This morning, Harley-Davidson confirmed an agreement to produce motorcycles in China with their new partner, Qianjiang, Ltd. Qianjiang is majority controlled by Geely, a Chinese company that also owns Volvo.
The new motorcycle will be produced for sale in China, with the first units arriving at the end of 2020. The bikes will later be sold in other nearby markets such as India, where the motorcycle market is exploding right now. All Harley-Davidsons sold in the United States will continue to be built domestically.
Harley’s move is critical to their strategy moving forward, which calls for increased global sales and new electric motorcycles. This smaller, more affordable motorcycle would replace the Street 500 as Harley’s most attainable option. H-D plans to make 50 percent of its sales in international markets by 2027, and it’ll need a motorcycle like this to make that happen. This new bike could also be the first of several models to come from the Harley-Qianjiang partnership. The lead photo is a concept sketch from Harley that shows the direction the new bike may take.
Harley chose Qianjiang because of their experience building small, premium motorcycles. Qianjiang currently produces Benelli motorcycles, which are designed in Italy and built in China.
The 338 cc motorcycle could be just what Harley needs as they battle declining sales and an aging customer base. In addition, costly trade tariffs have already driven Harley to shift production of motorcycles for the European market to Thailand.
Will this Harley-Qianjiang collab ever reach the United States? Just recently, Spurgeon and Lance debated the idea of bringing Harley’s upcoming small model to the states. (Displacement and manufacturing partner had not been released when they had that discussion.) The two had their disagreements, but both supported selling such a bike in other markets.
"The one thing the company has always been able to say, however, is that every Harley sold in the United States was assembled in the United States, and importing bikes built abroad with a foreign partner company would cross a line that might actually be a step too far for Harley's traditional customers," Lance wrote. "Maybe it wouldn't be a problem, but the risk-reward ratio has to be considered."
If the new models never come stateside, how much will this partnership really matter to Harley fans? This is a motorcycle made somewhere else, sold somewhere else, with no real connection to Harley in the United States besides the money flowing back to Milwaukee from international sales. Harley hasn’t announced any plans to import this little bike, but if they decide to bring it here, that will be a whole different story.
The other side to the story: This motorcycle might already be for sale in America
Now, everything from here on is purely speculative and based on a concept image. A very carefully rendered image, but still, Harley-Davidson has not claimed that they are producing the exact bike shown. Now that we've got that out of the way, here's what happened to me this morning as I was writing this story. As I was looking at the two images Harley sent out with their press release, something looked really familiar. I had seen this bike before... and it was just a few steps away from my desk. I grabbed my laptop and headed over to ZLA's motor pool, where Joe Zito's been assembling a Benelli TNT300 that just arrived in a crate. Remember how Qianjiang makes Benelli motorcycles? And now they're making Harleys? Does anyone else see any similarities?
Let's put it this way: I'm not saying the small Harley will be heavily based on a Benelli, but the drawing of the small Harley sure looks like that's the case.
SSR Motorsports imports the Benelli TNT300 for the U.S. market, and they charge $3,999 for one, plus a $295 destination charge. That's half the MSRP of the cheapest Sportster. I'm going to stop right here with the comparisons, because it's easy to get carried away analyzing a motorcycle that doesn't exist yet. However, I think a small, affordable Harley for the world market could be a real hit for H-D if they price it right and make it look like that concept.