Harley-Davidson Makes Strategic Move to Japanese Markets

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Iconic motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson is well known for their heavyweight bikes, but after nearly four decades they’ve ventured into the lightweight motorcycle market with their Street series of bikes.

Their core demographic has historically been baby boomers, but as they’re getting older and consequently buying fewer bikes, millennial customers who prefer lighter, affordable bikes have become their biggest.

Essentially, the company is evolving with the shifting marketing trends.

The move is specifically directed at Japan, which is their biggest market outside of North America. To give this potentially untapped trove of demand a taste of what the Milwaukee-based company has to offer, Harley-Davidson began selling their three-wheel Tri Glide this month at a starting price of 4 million yen ($39,000).

“It’s a relatively easy way into Harley-Davidson,” said Stuart Farrell, head of the company’s operations in Japan. “You can park it next to a nice car and people will still look.”

It’s a smart move, considering the fact that industry experts say that the sale of tens of thousands of trikes has helped to revive a slumping industry. Part of trikes’ appeal is the stability that they offer, which means that riders don’t have to lean into curves, nor hold them steady at stoplights. Such advantages appeal to aging bikers, whose muscles and knees have grown weaker with age, and to first-time riders who lack experience.

What’s more, this stability also makes trikes safer. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one of the biggest reasons that motorcycle riders get into crashes is because of poor weather. Trikes’ improved stability can help overcome the hazardous challenges that rain, sleet, and snow create on the road.

Manufacturing trikes for Japanese markets isn’t only a clever move for these reasons, but also because in Japan, trikes are actually classified as automobiles. This means that anyone who has a driving license can ride the Tri Glide without having to acquire a motorcycle permit.

The targeting of car drivers opens up a massive potential market of 80 million customers for Harley-Davidson. This move could be vital to keep the company thriving, as the most recent data from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association showed that industrywide sales of two-wheelers have declined every year since 1986. Harley-Davidson’s Japanese sales rose one percent to 10,642 units in the last year, which is a third annual increase.

This international expansion will help reduce the company’s dependence on U.S. consumers, and keep their motors running.

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