Harley Davidson

Harley Davidson

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Harley-Davidson’s management had much to be proud of as the company wrapped up its Open Road Tour centennial celebration that began in July 2002 in Atlanta, Georgia, and ended on the 2003 Memorial Day Weekend in Harley’s hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The 14-month Open Road Tour drew large crowds of Harley owners in each of its five stops in North America and additional stops in Australia, Japan, Spain, and Germany. Also during its 2003 centennial year, Harley-Davidson was named to Fortune’s list of “100 Best Companies to Work For” and was judged third in automotive quality behind Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz by Harris Interactive, a worldwide market research and consulting firm best known for the Harris Poll. The company’s revenues had grown at a compounded annual rate of 16.6% since 1994 to reach $4.6 billion in 2003—marking its 18th consecutive year of record revenues and earnings. In 2003, the company sold more than 290,000 motorcycles, giving it a commanding share of the 651+cc motorcycle market in the U.S. and the leading share of the market in the Asia/Pacific region. The consistent growth had allowed Harley-Davidson’s share price to appreciate by more than 15,000% since the company’s initial public offering in 1986.

In January 2004 the company’s CEO, Jeffrey Bleustein, stated that Harley-Davidson’s earnings growth rate should fall in the mid-teens for the foreseeable further and the company expected to increase unit sales to 400,000 units by 2007. However, not everyone was as bullish

*This teaching note reflects the thinking, insight, and analysis of case authors, Professor John E. Gamble and Diplom-Betriebswirt Roger Schäfer, both of the University of South Alabama.

on Harley-Davidson’s future, with analysts pointing out that the company’s plans for growth were too dependent on aging baby boomers. The company had achieved its record growth during the 1990s and early-2000s primarily through the appeal of its image with baby boomers in the U.S. There was some question how much longer boomers would choose to spend recreational time touring the country by motorcycle and attending motorcycle rallies. The company had yet to develop a motorcycle that appealed in large numbers to motorcycle riders in their 20s or cyclists in Europe who both preferred performance oriented bikes rather than cruisers or touring motorcycles. Another concern of analysts watching the company was Harley-Davidson’s short-term oversupply of certain models brought about by the 14-month production run for its 100th anniversary models.

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The effect of the extended production period shortened the waiting list for most models from over a year to a few months and left some models on showroom floors for immediate purchase. The combined effects of a market focus on a narrow demographic group, the difficulty experienced in gaining market share in Europe, and short-term forecasting problems led to a sell off of Harley-Davidson shares going into 2004.

Suggestions for Using the Case

Students should find the case interesting because of Harley-Davidson’s role in creating and shaping the motorcycle industry and culture over the company’s 100-year history and because of Harley-Davidson’s recent financial and market performance. Even though the company is histor¬ically important to the motorcycle industry, its performance during the late-1990s and early-2000s has been outstanding with revenues and earnings increasing at annual rates of 16.6% and 24.5 %, respectively, between 1994 and 2003. In 2003 Harley commanded approximately 50% of the heavyweight motorcycle market in the U.S. and more than 25% of the heavyweight motorcycle market in Asia/Pacific—making it the market share leader in the region.

The Harley-Davidson case examines the appeal of Harley-Davidson’s outlaw image and quality touring and custom motorcycles with baby boomers in the U.S., Asia, and Europe and its success competing in the heavyweight segment of the motorcycle industry in various international markets. The case has linkage to concepts discussed in Chapters 3 and 5 and is well-suited to illustrate such concepts presented in Chapter 6 as cross-country differences, strategy options for entering and competing in international markets, and multi-country versus global competition. The case also provides an opportunity to examine offensive and defensive strategies presented in Chapter 8 that have been executed by Harley-Davidson in building market share in the U.S. and in international markets. The case includes extensive data on the economic and regulatory features of the motorcycle industry in the U.S. and Europe and includes market share data for the world’s leading sellers of heavyweight motorcycles in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Students will be able to assess characteristics of the global motorcycle industry and focus on cross country differences in cultural, demographic, and market conditions in the heavyweight segment of the industry. Considerable differences exist in preferences of European and U.S. motorcyclists, which is reflected in Harley-Davidson’s poor showing in Europe relative to low-cost Japanese motorcycle producers and BMW, which enjoys considerable regional loyalties.

The case also includes adequate financial information to allow students to assess the company’s overall growth and profitability and examine financial performance by geographic region and product line. The decision focus of the case is how Harley-Davidson management might better prepare for market maturity in the U.S. and improve its appeal with price-sensitive motorcyclists in the U.S. and performance-oriented riders in Europe.
The comprehensive and global nature of this case makes it best used in the second half of your business strategy module. You may also want to consider teaching the Harley-Davidson and Hero Honda cases back-to-back, since these two companies are in the same industry. But either case can readily be used as a stand-alone case.

There is a video accompanying the Harley-Davidson case. We suggest showing it at the beginning of the class discussion—it should help set the mood and tone for a spirited and interesting discussion.

In addition, there is a case preparation exercise on CASE-TUTOR for the Harley-Davidson case. It is framed around the assignment questions presented below and is designed to push students to do the analysis and number-crunching to arrive at sound action recommendations. We believe having the class members complete the exercise prior to class and asking them to bring printouts of their work to class to use in buttressing their arguments is always going to improve the caliber of the discussion and the learning that takes place.

Because of the extensive number-crunching possibilities and the case’s emphasis on action recommendations, the Harley-Davidson case is an excellent choice for oral team presentations or a written case assignment. Our suggested assignment questions are:

Harley-Davidson CEO Jeffrey Bleustein has heard of your emerging skills of analysis and has asked that you perform review of the company’s performance in the U.S. and in international markets. Your review should examine the characteristics of the major international markets for heavyweight motorcycles, assess Harley-Davidson’s strategy and performance in the U.S. and abroad, and identify obstacles to achieving its objective of manufacturing and selling 400,000 motorcycles annually by 2007. Your report should also include a 2-3 page executive summary of recommendations necessary to achieve the company’s 2007 sales objective of 400,000 units. Please attach whatever tables, figures, or other exhibits you believe necessary to support your conclusions.

Harley-Davidson has employed you as an analyst in its European distribution division based in the United Kingdom. Your first assignment is to prepare a review of the company’s performance in the U.S. and in international markets. Your review should examine the characteristics of the major international markets for heavyweight motorcycles, assess Harley-Davidson’s strategy and performance in the U.S. and in Europe, and identify obstacles to achieving market share gains in Europe and its strategic objective of selling 400,000 motorcycles in 2007. Your 5-6 page report should include a strategic action plan to increase market share in Europe and allow the company to achieve its 2007 sales objective of 400,000 units. The report should also include whatever tables, figures, and/or other exhibits you believe necessary to support the items in your action plan.

Assignment Questions
1.     1.     What are the dominant business and economic characteristics of the global motorcycle industry? What is the industry like?
2.     2.     What cross country differences in cultural, demographic, and market conditions exist in the global motorcycle industry?
3.     3.     What are the key elements of Harley-Davidson’s competitive strategy? How has the company utilized offensive and defensive moves to secure its position as the leader of the heavyweight motorcycle segment? Does it appear that Harley-Davidson’s strategy is working? Is its performance acceptable?
4.     4.     How strongly is Harley-Davidson positioned in international markets? How does the com-pany’s performance in international markets compare to its performance in the United States? How would you characterize Harley-Davidson’s approach to international competition?
5.     5.     What recommendations would you make to Harley-Davidson’s executive management to improve performance both domestically and in international markets? What should the company do to improve its appeal with younger riders in the U.S. and Europe? How might the company better cope with the aging of the baby boomer generation? Does it appear the company will be able to increase sales to 400,000 units by 2007 as suggested by Jeffrey Bleustein?

Teaching Outline and Analyis
1.     What are the dominant business and economic characteristics of the global motorcycle industry? What is the industry like?
Students should be able to identify the following dominant industry characteristics.
     28 million motorcycles were in operation worldwide in 2003
     950,000 motorcycles were sold in the U.S. during 2003
     The industry was expected to grow by approximately 5% annually through 2007
     The industry was segmented by engine size (125+cc, 651+cc) and style (enduro, cruiser, custom, performance, standard)
     Light motorcycles, mopeds and scooters were expected to grow at a faster rate than 125+cc motorcycles between 2003 and 2007
     Industry-wide demand increased by 10% in the U.S. during 2002, while demand for 651+cc motorcycles grew by 17%
     Europe was the world’s largest market for motorcycles with 1.1 million registrations of 125+cc motorcycles in 2002
     The U.S. was the world’s largest market for heavyweight motorcycles (651+cc) with 461,200 registrations in 2003
     Europe was the world’s second largest market for heavyweight motorcycles with 323,100 registrations in 2003
     The motorcycle industry was regulated by various governmental agencies in countries where motorcycles were operated. For example, in the U.S. motorcycles were regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and state environmental agencies. Policies implemented by insurance companies also resulted in standards that affected motorcycle producers and owners.

2.     What cross country differences in cultural, demographic, and market con¬ditions exist in the global motorcycle industry?
Students should be able to note that heavyweight motorcycles are more highly demanded in developed markets in North America, Europe, and Asia, whereas consumers in emerging markets preferred mopeds, scooters and other light motorcycles. Consumers in emerging markets tended to purchase small motorcycles for inexpensive primary transportation, while consumers in developed markets most frequently used motorcycles for recreation and preferred larger motorcycles with greater performance.

Students will also note that typical motorcyclists in the U.S. enjoyed leisurely cruises on large comfortable bikes with an upright riding position, while typical European riders (and young American riders) liked performance bikes with quick acceleration, high top-end speeds, and a forward riding position. Case Exhibit 6 presents a regional comparison of the 651+cc motorcycle market by segment. Typical European riders also rode shorter distances on motorcycles than typical riders in the U.S. Students that examine the case exhibit will note that in 2002 more than 60% of motorcycles sold in the U.S. were in the custom category, whereas more than 60% of bikes sold in Europe fell into the performance category.

Also, motorcyclists in Europe and younger riders in the U.S. were attracted to the lower prices offered by Japanese motorcycle producers. Examination of case Exhibit 7 discloses that consumers in Germany were quite loyal to the BMW brand, but Japanese motorcycles accounted for 61.7% of registrations occurring between January and November 2003. BMW held an 18.8% market share in Germany during the first 11 months of 2003. KTM was the only other European brand to capture 3.0% or greater market share. Analysis of case Exhibit 8 also indicates that European riders preferred performance or lower-priced motorcycles to custom or touring bikes with 7 of the top 10 best-selling motorcycles in Germany retailing for under $10,000. BMW and Suzuki each sold four of the top 10 best-selling motorcycles in Germany during 2003, with Yamaha and Kawasaki each producing one of the top-10 models in Germany.

Students should also note that government regulations varied by country and had an effect on motorcycle demand and design. The European Parliament and the European Council required motorcycles and scooters manufacturers to reduce exhaust pollutants by 60% on all new cycles produced after April 2003 and called for an additional 60% reduction for bikes produced after January 2006. Motorcycles that produced excessive noise were also under attack in most European countries. In the U.S., the EPA and state agencies such as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) developed similar noise and emission standards for motorcycles.

Restrictive licensing requirements in western European countries such as Austria and France limited sales of motorcycles in those countries since motorcycle ownership was restricted to those who had previously held an automobile driver’s license for some period of time. The conversion to the Euro also affected demand in countries such as Germany where consumer purchasing power was diminished after the currency conversion.
Case Exhibit 5 presents registrations of 125+cc motorcycles in major European markets between 1998 and 2002. Students who perform calculations similar to what are shown in Table 1 should comment that even though Germany is the largest market for 125+cc motorcycles in Europe, it has been in decline since 1999 and might soon fall second to Italy as Europe’s largest motorcycle market.

Table 1 Compound Annual Growth Rates for Major European Markets, 1998¬2002
CAGR Country (1998-2002) Germany -4.7% Italy 13.0% France 6.5% Great Britain 2.6% Spain -0.2%
Source: Calculated from Case Exhibit 5.

3.     What are the key elements of Harley¬Davidson’s competitive strategy? How has the company utilized offensive and defensive moves to secure its posi¬tion as the leader of the heavyweight motorcycle segment? Does it appear that Harley¬Davidson’s strategy is working? Is its performance acceptable?

Competitive strategy

Students should have little difficulty in characterizing Harley-Davidson’s (HD) approach to competing in the motorcycle industry as a focused differentiation strategy. The company has captured the lion’s share of the heavyweight segment of the motorcycle industry with a fairly narrow product line. The product line includes traditionally styled custom and touring motorcycles with such differentiating design and styling features as the V-Twin engine, potato-potato-potato exhaust noise created by uneven piston firing, teardrop gas tank, and a low seating configuration. Students will note the new V-Rod model is a slight exception to Harley’s signature design because of its water-cooled engine developed by Porsche, but the bike still maintains the Harley look. The acquisition of Buell is also a departure from the company’s established strategy and is intended to expand HD’s product line to performance motorcycles popular with European riders and younger motorcyclists in the United States.

Students are also likely to suggest that Harley’s outlaw image is an important component of its differentiation strategy. You might expect the class to engage in a lively discussion of the role of outlaw biker gangs like the Hells Angels and movies such as Easy Rider in creating the Harley mystique and contributing to the appeal of Harleys with middle-aged professionals. Students will likely argue that Harley’s rebellious outlaw image is as important to Harley owners as the quality or performance of Harley-Davidson’s motorcycles. The development of
H.O.G. chapters also is an important component of the company’s differentiation strategy since it gives weekend rebels an opportunity to ride with like-minded individuals.
Offensive and defensive strategies
You may wish to ask students to identify ways Harley-Davidson management has utilized offensive and defensive strategies to increase the degree of its competitive advantage held in the U.S. and Asia/Pacific in the heavyweight category of the motorcycle industry. Likely responses will include:
     Renovation of Harley dealerships to increase square footage for apparel and accessories to as much as 75% of dealership floorspace
     Licensing of HD trademarks to more than 100 manufacturers
     Expansion and cultivation of H.O.G. chapters
     Organization of about 100 rallies in 2003
     Development of Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) unit to produce customized motorcycles
     Co-development and eventual acquisition of Buell to expand product line to models appealing to young U.S. riders and Europeans
     Establishment of Buell Riders Adventure Group (BRAG)
     Dealer training programs offered at the Harley-Davidson University
     Demo rides and daily rentals in selected locations
     Development of Riders Edge training courses to increase appeal of motorcycling with inexperienced riders and women
     Expansion of worldwide dealer network
     Improvement in product quality in traditional product line
     Development of award-winning V-Rod model
     Planned expansion of production capacity to 400,000 units by 2007
It will be difficult for students to argue with the results achieved by HD’s strategy and implementation efforts. The company’s market share in the U.S. heavyweight category has held steady near 50% between 1998 and 2003 and the company’s market share in Asia/Pacific has grown from 14.8% in 1998 to 25.8% in 2003. Market share and growth in Europe is less impressive—having grown from 5.8% in 1998 to 8.1% in 2003. However, HD’s lack of stellar success in Europe should not lead students to conclude the strategy is a failure, especially considering custom and touring bikes made up only 18.6% of total heavyweight sales in Europe during 2002.

There are a number of calculations that students can perform using the Case-Tutor exercise or perform on their own to assess HD’s financial performance. Table 2 indicates that all product groups have experience quite impressive revenue growth and students should conclude from calculations similar to what are shown in Table 3 that the company’s operating practices have improved over the past decade as both operating profit margins and net profit margins have improved rather dramatically. Students should also note the company’s expansion has resulted in the addition of debt, but the company still seems only modestly leveraged. The company’s market performance, as shown in case Exhibit 3, reflects the company’s stellar growth and sound operating practices.

Table 2 Compounded Annual Growth Rate for Harley¬Davidson’s Revenues by Product Group, 2001¬2003
Harley-Davidson motorcycles      16.4%
Buell motorcycles      11.1%
Total motorcycles      16.3%
Motorcycle Parts and Accessories      18.3%
General Merchandise      13.6%
Other      188.7%
Net revenue      16.5%

Source: Calculated from table included under subheading “Harley-Davidson’s Product Line.”
Table 3 Selected Financial Ratios for Harley¬Davidson, 1993¬2003
2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1993

Gross profit margin 36.0% Operating profit margin 24.9% Net profit margin 16.5% Return on assets 15.5% Return on equity 25.7% Debt-to-assets ratio 20.2% Debt-to-equity ratio 33.6%
Source: Calculated from case Exhibit 2.
34.7% 21.6% 14.2% 15.0% 26.0% 19.7% 34.2%
33.8% 19.4% 12.8% 14.0% 24.9% 19.1% 34.0%
32.7% 17.5% 11.8% 14.3% 24.7% 18.2% 31.6%
32.9% 16.8% 10.8% 12.7% 23.0% 21.8% 39.7%
32.3% 16.0% 10.2% 11.1% 20.7% 22.2% 41.4%
33.3% 15.3% 9.9% 10.9% 21.1% 24.5% 47.4%
32.0% 14.9% 10.8% 12.8% 25.1% 22.0% 43.1%
30.5% 13.4% 8.3% 11.5% 22.7% 18.9% 37.5%
30.9% 31.3% 13.3% 13.9% 9.0% -1.3% 15.4% -2.3% 24.1% -3.7% 1.5% 1.3% 2.4% 2.2%

4.     How strongly is Harley¬Davidson positioned in international markets? How does the company’s performance in international markets compare to its performance in the United States? How would you characterize Harley¬Davidson’s approach to international competition?

Examination of case Exhibit 4 indicates HD has dominated the U.S. heavyweight market for all years included in the exhibit and the company’s ability to move from the fourth largest seller of heavyweight motorcycles in Asia/Pacific in 1998 to become the leading seller between 2001 and 2003 is quite impressive. Table 4 of this note indicates the company’s net revenues from motorcycle sales have grown at attractive annual rates in all geographic regions except Japan. The contradiction between the growth rates is explained by the declining number of annual registrations of heavyweight motorcycles in Asia/Pacific between 1998 and 2003. The company’s financial services income has also grown at impressive rates in countries where such financing was offered. Students should make mention of the growth in financial services income in Europe which has grown from $655,000 to more than $8.8 million in four years. HD’s financial services income in Europe approached that of Canada in 2003.

Table 5 presents annual growth rates for shipments of Harley and Buell models and annual growth in domestic and international shipments. Shipments of all Harley models have grown at attractive annual rates, but students will conclude the Buell acquisition has done little to build shareholder value through year-end 2003. Domestic shipments of HD models have grown at a much faster pace than international shipments, but this could be a result of HD’s capacity limitations. Students might conclude HD management gives the U.S. market priority in shipments. This assertion could be supported by the higher annual growth rate in interna¬tional revenues than international shipments. The comparison of the growth rates suggests HD has increased pricing internationally as demand exceeded production capacity.

Students might conclude that HD management has utilized its export strategy to maintain full capacity utilization. Students will likely also suggest HD is an international competitor, competing in selected developed international markets with a standardized global product line. The company has done little to customize its product offerings in each country market where it competes other than to develop the innovative V-Rod model and to acquire the Buell brand. There’s little evidence HD is moving to become a global competitor by locating production plants outside the U.S., engaging in global sourcing, or attempting to build competitive capabilities worldwide.

Table 4 Compounded Annual Growth Rate for Harley¬Davidson’s Revenues by Business Group and Geographic Region, 2000¬2003
Motorcycles net revenue
United States EuropeJapanCanada Other foreign countries
Total motorcycle net revenue

Financial services income
United States EuropeCanada
Total financial services income

CAGR (2000-2003)
17.3% 13.7% 5.3% 12.9% 15.6% 16.3%
25.2% 138.0% 14.0% 25.9%
Source: Calculated from case Exhibit 10.
Table 5 Compound Annual Growth Rates for Annual Shipments of Harley¬Davidson and Buell Motorcycles, 1998 ¬ 2003

SportsterCustom Touring Total
Domestic International Total
Buell (exc. Blast)
Buell Blast*

* CAGR for years 2000 - 2003
11.0% 14.4% 15.9% 14.1%
16.5% 6.0% 14.1%
6.8% -39.7%
Source: Calculated from case Exhibit 9.

5.     What recommendations would you make to Harley¬Davidson’s executive management to improve performance both domestically and in interna¬tional markets? What should the company do to improve its appeal with younger riders in the U.S. and Europe? How might the company better cope with the aging of the baby boomer generation? Does it appear the company will be able to increase sales to 400,000 units by 2007 as suggested by Jeffrey Bleustein?

Most students will suggest that HD’s 2,000 unit over-supply of motorcycles at year-end 2003 and its zero percent down payment financing plan do not constitute major problems at Harley-Davidson and will likely be rectified quickly. Also, there is little reason for students to conclude from their analyses that Harley-Davidson is facing any immediate crisis requiring a shift in strategy—either domestically or internationally. However, there are several issues that affect the long-term future of the company that must be addressed.
     The aging U.S. population and increasing average age of Harley owners.
     The lack of interest in 1950s and 1960s motorcycle culture among Generation Y.
     European motorcyclists’ preference for performance bikes.
     The poor sales performance of Buell branded motorcycles in the U.S. and in Europe.

Students will likely recommendation that HD management immediately address issues that limit sales growth in Europe, while gradually undertaking moves to make Harley-Davidson motorcycles more interesting to Generation Y consumers in the U.S.
Possible actions to increase shipments in Europe include:
Maintain U.S.-based export strategy
Maintain global brand name strategy

     License the HD and Buell brands to a larger number of consumer goods manufacturers in Europe to increase brand awareness
     Expand Buell product line and improve the styling of Buell models to better appeal to performance-oriented riders in Europe
     Lower the price of Buell models in Europe to more closely match that of Japanese manufacturers
     Improve promotion of V-Rod in Europe
     Pursue Harley-Davidson dealership opportunities in large eastern European cities that have experienced rapid economic and personal income growth
     Expand the number of H.O.G. chapters in Europe
There is not a pressing need for HD to attract young consumers in the U.S., but the company must be able to lure Generation Y consumers within the next 10-15 years. In fact, immediate sales of Harley motorcycles to Generation Y consumers would be difficult since most 20-year-old consumers would not be able to afford Harley-Davidson’s premium pricing. Strategies to improve the appeal of Harley-Davidson motorcycles with younger U.S. consumers include:
     Lower the price of Buell models to attract younger consumers that might only consider Japanese bikes because of price
     Utilize Buell brand to draw younger consumers into Harley-Davidson showrooms, while positioning Harley as an aspirational brand
     Improve promotion of V-Rod in the United States
     Obtain product placements for HD’s most differentiated models in movies appealing to younger audiences. Possible models that could be profiled in movies include the Softail Fat Boy, V-Rod, or CVO models. One of these movies might prove to the next Easy Rider.
     Expand CVO operations in the production of highly customized models similar to what are produced by West Coast Choppers or Orange County Choppers.

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