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Harley-Davidson on Fortune

Did Harley-Davidson Just Buy An Article on Fortune.com?

Fortune.com, the website of Fortune magazine, just ran an article hailing the reliability of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Half of my readers are beaming with pride, the other half are wondering if they read that wrong.

Even Harley-Davidson motorcyclists, like me, have to recognize the irony. For years, the Motor Company hasn’t exactly been known as the most reliable motorcycle on the road. In fact, there’s an old joke that goes: “There are over one million motorcycles on the road in America… the other half made it home in one piece.”

Even the motor company itself admits that the company’s AMF-owned years (the entire 1970’s) were pretty bad as far as quality, finish, and reliability are concerned. But that’s all in the past according to an article on Fortune.com titled Harley-Davidson’s Has a Big Problem and It’s Not Trump. It’s That Its Motorcycles Don’t Fall Apart Fast Enough, which states:

In a world of planned obsolescence gone mad, one company is still making reliable products–and it’s a huge problem.

Harley-Davidson (HOG, -2.89%) motorcycles don’t wear out quickly, in function or in style, and it means the company is competing against its own used motorcycles for sales. In the U.S. there are now three used Harleys sold for each new one—a decade age, the ratio was reversed, the Wall Street Journal reports—and it’s bringing down the company’s revenues.

And now we’re all thinking the same thing: Who wrote this?! Who indeed. When you’re trying to find the culprit, you should start by asking the question: Who benefits?

Based on my research, this is the first and only time the author, Hallie Detrick, has ever written anything about motorcycles. Ever. A curiously strongly-favorable piece no less.

I get what the gist of the article is about. Harley is competing against the used market. OK… and every other motorcycle manufacturer isn’t?

And so we’re left wondering just what it is we’re reading here. Did Fortune.com really publish the thoughts of a poorly-informed author who’s never heard of Japanese motorcycle manufacturers or their legendary reliability… or did Fortune.com just publish an advertisement disguised as an article?

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5 comments

  1. Good question! Personally, I have never had reliability problems with my Harleys, but then, I have only owned two and don’t exactly rack up the miles. On the flip side, I HAVE had reliability issues with previous Jap machinery, all back in the 80’s, and DON’t even mention the Triumph T140V I once had the displeasure of owning for a year!

    But I would say, as a writer myself, you CANNOT write objectively if you haven’t had the experience, so WHERE and HOW did said Journo get the actual FACTS?!!!!

  2. The article stated the fact. There are three used Harleys sold today for every new one. That is an easy statistic for any anyone to acquire from state motor vehicle registration records which numerous data mining firms routinely obtain. It would be interesting (and easy) to compare that Harley statistic to other motorcycle manufacturers. The AMF bad reliability years for Harley were 40-50 years ago for Christ sake. Many of you readers were not even alive then.

    I rode a 2004 Road King for 91,000 miles with zero problems before trading it for a 2012 Road Glide. I now have 86,000 miles on the Glide. It had a stator failure at 25,000 miles which was replaced, along with the voltage regulator, under warranty, and the problem has not re-occurred. The bike runs like a top, leaks no oil onto my garage floor and still achieves an average 43 mpg fuel economy with its bone-stock 1688 cc engine. I like the bike so much that rather than buy a new one, I am planning to have the engine rebuilt as a precaution and just keep riding it.

    I don’t see many bikes on the road from other manufacturers from any country carrying that kind of mileage while running trouble free or having much of a used bike market.

    • Maybe you’re HD { tunnel} vision is blurring the reality…Valkyries with hundreds of thousands of miles, Yamaha Stars Goldwings hell even 45 year old cb750s that are still running strong and many others that are far less likely to cost you thousands in oil changes and maintenance . The tail wagging the Dog?

      • Easy Joe. I was perhaps a bit provocative writing, “I don’t see MANY bikes on the road from other manufacturers . . . “, but what are comments sections for? I am a big fan of Honda engineering and rode a CB750 for 20,000 miles after buying it new in 1971, but the statistic at play is 3 used bikes sold for every one new bike.

        My take on the reason for the presented Harley 3 to 1 ratio is two-fold. 1) They are built like tanks and are almost infinitely rebuildable and customizable from a plethora of parts vendors including Harley. That feeds a huge used (lower cost) bike market and creates an owner bond with a bike that goes well beyond performance. 2) The motivation behind motorcycle brand selection is only partly from the motorcycle itself. The other part is the owner’s image of themselves. They might feel like a Moto GP racer dropping a knee in a curve, a practical scooter commuter, a rat bike café racer or an urbane BMW cruiser. Or they might identify with the edgy, Americana history and culture of Harley. That rider self image is a strong motivational factor in bike selection and the Harley image has proven quite popular over the years with a broad section of the North American riding population.

        That’s my theory as to why the used Harley market is so strong and in 180K miles riding across the U.S. since 2004 I have not seen MANY high mileage, large displacement bikes of other brands pulling 43 mpg.

  3. Just click on the hyperlinked byline: http://fortune.com/author/hallie-detrick/….and you’ll see the answer to the question.
    If this grizzled codger ISN’T a Harley fan-boy…..I’ll eat my ignition coils! (on my Yamaha!)

What do you think?