Harley-Davidson Sales Drop, Layoffs Announced

Is this what President Trump had in mind when he praised H-D as a model of American manufacturing?

Harley-Davidson has forecasted a drop in sales as much as 8 percent, and its CEO, Matt Levatich, has announced “hourly employment reductions,” according to Bloomberg. The United Steelworkers confirmed 180 layoffs between H-D’s Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Kansas City, Missouri plants.

“Not long ago, President Trump hailed this company as a model of American manufacturing,” Mike Bolton, a district director for the United Steelworkers, said in a statement to Bloomberg. “Shortly thereafter, management announced plans to open production facilities in Thailand. Now we get word that 180 hard-working Americans will be losing their jobs.”

With fewer Americans buying motorcycles and the average age of Harley riders on the rise, H-D is looking to exports to supplement the slump in sales. 52.5 percent of all Harleys are sold outside the United States, according to the Milwaukee Business-Journal. Additionally, H-D plans to introduce 50 new models over the next five years—a tall order amid slumping sales and profits. Yet these new models, particularly smaller models like the Street series, are necessary not only to attract younger American riders but riders of all kinds where size, chrome, and noise don’t sell as well as smaller, more maneuverable bikes. 

The rest of the civilized world (and California) enjoy the freedom of lane splitting, which is far more difficult to do on a Street Glide than a Honda CBR300R. For this reason, as well as superior fuel economy, many people choose to commute on motorcycles rather than cars. Traditional Harley models aren’t well suited for overseas needs. They are also quite expensive, though H-D’s Thailand factory should help reduce costs in the Asian market.

While Harley-Davidson is reducing production, let’s hope that its design and engineering departments are working overtime to bring these new models into production. While there may be high-tech hidden under its classic styling, H-D needs to bring the rest of its bikes into the 21st century to remain competitive both domestically and abroad. While we’re not ready to call a death watch on H-D yet, we’re already starting to see what will happen if H-D doesn’t get with the times.