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Common Tread

Five things you "know" about Harley-Davidson that aren't true

Apr 24, 2014

Harley-Davidson reported this week that quarterly profits were up 22.2 percent, compared to last year, thanks to cost-cutting and increased motorcycle shipments as dealers sold 57,415 motorcycles in the first three months of the year.

Digging below the headlines of any company's financial reports can yield a wealth of information. In the case of Harley-Davidson, a company whose products are loved by many and scoffed at by some, you may find that the information contradicts some of what you "know."

Here are five things you think you know about Harley-Davidson that aren't true.

Must be selling a lot of Sportsters

Harley-Davidson reported that shipments were up 7.3 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same quarter last year. So they probably got the numbers up by moving more of the less-expensive units, right?

Wrong. Of the 80,682 motorcycles shipped in the quarter, 19 percent were Sportsters, 36 percent were "Custom" (Dyna, Softail, V-Rod and CVO models) and 45 percent were Touring bikes, generally the most expensive models. Baggers still rule!

Harley-Davidson makes more money selling T-shirts than motorcycles

I don't know where this one started, but I've seen it repeated as a "fact" on various internet forums and heard it said by people who should know better. I guess it persists because it has a certain "truthiness" to it.

The fact is that Harley-Davidson still gets more than 80 percent of its revenue the old-fashioned way: by selling motorcycles. In 2013, the company made just under $59 million licensing its trademarks for T-shirts, key chains, dog collars and the like. That's not chump change, but it's a drop compared to the company's $5.9 billion in total revenues.

Harley-Davidson sells more motorcycles to women in the United States than any other company. Harley-Davidson photo.

Only middle-aged white guys buy Harleys

Well, most Harleys are still sold to middle-aged white guys, the over-35 Caucasian males Harley-Davidson still calls its "core" customers. But Harley-Davidson has made serious efforts to reach out to other buyers. And they're happily trumpeting their progress.

Harley sells more motorcycles to women, African-Americans and Hispanics in the United States than any other company. Part of that is just because Harley-Davidson is the largest, but it's also because the outreach efforts are paying off. In the 600cc-and-above category, over the past five years, Harley increased its market share among women to 62.8 percent from 49.7 percent, among African-Americans to 54.2 percent from 37.8 percent, and among Hispanics to 59.8 percent from 45.1 percent.

H-D, friend of the working man (and woman)?

Harley-Davidson's traditional blue-collar image may have faded away in recent years. By now you've heard plenty of comments about lawyers and accountants becoming weekend rebels on their Harleys. But the future has faded for Harley's blue-collar employees, too.

A major part of Harley-Davidson's restructuring efforts came at the expense of the unionized work force at its manufacturing facilities, where the number of full-time workers was reduced and more "flexible positions" were added. The company said it expects to save $320 million a year from restructuring at its manufacturing plants.

More than a third of Harleys are sold outside the United States. Harley-Davidson photo.

Only in America?

Harleys only sell in the United States, because Europeans don't like them, the Japanese have their own, the Third World can't afford them, etc. Right?

While most Harley-Davidsons are still sold in the United States, the percentage of international sales has fluctuated but has remained significant: 30 percent in 1993, 18 percent in 2003 and 36 percent in 2013. Overall, Harley's total sales and domestic sales peaked in 2006 at 349,196 and 273,212, respectively, but international sales peaked in 2008 at 97,170.