What's Next for the Motor Co.?

Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer sales decline Harley-Davidson Financial Services corporate financials corporate debt

But things weren't always that way. Many years prior, believe it or not, Harley-Davidson had to struggle to keep its market share above 5 percent or so. Then it exploded onto the American market with the help of a former U.S. president and a favorable decision by the International Trade Commission. Harley-Davidson was then in the hands of a brilliant manager educated at MIT. He had just the right understanding of what the newly acquired company needed. Or maybe I should say instead that he understood why the company already had what it needed to become eventually the No. 1 motorcycle company in America. Vaughn Beals was the recipient of the AMA Hall of Fame honor in 2008.

That was a tall order considering that Harley was competing with the company that saved the industry in the '60s by teaching the average citizen that people who rode Hondas were the nicest people you would meet — and were a long distance from all those dangerous beer drinkers in a town named Hollister.

You would have to be snoring or sound asleep not to know that Harley achieved all it wanted and perhaps more. But what about now? What's going on with that company? You would have to wonder now whether it knows what it's doing.

It doesn't seem to. It has become clear that the baby boomers' cash will run out someday, and maybe even their zest for the "ride America" spirit has waned. And what did I see in The Wall Street Journal this morning? From memory, something like "Maybe the baby boomers weren't all that rich after all since they are inching toward the top of the list of those who spent their savings until there was little left. ... "

But doesn't this only apply to a small number of baby boomers, you ask? That depends on your viewpoint. I have two sons who are boomers, and both are doing just fine.

In the final analysis, Harley-Davidson is still the No. 1 motorcycle company in America, in cruisers and touring bikes — the categories in which it earns most of its sales. Everything is relative, after all, and size still matters! — DJB

Editor's note: U.S. economic conditions are affecting the power­sports industry, as they are affecting many other industries. When you see a serious sales decline forecast for a brand, remember the glut of used bikes that are bringing down prices of both new and used. Wholesale numbers are also climbing as import distributors are forced to take on inventory commitments. Our forecasts are made with the best of efforts and techniques, but given these economic pressures, we must advise the greatest care in evaluating these forecasts. — DJB


Index is based on the author's analysis of the MIC Retail Sales Report, SEC filings of quarterly and annual reports, and other information provided by publicly traded companies (such as Harley-Davidson and Polaris). Readers are cautioned that these estimates are subject to error, which can result from changes in seasonal patterns due to unexpected weather conditions and fluctuations in the economy. Interruptions in the supply of popular models can also affect these forecasts. Forecasts are not intended for investment purposes. Questions concerning this index should be addressed to the author, c/o Dealernews, or the author via e-mail at djb-llc@cox.net. Copyright © 2009 DJB Associates LLC, All Rights Reserved. Composite Index Advisory Board: Lindsay Brooke, Motorcycle Historian and Analyst • Tom Hicks, Owner/President, Southern California Motorcycles • Paul R. Puma, GE Commercial Finance • Craig Southey, COO of Cycle Barn MotorSports Group

* The DJB Index is the square root of the total of our sales forecasts for motorcycles, ATVs and scooters. This index allows readers to look at (and keep track of easily) one number that is a summary of our predictions.