Without much fanfare, Harley-Davidson is announcing the reveal date for its first adventure motorcycle.  The MoCo will unveil the new Pan America digitally on February 22, 2021.

I’m anxious to see what Harley’s first effort will be like.  Personally, I’d love to ride the Pan America and find out what Harley’s best can do.  It’s exciting.  While it likely won’t be a hard enduro machine, I hope that it will at least fit the bill for less than smooth roads.  I’d truly be happy if Harley succeeds with the Pan America and later moves to broaden its product line.

However, under its current leadership, I’m not sure that Harley will be willing to break its present “core customer” mode.  If the machine sells well, perhaps they’ll think about building something smaller and lighter.

Understands adventure riders?

But you have to wonder if Harley understands or wants to understand the adventure riding marketplace and community.  Unfortunately, it seems that Harley is focusing on what it wants and how they want it instead of the other way around.

For example, when you go to Harley’s Pan America webpage, Jason Momoa is featured prominently.  Momoa is a well-known actor, but is he a great spokesperson for a new adventure machine?  By having an actor as their marketing tool, Harley is trying to tune into the adventure riding image instead of the riding itself.

Momoa actor

Jason Momoa is the face of the Pan America on Harley’s website.

Getting people’s attention

So some may say, who cares?  Harley wants to get people’s attention, and they hired a good looking rugged actor for the role.  So what?  And they would have a point.  Not all adventure riders want to ride hard enduro.

And Harley itself calls the Pan America an adventure touring machine.  If they want to market the Pan America as more of a tourer than a harder enduro machine, they don’t need to hire a well-known off-road rider to showcase their new bike.

Unfortunately, the first thing that struck me when I saw Momoa was that Harley was trying to latch onto the “adventure rider mystique” and not really the adventure riding community.  It felt like Harley’s priority is to capture “a perceived lifestyle” rather than the actual riding itself.

Flashy video

Although the Pan America website has flashy video, the scenes look forced.  There are many brief shots of off-road fun, but the scenes flash very quickly.  You get about 3 seconds of a particular shot and then a different view.

The riders are obviously trying to make the scenes exciting, spinning the rear up, wagging the bike’s tail, and making small jumps.  But it seems they are overplaying what they are actually doing to make the visuals more exciting.

While the video creates some energy, it has the feel that Harley is afraid of something.  It’s probably inadvertent, but some may wonder why we can’t see more of the machine for more than 3 seconds.

My way or the highway?

Another thing that Harley is pitching is; “You’ll do it my way or not at all.”  To join the bike’s reveal, Harley requires a person to complete a registration process.  That’s not a big deal in itself, but the amount and type of information they ask for is.

Pan America Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson requires you to register and provide this information to attend the Pan America’s reveal.

Out of bounds requirement?

Just to tune into the reveal, a viewer must give Harley their first and last name, email address, country, and surprisingly the person’s full date of birth.  All of these fields are required fields. And they require that you check a box saying: “YES, I would like to receive email regarding the the Harley-Davidson® virtual product launch event.”

Really?  Just to see an unveiling?  Ugh.

I understand that marketers want to grab as much information as they can.  More information means more access to potential customers.  But to demand and require this level of information for a product reveal simply seems to be a huge overstep.

Can you imagine going to EICMA, and before you could attend a product rollout, you had to provide the information Harley is requiring?  What is Harley thinking?

Harley heyday

From my perspective, it’s the feel of the “old” Harley guard in the company’s heyday.  Sort of the way dealers used to treat potential buyers in Harley’s glory days.

“If you want to buy a Harley from me, you’ll pay MSRP (or more) and get whatever color I have in stock.”  “I’ll call you when it comes in.”

That kind of treatment worked in Harley’s heyday, but it likely won’t be well received in 2021.  Today, if someone is interested in your product, you welcome the person like family.  Then do what you can to retain their interest, and then make the sale.

Exclusivity and premium products

Ah, but Harley isn’t working that way.  Current Harley CEO Jochen Zeitz has consistently said that he wants Harley to have and maintain an air of exclusivity as a maker of “premium” products.  I get that.

But Harley is working in a different moto category now.  One that is filled with many people who want to use the products for their intended use.  Not just to maintain a certain look.  Sure, there will be some who will buy the Pan America just because it’s a Harley product, but is that a recipe for success?

When sales are down, and your new product has not proven itself, do you really want to depend on the bike’s look and the perceived Harley lifestyle?  If it were me, the answer is no.  But if you are Jochen Zeitz, and you’re less concerned about the number of sales and more concerned with the unit profit percentage, perhaps you are right.

Sell less product, earn more profit.  If this is truly Zeitz’s plan, I wish him and Harley-Davidson luck.  Perhaps he’s a genius.  Or perhaps he’s putting lipstick on the pig so that he can sell the company with a good looking balance sheet.

Pan America

Harley’s new Pan America.

Whatever the case, I truly hope that the Pan America is a hit.  I want to see Harley succeed and become the 800-pound gorilla it used to be.  As soon as it becomes available, I’ll gladly take a Pan America for a test ride to see what Harley has come up with.  But jeez, Harley, please drop the “lifestyle” stuff and get on with the business of selling good adventure bikes.

Are you looking forward to the reveal of the Pan America?  Let everyone know what you think in the comments below.


All photo credit: Harley-Davidson 

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