Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Harley-Davidson Street 500 / 750 - reaction to the reaction.

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.

43 comments:

Chris Cope said...

I like the look of these bikes and I like especially the thinking behind them. I think HD have missed a trick, though, in failing to offer ABS with these Street bikes. In a number of the markets in which the Street is being introduced antilock brakes will be required in 2016. Harley could have bit the bullet two years early and spun it to claim they're being super innovative. Additionally, that would have made Street machines even more appealing to the apparently intended demographic. And I would no be looking forward to buying one. Instead, I'll stick to my boring old Honda because ABS saved my life once and I now refuse to ride without it.

Canajun said...

There will always be nay-sayers but I quite like the looks of these bikes and under some circumstances I could see myself owning the 750. They hit a market niche that isn't the 1000-miles-a-day-on-the-superslab type of rider but IS the young, urban rider. If properly priced they should do well.

Axel said...

Each Apple packaging says: designed in California, build in China. The Street 500/750 will say: designed in USA, build in India. And why not!
You got the details right: us old farts die out, and fewer younger will follow in our western societies, the age pyramid is inverted. Its India and Asia were the growth is, and their young riders do not start their journey with a Ultra Limited.

Charlie6 said...

FWIW, there was some wailing and gnashing of teeth when URAL announced they were going to fit fuel-injection into the 2014 model sidecar rigs. People resist change....it makes them come out of their comfort zone.

SonjaM said...

If it weren't for the 883 in my garage t would by one of those immediately. I was never in need of a liter bike and I never will be. I'd say, welcome H-D, to the new Millennium, and welcome to Europe. I am loving it. The only downside would be, that it likely wouldn't be made in the US, and I honestly love my American Iron. But I am convinced that at the right cost they will be sold like hotcake in Europe and Asia.

Lucky said...

I don't think I'm the target market for these bikes, but I'm glad HD is building them. And they are pretty sharp looking.

Yeah, people are going to get their panties in a twist over a water-cooled bike that's not built in Milwaukee. Haters gonna hate.

Gary France said...

Chris – You raise a valid point in that some people really do want ABS on their bikes, but there is a crowd that are equally really against it. That would be difficult call for Harley-Davidson in that it would be seen as being their decision, but if they wait a couple of years, they can say it is as a result from having to include it. I’d like to hear about the incident where it helped save your life. Have you written about this?

Gary France said...

Canajun – You make good points here. I agree they must get the price right as the younger potential buyers are generally much more price sensitive than older riders.

Gary France said...

Axel – Harley-Davidson have stated that the new bikes are made in their Kansas plant. In future, they may well assemble the bikes anywhere. As you say, why not. You are spot on about younger riders not starting their journey on Ultras! I predict these new models will do really well in some markets.

Gary France said...

Charlie6 / Dom – Yep, I am guilty sometime of hating change, but when you look back on it years after the event, the feeling is often what was I worried about. Change is sometimes very good, but I would still like that ’57 Chevy Bel-Air one day……

boogywstew said...

I rode a new KZ440, which was a 40 hp bike, from central Florida to Lander, Wyoming, 2600 miles at an almost constant 60mph, carrying about 100lbs of luggage with no problems whatsoever. I also owned a 1966 VW Beetle...an 1800lb. car with a bone stock factory 1600cc 50hp engine ... the same hp as my current ride,a 1981 Yamaha XS650 twin. (actually 53hp). My '81 XS650 would do under 14 sec.1/4mile times, faster than a HD 1000 Sporty of the same year. My question: WHAT is it with you people? How fast do you need to go? Most people could easily get by with this 750 HD, for ANYTHING they wanted to do ... touring etc. etc.

Gary France said...

Sonja – I 100% agree with what you said. There is a definite market for smaller H-D’s in some places in the world and this bike is likely to be a hit. Haley have said the new bikes will be assembled in Kansas, so (for now at least) they will be American Iron.

Gary France said...

Lucky – I too am not in the market for these bikes right now, but if I was a new rider, or living, say in India, Thailand or Vietnam, I definitely would be. Also, as we get older, small bikes might just be perfect for us.

Gary France said...

boogywstew – I think you will find that most of the people here are in support of smaller motorcycles and understand the benefits well. I too have had small bikes – 90cc, 350cc, 7500cc as well as a VW Beetle (which I still have) along with a Mini Cooper, which I drive regularly. I am also building a custom 750cc motorcycle, for my own use. But, I also have vehicles with larger engines. So, it is not a question of needing to go fast, but one of wanting, and using, a range of different vehicles. Oh, that means your “you people” statement was therefore inaccurate and a little un-called for.

Axel said...

I read: ...the Street will be made from the ground-up in India and also in Kansas City, US. While the Kansas City production will cater only to the North American market, the Indian plant in Bawal, Haryana will supply to the local market and also to Europe. The number of export markets will gradually scale up over the next 2-3 year period.

Gary France said...

Axel - I stand corrected. Thanks!

Richard M said...

I think it sounds like a great option. The lack of ABS does strike me as a bit odd especially as they already took the leap of water cooled, fuel injected street oriented bike. Maybe it's strictly cost if they're aiming for a younger market.

It sort of sounds like a HD but not quite...

rfparker said...

Great article Gary. I'm right there with you. Also a good clarification from Axel.

And to you, Boogywstew, get over yourself dude. Like Gary said, most people here support smaller displacement bikes. My father-in-law rode a 750 Triumph halfway across the United States back in 1953, so yes, we get it. You (and YOUR people) can ride a Vespa across Russia for all I care, but you're missing the point of this conversation.

Robert Wilson said...

Your right on the mark. One other thing needs to be taken into consideration.

Increased Urbanization. As the economy continues to stagnate more and more people are going to move into cities. Smaller bikes are designed for that environment. Harley's move to the lower cc range just makes marketing sense.

Now, you may want to sit down because the next thing is going to be a Automatic Transmission Harley, doing away with the shifter altogether.

Gary France said...

Richard – The lack of ABS must be a cost issue. Currently, many motorcycles that the Street bikes will compete against don’t have it, so if Harley-Davidson added it now, it would be an unwelcome cost that its competitors doesn’t have. They can add it later when all bikes must have it fitted, making it an even playing field in terms of cost.

Gary France said...

Rick – Thanks. Axel has also written a piece on his own log about these new motorcycles. See http://roadkinguk.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/harley-davidson-street-750-vs-honda-vt750s/

Gary France said...

Robert – I think this is certainly a city motorcycle. boogywstew was right in that it can also be used for touring and long distance riding, but it will certainly shine where its lightweight and nimble nature is allowed to flourish. Regarding your last point, I suddenly had a dizzy feeling and I didn’t feel very well. LOL.

Axel said...

Learning to ride without ABS may hurt you a bit, but I am convinced it will make you a better rider. Whenever ABS is activated, you did something very wrong. If you are not punished for that (wetting your pants, bruising your knees, scratching your chrome, and hopefully nothing worse), you will continue to do things wrong and wronger, till even ABS can't save you anymore. Then the shit really hits the fan. Lets just hope the punishment is not too high, though Darwin would not worry me thinks.

Gary France said...

Axel – I laughed out loud when I read your comments about ABS. You make some very good points and the last line is priceless.

Trobairitz said...

For the USA, I hope that people can get over their bigger is better mentality and embrace the smaller bikes especially as starter bikes, for returning riders and general cafe runs.

It is about time they came up with something for their new rider courses. They haven't had anything since the Buell Blast went away.

I am looking forward to seeing Triumph's rumored Daytona 250 too. - pics have been leaked.

Gary France said...

Trobairitz – It is funny that here in the UK, a 750cc is considered a big bike. That is because nearly everybody starts on a 125cc or smaller, as there are major restrictions in engine sizes for new riders. In places like Thailand, a 750cc is considered to be a huge bike.

cpa3485 said...

I'll be honest Gary. (and remember this comes from a guy that rides a 175cc scooter, please don't laugh) That is the first Harley that I've seen that I would be interested in knowing more about.

I do know how people really love their Harleys and they are fantastic bikes, but I've never even been slightly interested in one for the simple fact that they are too big and too expensive (for me).

Believe it or not, my 175cc gets me around pretty well for what I want it to do and an occasional little weekend highway tour is possible. Obviously, it's not a highway rider. But my next bike, if I ever get one, will be one in the 500cc to 850cc range. I see little reason to go any bigger, personally.

I would like a little extra weight and stability sometimes for those potential road trips and I think a mid sized bike would be a successful solution. Honestly, there isn't a lot of bikes in that market. There's some Hondas and others out there, including a particular Moto Guzzi that I really like, but it's a size market that I believe is under-fed by the manufacturers.

I'll look forward to seeing one of those sometime soon. In fact, I may aggressively pursue the idea of owning something like that one day.

I think it's a great idea by HD!

Doug said...

I think a big challenge for Harley will be getting dealers and dealer staff out of their comfort zones. They never managed that with Buell, and the V-Rod is barely tolerated by the H-D faithful. A bunch of urbanites showing up to buy a 500cc machine may find a chilly welcome. I'll go a bit further and say the new bikes will quickly be relegated to some corner of the showroom away from the "real" Harleys. No, the customers won't be the problem, I think Harley is on the right path with these new bikes, but the dealers and the die-hards and their iconoclast attitude will be the problem.

WooleyBugger said...

Before I read anyone else's comments I'll make mine. HD has been losing sales for years now and the vast market of smaller displacement bikes, well, they just have not had much to offer in that department. Other MFG's have been racking up with smaller displacement rides and HD really needed to step up to the plate with an offering. I think once some people get to flogging around the roads on these they will be surprised. Just wish I could have the chance to get in some test rides.

Tina Walker said...

I understand about the old thinking, as my Dad rode a Harley for his entire adulthood of his short life. As a member of an MC, they all rode Harleys, except the occasional oddball brand. If I recall correctly, a friend of my Dad's rode a Norton, and he was a rather esteemed member of this notorious MC.
My Dad carried rice in the pocket of his leather jacket from time to time. He would sprinkle it on the ground beside a "rice grinder" and tell the rider beside him his bike was leaking. Funny stuff.
He died over 20 years ago, but I know he's thrilled I'm riding my own motorcycle. I don't think he's too upset that I'm not on a Harley. And I don't think he would give a rat's ass whether these new models are water cooled. . . cheeezus.
Thank you Gary for being the only blogger who has mentioned that HD may be broadening their buyer base to the growing female motorcycle owner population. I've been a little surprised that so many people seem to miss that.
You make a great many good points. Good Job!
Smooches,
Sash
www.SashMouth.com

Rex J. Covington said...

Price has a lot to the young riders. When I was 16, I look at a Harley-Davidson and a Yamaha, I bought the cheaper bike, The Yamaha did me well. I did not buy a Harley-Davidson until I could afford one in my 40's.

I have nothing against Harley-Davidson they know what they are doing and they make some great bike. They will do well and I think their water cool motorcycle will do well.

Great Post Gary!

Nikos said...

I don't know what all the die-hard fuss is about - H-D badged Aermacchi 2 strokes in the 70s! These new water cooled light weights look eminnently sensible in comparison.

VStar Lady said...

Gary Harley people must have done their homework sales figures don't usually lie. These new models have a more modern, less 'Harley' look to them. Time will tell.

Rick said...

Very goos observation Nikos! Rex, you're also spot on. I wanted a Harley really bad in my younger days, but I could only afford a KZ400, which I rode all over the place back then. I was finally able to buy a Harley eight years later, and even then it was a Sportster. I would have killed to have had a Harley Hummer when I was a teenager, but I wasn't smart enough to go looking for one back then. Whether HD succeeds is yet to be seen, but I think this is a smart move on their part.

Gary France said...

cpa3485 / Jim – I have to agree with you and I think there are a lot of riders in your position. Mid-size bikes are what a lot of people want and I see these new H-D’s as being popular, both in the USA and in the rest of the world. Like you, I rode smaller motorcycles for a while and thoroughly enjoyed them. After a 90cc started bike and 350cc, I then got a 750 which I could have ridden anywhere in the world. I am interested in your comment about the market being under-fed by the manufacturers and that must be an American dealers thing – in Europe most motorcycle dealers are awash with bikes in the 250-750cc range and they make up the majority.

Gary France said...

Doug – You make a very good point and I hadn’t thought of that. I don’t see quite the same problem in Europe though, where a huge amount of competition amongst dealers of different mid-size bike manufacturers will keep the dealers on their toes. You and I should compare notes in 6 months time about where the 500/750 bikes are placed in the dealerships.

Gary France said...

Wooley – I 100% agree with you. These H-D lower capacity bikes are long overdue.

Gary France said...

Tina – I am sure your Dad would be really proud, especially considering your current amazing motorcycle journey of discovery and adventure. Would he care that you are not riding a Harley? As you say, probably not, but a lot of Americans would. I have been very surprised at the strength of feeling that foreign brands are un-American and even more so by some of the views expressed in social media about the new 500/750 H-D bikes for the Indian market being built in India. That reaction is both good and bad. I am impressed by the patriotic views expressed by many, but surprised at the lack of understanding that it makes little financial sense to build motorcycles for the India market in the US and then ship them to India. Many women, who feel unable to ride larger H-D models, will love the new bikes and will rejoice in having more than just a Sportster to choose from in the Harley range.

Gary France said...

Rex – You are spot on. Price is critical to most younger riders and until now, most cannot afford the price of a Harley-Davidson. That is one of the reasons why the average age of a Harley rider is in the late forties. H-D simply have to do something about this and with these cheaper 500/750 models, they are moving into that younger market.

Gary France said...

Nikos – A good condition Aermacchi is worth a fortune today!

Gary France said...

VStar Lady – I agree, they do look less ‘Harley’ but crucially, they still say Harley-Davidson on the tank, a badge that many find desirable. As you say, time will tell.

Gary France said...

Rick – I think your comment sums up this whole topic very well. The brand is so strong, people do consider Harley-Davidson motorcycles to be very desirable, but are put off by their large size and price. Whether these latest Harley models are a hit will be seen soon enough. I agree that it is likely to be a smart move.

Nick D said...

I like the idea of a fsater/lighter Harley and a bike of the size and engine power of say a Yamaha XJR1300 would be cool.

So without seing it as yet perhaps a Street 1000 big bore kit has already been thought out? We had one of the first 100 XR1200s when they came out - it was a good idea but to be honest it wasn't as good handling as the Buell Lightning we'd replaced (due to longer wheelbase) and it was down on power too when in reality in wanted more! The seat was blinkin uncomfortable and the fuel tank was useless. But I liked the idea...