In a move that reinforces weeks of gossip, but still comes as a shock, Harley-Davidson has officially confirmed its plans to build a motorcycle in China.
The deal was confirmed today, after Harley-Davidson’s CEO hinted at it in a call a few weeks back. It sees Harley-Davidson working with Chinese manufacturer Qianjiang on a new 339 cc motorcycle. The bike will be built in Qianjiang’s facilities, with Harley-Davidson oversight (the rigorous quality standards and testing processes followed for all Harley-Davidson products, according to the MoCo’s presser).
Details on the new bike are sketchy, but if the design sketches are accurate, it appears to have a parallel twin engine and naked roadster styling. Both these moves would be bold departures from the Harley-Davidson formula, as it’s best-known for its current V-twin lineup and a few single-cylinder engines back in the old days. And of course, Harley-Davidson is tied to the cruiser style of motorcycle in its developed markets.
According to Harley-Davidson’s announcement, the new motorcycle is intended to be sold in China first, and then in other markets in Asia. There is no mention of sales in Europe, Australia or North America. Harley-Davidson’s presser says “Continuing to capitalize on growth opportunities in Asia is key to the company achieving its 2027 objective to grow its international business to 50 percent of annual volume.” In other words, Harley-Davidson needs to sell a lot more motorcycles in Asia to hit its goals, which raises another question: since this motorcycle is only going to be sold through Harley-Davidson dealerships, will the company have to aggressively expand its dealer network in China just to meet the desired sales volume in the next eight years?
Why choose Qianjang (also known as Chang Jiang)? Harley-Davidson said it’s due to the Chinese company’s ability to build premium small-displacement bikes, as well as its established supply base, its ability to meet consumer requirements and its proven capabilities in emerging markets. It also probably doesn’t hurt that Qianjang is the Chinese company with decent history in the big-bike game, as it built CJ750 sidecars for many years (basically the same thing as the Ural and Dnepr rigs). It’s already a respected and prestigious brand in that market because of the history of the CJ750.