Thursday, November 26, 2009
Any company that owned 50 percent of its category, as Harley-Davidson did of cruiser motorcycles, might easily be thought of as not having serious competition. Yet because demand was exceeding supply and creating a remarkable two-year waiting period for buying a Harley, the door was open to a handful of competitors, each looking to increase its share of the market at Harley-Davidson’s expense. Foremost among these were the four big Japanese motorcycle manufacturers—Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki—each of which had begun building its own heavy cruiser motorcycle in the previous three years. These Harley clones were characterized by big engines and an authentic look. Each could be mistaken by a non-Harley novice for the real thing. Unlike the real thing, however, these motorcycles were ready to be driven away from the showroom. More troubling in some ways were a pair of companies preparing to offer an alternative American bike right in Harley’s own neighborhood. In Minneapolis, Excelsior Henderson, a classic American motorcycle company that had failed, was threatening to come to life again and produce its own, truly authentic line of bikes. At the same time Polaris, a large manufacturer of snowmobiles, had plans—and the resources—to market a moderately priced cruiser in the $8,000 to $10,000 range. Against this background Harley-Davidson was not content to rest on its laurels, even if it could still sell many more bikes than it actually produced.