Vehicles | March 3, 2020 6:00 am

After Five Years in Decline, Is This How Harley-Davidson Recovers?

CEO Matthew Levatich is out after losing to demographics and Trump tariffs

Motorcycle speeding down the road
Not even the well-reviewed Harley-Davidson LiveWire could save CEO Matthew Levatich.

Harley-Davidon’s financial woes are no secret, but an American company as iconic as the first-name in motorcycles seems impervious to long-term trouble. Nonetheless, when a president and CEO steps down out of the blue, as Harley’s Matthew Levatich did on Friday, the bigger picture is going to come under scrutiny.

After his exit, Bloomberg took a look at Levatich’s five-year tenure as CEO (a fraction of his 26-year career at the company) and found that, despite ambitious plans to turn the motorcycle manufacturer around, U.S. sales have dropped every year since 2015, and the market value has dropped more than half during that time.

Older riders may be quick to blame younger generations for the decline (“Millennials are killing motorcycles, too!”), but the reality is a more complex mix of demographics, international trade and changing technology. 

“Levatich had been wrestling with several headwinds as CEO, including an aging customer base in the U.S., its biggest market, and heightened tariff costs from President Donald Trump’s trade wars,” writes Bloomberg. “Harley’s first electric motorcycle, LiveWire, won positive reviews but has yet to kick-start sales or help it achieve greater market share abroad.”

That kick-start may come soon, as the temporary production halt for the LiveWire has come to an end, and the bike is about to get its starring moment alongside Ewan McGregor, as the actor recently told Jimmy Fallon. But it didn’t come soon enough to save Levatich. 

In a press release, Harley announced that board member Jochen Zeitz has been appointed acting president and CEO until a replacement has been found. We’ll have to wait and see if they hire an industry vet or a young gun with a new vision for the historic brand.

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