Thursday, March 5, 2009

Harley - Is Image Enough?


Reading the paper this morning I see the predicted demise of GM despite it's recent infusion of bailout capital and my thoughts turn to our home-grown motorcycle, Harley-Davidson. The iconic manufacturer of the "American" motorcycle has fallen into the same quagmire that sucks the auto giants down and could also stand an infusion of capital to stay afloat. It's not the first time, and I'll bet they survive, though will they emerge a different company?

The buzz talk seems to be the automakers need to retool, to produce a different product, become more competitive and less expansive in scope. The behemoth gas guzzling land yachts are a thing of the past and we need to embrace new technologies for the future. What does this portend for the "SUV of motorcycles", the Harley-Davidson?

Those who ride American iron do not do so for the cutting edge technology, the outstanding performance, or the economies of purchase price nor operation. Foreign brands trump them in spades in every category. Harley survives on it's image, and to ride one is to become a part of a subculture, but admission to that exclusive club carries a hefty price.

As we go forward, I wonder how Harley will address this imbalance. Is image enough to overcome the competitors that offer twice the bike at half the price? As the competition perfects cutting edge technologies and they become just another standard feature, will Harley sink to the category of old school clunker? Just how much is pride really worth in an ever tightening market?

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