders one by one; he also appealed to patriotism , warning that workers would lose production bonuses if they joined unions.[244][245] Kieckhaefer’s anti-union campaign succeeded in blocking union organizing for almost two decades until after World War II , when servicemen returning from the war flocked to the UAW . In response, the Motor Company agreed to recognize unions , instituted a six-day, 40-hour workweek and paid vacations.[242][246] The latter two concessions were seen by many historians as leading directly to Harley-Davidson’s fall from domination of the motorcycle industry in subsequent years.

Labor relations between workers and management have been stable since that time according to an article by David L. Lewis published on October 20, 1986 in The New York Times where he states “Harley has become something of a hallowed name among blue collar workers.”[247] Despite this positive relationship between labor and management there have been at least three instances involving unionization attempts. One such situation occurred when employees at the Harley-Davidson plant in York, Pennsylvania attempted to unionize the workforce. This was met with strong opposition by management. According to a company spokesman:

“We are constantly looking at ways to make our work environment better for our employees,” said Mark Smith, general manager of the factory. “But we feel this would not be good for our business right now.” [248]

The attempts at organizing failed when members of International Association of Machinists District 10 voted against joining the United Steelworkers Union by a tally of 2,253 to 1,311.[249] Additionally, there have been two occasions where the entire Harley-Davidson production line has gone on strike . The first was in 1972 when workers at motorcycle plants in Kansas City and York went on strike for better pay, benefits and working conditions. The second was in 1983 when workers at the company’s plant in Tomahawk walked off the job to protest layoffs stemming from a drop in demand following a severe recession .

In 1978 , Harley-Davidson surprised the industry by introducing the XLCR Sportster Custom (designated model XLCH) with optional fairing . Two years later they followed up with new options: hard saddlebags, luggage rack, backrest, windshield , trunk and heavy-duty suspension.[250] In 1984 , the FXRT Sport Glide tire variant (designated model FLT) was introduced as well. These “touring” models were joined in 1985 by the FXRP Low Rider (FLHX), XLCR Screamin’ Eagle, and FXLT Low. Also in 1985, Harley-Davidson introduced the 1340 cc (74 cu in) watercooled V-twin Evolution engine to replace the Shovelhead.[251] This new powerplant featured an overhead cam instead of a pushrod , was liquid cooled and incorporated electronic ignition .

In 1993 Harley-Davidson made changes to the Sportster line by expanding it into styles such as Fat Boys , Fat Girls, XL 1200C Custom , XL 883L Low and eventually even XR 1200 Sportsters . In addition in 1987 they introduced the Super Glide II for $2,699 that included anti-lock brakes