Although someone insists on counting the years from January 1st to December 31st, anyone who has done at least elementary school knows that real life is marked by the school years: September-July. August has the task of “budget month”. Under the umbrella you make inevitable (and painful) balances, starting from your physical state.
We dream of a restart in September full of those virtues that have been hidden until now and that now, for mysterious reasons, we feel ready to blossom. In short, as every year, this August too lays a solid foundation for disappointments for the next budget. To take time away from personal budgets, under the umbrella I then dedicate myself to the budgets of others. Specifically to the balance sheets of Harley-Davidson as a company and of custom as a motorcycle philosophy, of relationships but also of the distance between the two.
In the 1990s, the overlap was complete: “custom” meant “custom motorcycles”, or motorcycles made in the Harley-Davidson style. Everyone did them a bit, from the Japanese (the Honda Shadow 600 was the best-selling bike in Italy in the mid-90s) to Ducati (the Indiana model), but at the top of the food pyramid, there was only one motorcycle manufacturer: Harley- Davidson.
A brand that represented the only source of light from which all other houses could only absorb by reflection. Copy well, perhaps successfully, charge less and nothing else. If you loved custom there were two cases: either you had a Harley or you wanted one. Tertium non-datur. It was so, it was a fact.
Today the relationship between “custom” and Harley-Davidson is terribly more complicated. To understand this, just try to answer whether an original Harley-Davidson Streetfighter or an old BWM customized cafe racer is more custom. Until 10-15 years ago the question simply did not arise, but today it is not only correct to ask it, but the answer has even been reversed.
It is useless to be virgin: someone since the first half of the 2000s has understood that the legacy that had made the “custom” values and the Harley Davidson company a single and inseparable block, was showing cracks. Removing the monopoly of “custom” values from Harley-Davidson would have offered a great commercial opportunity. Such as? Transforming the old concept of “custom” or “motorcycle similar to a Harley-Davidson” into a new and broader concept of “custom” or ” custom made to measure motorcycle “.
Here is how the principles and values of customizing motorcycles as a tool to show who we are, of our individuality and uniqueness, once removed from Harley-Davidson’s somewhat frollo monopoly, regained vitality and became a powerful sales record for many houses. motorcycle. Large and small houses threw themselves into it, which sometimes arose to satisfy this new way of conceiving motorcycles.
This extension of the new custom philosophy to all models as long as they were customized according to stylistic and aesthetic principles was good for those who love beautiful motorcycles, much less for the Harley-Davidson company which found itself without one of the main differentiating reasons so people were willing to buy his expensive and inefficient motorcycles.
It is no coincidence that the company has been in crisis for several years, also and above all in the values of its brand. The accusation of the most loyal customers, the true holders of values, is that over the years they have lost their way and the ability to lead the world of custom. A vicious circle has been set in motion fueled by the drop in sales that has forced the company to move between risky stylistic choices, far from the values to be preserved and a purely conservative approach to aesthetic standards which in any case did not guarantee the necessary sales on a market. in profound change.
All this, without the possibility of leveraging the exclusivity of custom “freedom” and “passion” values. Bad situation. A real identity crisis, due to the bitter discovery that it is precisely on the ground on which you thought you were more unassailable than your opponents challenged you before and now they are playing them loudly, thanks to the brilliant idea of changing the meaning of “custom”. This resulted in the loss of 850 million dollars in revenues in the first half of 2020 and -30,000 motorcycles sold compared to the first half of 2019. Of course, covid-19 is weighing, but the pandemic has certainly accelerated a problem that has come more than far.
In recent weeks Harley-Davidson has announced a new CEO and a new industrial plan, which will have the arduous task of combining tradition and innovation, of raising sales on the 2020 motorcycle market, without hurting the sensitivity of those who have not yet digested. the 1340 Evolution engines, the first cast iron-free engines released in the 1980s.
The plan is to cut the production of Livewire electric motorcycles by 30% , attention to historical markets at the expense of new markets (which should translate into fewer crazy ideas on models and displacements that are far from tradition) and the launch in 2021. of Pan America, a risk but also an interesting opportunity to believe in something truly new. Good luck, really.
It takes courage, vision and a fair amount of luck to get out of this situation whole. Harley-Davidson remains the custom motorcycle manufacturer par excellence understood as a motorcycle and riding philosophy, even if it is no longer the main reference house for those who love customized bikes. Never mind: things change constantly and we have to deal with it.
It is important that Harley-Davidson continues to be there and to do so I would like to give an umbrella suggestion: never take anything for granted, especially the love of your most loyal fans that must be constantly renewed, without losing the courage to dare. In summary: a Goat and Cabbage strategy.