This summer, Harley-Davidson announced a bike project that interests a lot of us on ADVRider. It’s the Pan America, Harley’s first venture into a Milwaukee-branded dual sport adventure bike.
But for Harley, the question is more existential; will the bike sell and will it pull the Motor Company out of its slump?
We’ve covered some of the numbers before on these pages.
Harley is in a sales slump, with global sales down 6.7% in 2017 compared with the prior year, with U.S. sales down 8.5%.
Overall bike sales for all brands in the United States have either been flat or sliding since their peak a decade ago.
The whys have been chewed over; answers like aging boomers, disinterested millennials, college debt, and more have been spit out.
But some segments are either booming or are seen as growth opportunities.
The growth opportunity is in lighter, easier to handle street fighters, with numerous brands coming out with models clearly intended to appeal to first-time riders and urban dwellers.
The market segment that’s booming is the adventure bike. BMW’s sales are up worldwide. Leading the charge is their most popular model, the R 1200 GS (about to be the 1250 GS.) Similarly, KTM are seeing strong worldwide sales, and they live in the adventure bike category.
Seeing an opportunity and as desperate as ever to break out of its niche, Harley is jumping in.
The Pan America will have a new 60-degree 1250cc V-Twin engine, an adventure-strength frame and, if the prototype resembles the final design, an idiosyncratic appearance.
The question is, will it work?
The obvious answer is that we won’t know until they try to sell it.
What we do know is that Harley is trying hard to change their identity. With the demographic that buys their current models shrinking, their need to do so is taking on greater urgency.
That’s why they’re betting big on electric bikes with their LiveWire project.
It’s also why the Pan America foundation is modular, designed to handle anything from 500 cc on up, and why H-D immediately announced that the 2020 Pan America (at 1250 cc) would be followed by a 975 cc in 2021 and range of displacements in 2022.
But Harley have some some flameouts before as they tried to find new customers.
The Harley-Davidson XR1200, a flat track racer-inspired design, was a media darling when it first went on the market in 2010. By the end of 2012, it was dead.
This year, Harley killed the radically different V-Rod after a lukewarm 16 year run.
Whether or not the Pan America suffers a similar fate will become a big issue when it’s released in a year’s time. Then time has passed when Harley could contemplate expanding its base as a want, or a philosophical proposition.
Increasingly, projects like the Pan America and the LiveWire (and others) are needs. They may determine the company’s future and whether it can hold onto its place at the pinnacle of US motorcycle sales.