Reaction to the new Harley-Davidson Street 500 and 750 models has been predictably vocal.
What surprises me is the passion from many in their initial reaction to the new bikes. Social media is flooded with the polarised views of the “love it” and the “over-my-dead-body” sections of the biker community.
When the knee-jerk reactions are stripped away, the views about the new models are likely to be good overall. Of course, there will be some who will always consider a smaller, liquid-cooled motorcycle to be the work of the devil and too far removed from Harley-Davidsons core history to be acceptable, but what any vehicle manufacturer cares about is what the majority think, not the vocal few.
Look back just a couple of months to when Harley-Davidson launched the new Project Rushmore bikes, when a lot of the initial reaction in the first couple of days was negative. However, a few months later, when the bikes have actually been test ridden, looked at, sat upon and judged based upon fact, the reaction is very different and has resulted in one of Harley-Davidsons best-ever sales quarters.
Harley-Davidson has very different motorcycle geographic markets to consider. Along with trying to please its loyal, invariably older, existing customer base, at the same time it needs to develop models that appeal to newer, younger riders, and this results in only one thing being certain - whatever it does, it isn’t going to please everyone.
As I see it, Harley-Davidson has to consider many variables when developing new models. The most important five are likely to be…..
One, geography. Harley-Davidson is a global company that needs to appeal to riders across our planet. Motorcycle riding is very different depending where you are in the world and what is right for one market is very wrong for another. Many Harley-Davidson owning Americans love their big twin, large heavy touring models, but those models are very inappropriate for the very congested streets in some parts of Europe and Asia. The smaller, lighter 500cc and 750cc models are aimed at street riders, not open road riders. The clue is in the name!
Two, emissions. Many naysayers have written things like “Water cooled! I will never give up my air-cooled twin!”. They have missed the point here in that the introduction of the new water-cooled models is likely to help Harley-Davidson to keep producing their famous air-cooled models. In many places in the world, vehicle manufacturers not only have to meet strict emissions standards for each model, but they also need to meet standards for their range when taken as a whole.
A quick look at the US Environmental Protection Agency website shows “All vehicles sold in the US must comply with federal emission standards. However, the standards are packaged in various “bins” that manufacturers can choose from, meaning that in a given model year, some vehicles will be cleaner than others.” By introducing some new models with lower emission qualities means that other models with higher emissions can be kept.
Three, a broader customer base. Harley-Davidson has a long-term problem with its business that it simply had to address. The age profile of their customers is too old. Us grey-beards are not going to be around forever and Harley has to target younger customers if they are to maintain or grow their market position. The simple fact is that younger riders don’t go out and buy large expensive motorcycles. Women riders generally don’t want large heavy motorcycles. Newer riders need smaller bikes to ride as they learn. Younger riders want something they can buzz around town on with their friends. Just watch the H-D promo videos for the new models. These new models are mainly for these groups, so I just don’t understand the rhetoric when people complain the new models are too small, or too far removed from what Harley’s should be like. It is simple to understand – if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but don’t complain about it at the same time!
Four, kerbside appeal vs price. As design is a very personal thing, this is the hardest part of a manufacturers strategy to get right. We all have slightly differing views about what we like and don’t like and designers have to try to appeal to the majority.
Like nearly everyone, I have not yet seen the new Street 500 and 750 models first hand, let along ridden one yet. While they clearly won’t appeal to the traditionalists in Harley circles, they will look pretty cool to many. The prices seem okay as well, but the real test will come when somebody has cash to spend and when they look at the options available to them from different manufacturers. It is likely that many will buy the new Street models because they are different to other manufacturers machines.
Five, profit. Harley-Davidson are not fools. They have to make good profits or they will struggle badly. They need money to re-invest for the future and if that means using a cheaper supplier then that is what they will do. When it comes down to it, most riders care about quality and they don’t want they machines to break down. To most, that is far more important in the long run that where the parts are made, or where the motorcycles are assembled. For most companies, making profit equals cutting costs.
So, reading the initial gut-reaction of many to the launch of the new models has been interesting. Social media is great in that it gives us all a voice.
It will be interesting to see what impact the new Street 500/750 has upon the H-D Sportster models.
For me, I probably won’t buy one of these new models as they are not the sort of motorcycle I ride, but my sons might.