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The #1 Threat to Harley-Davidson – Part 1: It Isn’t Indian

I’ve spent years working in the motorcycle industry. It exposes you to things the average rider doesn’t get to experience. First you learn how the motorcycle industry works, and once you’ve figured that out, you can understand the moves your competitors make. In my case, I can understand the moves a company I used to represent is making. You may have heard of them. Harley-Davidson. The black and the orange? The bar and shield logo? The guy in the pic below? That was me.

“Is Harley-Davidson afraid of Indian now that Polaris is backing them?” Jim asked me three weeks ago. We had just met. I was towing a motorcycle for Jim as part of my side business, Motorcycle Towing Toronto. It had been almost three years since I worked for Harley-Davidson Canada, but the answer was clear to me.

“Harley afraid of Indian? Absolutely not.” I answered, and I still believe it. We can’t pretend that Indian isn’t showing up on Brand Health updates in Milwaukee. We can’t pretend that those updates aren’t likely showing growth in Indian’s brand awareness and consideration metrics. It’s just that Indian’s market share and units remain puny, comparatively speaking.

“Harley will keep a close eye on Indian, but they have a much bigger problem to deal with.” I said. Jim was all ears, so this is written at least in part for him.

Over the next three posts, as both an industry insider and a motorcycle enthusiast, I will be sharing with you what Harley’s biggest threat really is.

Part One is your introduction. I worked in the motorcycle biz. Harley-Davidson is the biggest name in motorcycling. I’m writing a multi-post article on the biggest threat to their future. The multi-post article has been thoroughly researched and vetted, and you should read it.

Part Two will cover the history of the Harley-Davidson brand. Using books, historical sources, and archives, we’ll look at what Harley has achieved and what they’ve (just barely) managed to survive. The idea is to give the reader a quick sense of what the company is capable of, how far they’ve come, and how many challenges and struggles they’ve already endured.

Part Three will reveal what Harley-Davidson’s biggest threat truly is. We’ll be looking at numbers from the Motor Company themselves, investor reports, periodicals, web pages, census data, and more. I’m confident that by the time you get here you’ll agree, Harley’s biggest threat isn’t Indian. It’s much bigger than Indian.

Part Four will show you, clearly, the tactics Harley-Davidson is already leveraging to face their biggest threat. Some of these tactics you may already have noticed. Some of tactics are overtly visible in market, while others are utilized more covertly in less direct applications. You may have seen these marketing tactics without realizing that they are all a part of Harley-Davidson’s attack on their true #1 threat. You may have seen the creative without ever thinking about the strategy that was behind them. You may have picked up on the connections between certain pieces, without understanding the full size of the web being spun.

This series isn’t a matter of exposing trade secrets or leaking out confidential information, nor do I stand to gain anything from sharing this with you. The information I’ll be providing on Harley-Davidson and the motorcycle industry is either coming entirely from sources that are cited throughout the posts, or else it is information which is already common knowledge. For the sake of keeping myself out of legal trouble, I’ll call what you’re about to read a running hypothesis, or a statement of opinion. But believe me, the information, associations, and inferences you’re about to read come from roughly a hundred hours of researching, reading, and networking.

This was Part 1 of our 4-Part series, The #1 Threat To Harley-Davidson. If you’re interested in reading the full article as it comes out, please subscribe:

On to the next one – Check out: The #1 Threat to Harley-Davidson – Part 2: Shack, Shambles, and Success