THE MACHINE, THE CULT, THE BRAND
Dated: May 01, 2014
Harley-Davidson Inc. rode into India in 2009. It is said that no two Harleys are the same... The bike is a cult apart... Every Harley owner partakes of that immanent theatre that the machine is... Creative Brands speaks to Pallavi Singh, one of its custodians in India. Singh, who is Marketing Manager, Harley-Davidson India, speaks about the machine that ‘distinguishes a man from a boy and a woman from a girl’
“The wind on your face, close to the earth, you ride with Mother Nature on you Harley-Davison: that is what comes to your mind when you say Harley...”
—Pallavi Singh, Marketing Manager, Harley Davidson, India
When Bill Harley and Arthur Davidson took out their first motorised bicycle, the machine took on the flat muddy roads pretty well, but, the thing refused to climb uphill. The two came back. And when the three — Bill Harley, Arthur Davidson, and Harley-Davidson — hit the road the ride stopped at the top of the hill. Such has been the journey of Harley-Davidson, with ups and downs, jerks and breaks — a journey of endurance, experimentation, and expansion that officially started in 1903 when the roads were little more than dirt tracks.
NO TWO HARLEYS ARE THE SAME
It was in the Davidsons’ basement where Harley and Davidson started making motorcycles. A garage is synonymous with a Harley home: no other bike has more narcissistic images of itself, grease on iron, in a garage, than a Harley. It has turned basements into garages and garages into homes. Even when the company built its first headquarters at Juneau Avenue in Milwaukee — a six-storey building — one half was a workshop. For Harley and Davidson, if they were enthusiastic bikers they were at once visionary entrepreneurs too. Racing, especially open-for-all cross-country racing was the in-thing in the 1900s. Many Harley owners then were amateur racers — the track would be around 300 mile long. The craze caught on and the company gave it a direction and as early as 1909 it started handing out do-it-yourself manuals and spare-parts catalogue to its owners. It was listen-to-your-customer-and-gauge-what-he-needs put to practice.
What then? A bike became an idea, and an owner a craftsman. Not a surprise then that every owner knows his H-D inside out. And today, “customisation is an integral aspect of the brand. No two Harleys are the same. We have a lot of parts and accessories at the dealership that the customer can choose from — from the paint to the muffler,” says Singh.
When you walk into a Harley Davidson store you want to hang out there for a long time. It’s not a dealership; it’s an experiential hangout. It’s a place where you can come with your friends, buy merchandise or a gift for somebody...
“We launched in India in 2009. We came to India with all our five families (models). We wanted to launch the whole brand Harley-Davidson and not just a motorcycle. We made sure our dealers gave the same experience that Harley does. When you walk into a Harley Davidson store you want to hang out there for a long time. It’s not a dealership; it’s an experiential hangout. It’s a place where you can come with your friends, buy merchandise or a gift for somebody. We have been careful to study and understand what our customers want.”
FOR THE ENTHUSIASTS
Be it Lee Marvin in The Wild One, or Jack Nicholas in Easy Rider, or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator-2, or the ageing John Travolta in Wild Hogs, age is only a number. “As such, we don’t have a target group. If you look at our product line-up, a 20-year-old and a 60-year-old can own a Harley. It’s a very personal choice. I may like to ride a Fat Boy
(name of an H-D bike), someone else may like to ride a Sportser,” Singh smiles. And the customer base in India? “We have sold close to 4,000 motorcycles in India till now. Our core customers are fairly very young — 35 years and above — compared to other markets. But we do have younger customers too, because of the brand pull.
Owning a Harley Davidson is an extension of your personality. With a brand like Harley it doesn't matter whether you're a male or a female. Willie G. Davidson, William Davidson's grandson, once said that brand Harley Davidson distinguishes a man from a boy and a woman from a girl...
Enthusiasm drives a potential owner. H-D can very well be an “impulse buy,” she adds.
“With a brand like Harley it doesn’t matter whether you’re a male or a female. Willie G. Davidson, William Davidson’s grandson, once said that brand Harley Davidson distinguishes a man from a boy and a woman from a girl. I always have that on my mind. This question comes up a lot.” And, the Harley Women have been appearing in the brand ads since 1912 — actually riding bikes. In fact, women just didn’t ride H-D in ads. They were quick to grab the handle. In 1915, when Avis and Effie Hotchkiss — the mother-daughter duo — rode coast to coast from Brooklyn in New York to California they weren’t proving anything, but, wanted “just to have fun”, in their own words. And completing the circle in five months, May to October, meant riding and nothing much. In a similar vein, Singh recounts, “I have always been associated with motorcycles. I was a national gymnast. I was inclined towards things that were more rebellious in nature since I was a kid. There are a lot of women who work at Harley worldwide. We have 14 women in Harley in India. We all ride, meet people, travel... I own an Iron 883.”
In fact, in 1916, an expression of the growing motorcycle culture, the company launched The Enthusiast — the longest running motorcycle magazine — and had subscribers from all over the world. Today, the magazine is called HOG.
THE H-D CLAN — H.O.Gs
Harley-Davidson’s brand ambassadors have been its owners and dealers from the beginning. The cross-countries of the 1900s were mostly won by H-D owners. The company’s advertisements celebrated the winners. Even dealers who performed exceptionally in their local area were advertised in magazines and newspapers. In 1920, H-D had 2,000 dealers across 67 countries and it was manufacturing the most number of motorcycles in the world. Over the years, informal motorcycle clubs such as the Hells Angels riding their choppers and draggers (customized Harleys) sprang up. The motorcycle was soon to become community culture. Popularity verged on cult and in 1983 the company formed an official Harley club called H.O.G or the Harley Owners Group. “So when a customer buys a motorcycle, he is buying into a community which is the Harley Owners’ Group. H.O.G has more than 1.3 million members worldwide... Whether you meet somebody from the company or at the dealership, we all talk the same language. And we all ride together. The MD of the company also rides with the service staff. They are all part of the HOG rallies.”
H.O.G Chapters — India
“We have 13 chapters in India across all our dealerships. All our customers ride together. We have events across India. We researched in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore to find out what our customers in India want, the riding conditions — the kind of roads we have — in India. There are some beautiful roads. We ride all the time between Delhi and Faridabad. That’s how our HOG chapters began.”
Singh says the biggest event for H.D. in India is the annual HOG Rally in Goa. “That gives the true experience of the brand, with people riding in from different parts of the country — many meet here for the first time and become ‘brothers’. We also do zonal rallies where the dealership is also involved. The company organises four zonal rides across the northern, eastern, southern and the western zones along with the India H.O.G rally.”
You ride the motorcycle with your body. A motorcycle is personal. It's the motorcycle and you out in the open. When you ride a motorcycle you don't talk on your phone. Your riding balance has to be totally right. As I see it, four wheels move the body, but two ride the soul.... When I ride a Harley, I ride for long, for leisure, in the open. Harley is a part of you...
At the company there is a dedicated customer experience team that guides and supports members in setting up rides and events. The India National H.O.G. Rally is something the company takes complete ownership of, with members playing the critical part of bringing their respective chapters together for the ride into Goa. The company also honours H.O.G. members who attend all four Zonal H.O.G. Rallies — North, South, East and West, and the National H.O.G. Rally. Riders who attend all five rides in one calendar year are honoured with the special recognition of the ‘Big 5 Patch’.
“Then there is the ’India Bike Week‘ — we’ve been associated with it for the past two years. This is open to all bike owners. Close to 1,200 Harley owners participated in the rally last year, among the total of 7,000 people. Others get to see what it is like to be a part of the Harley Owners Group. It’s a first-hand experience for them,” Singh says.
THE INDIA JOURNEY
Referring to Harley’s outreach, Singh says that with the launch of the models ‘Forty Eight’ and ‘Iron 883’, it has exceeded their customer base in the past five years. “We’ve done a lot of outreach events such as Harley Rock Riders, which is a musical property. ’Harley Rock Riders IV‘, which took place from August-October 2013, is one of the most significant of Harley-Davidson properties.” Six cities, 22 bands, and three months of head banging power-packed rock music and hundreds of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles is how Harley Rock Riders-IV can be summed up.
Singh says the “idea is to reach out to young customers and go where they want us to be”. The focus of this initiative is to revolutionise the rock music culture in India by providing a platform for upcoming bands to showcase their talent. From a business perspective it helped Harley-Davidson connect with our young outreach audience.
Speaking about Harley’s digital presence, Singh refers to the motorcycle’s one-million plus fan base on Facebook. “We are active on social media and our engagement is deep because the content is rich — from various events. They want to know what’s coming up. Initiatives such as ‘On the Road with Harley-Davidson’, which is a photo feature showcasing photographs submitted by Harley owners and enthusiasts, have been received well by our community. We also feature rides and share content in real time and take the Harley experience to a larger audience. ‘Freedom Stories’, another experiential initiative, is a video series where we feature Harley owners, their dreams, and their unique bond with their machine and how it gives them a sense of unbridled ‘freedom’. We are celebrating people and their life-changing experiences". That said, affordability from the customers’ perspective was key. “When we launched we wanted to ensure that the machine was affordable. We tied up with ICICI and HDFC banks to make it easy for customers to buy a Harley Davidson. Globally, we have HDFS — Harley Davidson Financial Services. But we do initiate tie-ups with banks in other markets too.”
Today Harley is riding into India’s smaller towns as well. “Dealership is a very important aspect of our marketing. We are opening up new dealerships in the smaller cities like Surat, Guwahati, and Coimbatore. The aspirations of people in the smaller cities are quite high and there’s a great motorcycling culture there,” Singh says.
“Today our Indian customers are riding in Sturgis, which is the Mecca of motorcycling; they also hog the Daytona bike weeks. The feeling is the same, just the people change. The HOG community, whether they are in the US or India, the feeling of riding with the brotherhood is the same.”
THE LEISURE BIKING
As a travel companion, a motorcycle has its own charm. Singh says, “You ride a motorcycle — the motorcycle bends, so does the body. You ride the motorcycle with your body. In a car you sit in a corner to drive it. A car is for the family. A motorcycle is personal. It’s the motorcycle and you out in the open. When you ride a motorcycle you don’t talk on the phone. Your riding balance has to be totally right. As I see it, four wheels move the body, but two ride the soul. Be it Royal Enfield or Pulsar or any bike, for us these bikers are future customers for us. We brought to India the leisure biking culture.
Singh rises, adjusts her H-D jacket, and enters the next-door room — a workshop packed with all H-D models. She gets busy with the bikes.
1. 1903-1910: Harley set up
a. 1903: Harley Davidson Motorcycle Company officially launched with Bill Harley, Arthur Davidson, and Walter Davidson (the second of the three Davidson brothers). First factory set up.
b. 1904: First dealership opens in Illinois, Chicago
c. 1906: Factory built in Juneau Avenue
First named model ‘Silent Grey Fellow’, with bicycle pedals launched. The factory produces 1 motorcycle a week.
d. 1907: William Davidson (oldest of the Davidson brothers) joins the company
e. 1908: Harley enters FAM endurance race with Silent Grey Fellow and Walter Davidson. He wins the race setting a record for fuel economy
f. 1909: Bill Harley makes the V-twin engine. The unique H-D sound is born.
g. 1910: ‘Bar and Shield’ logo becomes official. A year later, it is patented.
2. 1911-1920: The days of expansion and experiments
a. 1911: Harley introduces F-head Engine. The ‘clutch’ appears on a bike for the first time — riding in traffic is now easy. Chain–drive and ‘Ful-Floteing’ seat also introduced.
b. 1912: First overseas sale — Harleys shipped to Japan
c. 1913: H-D forms its racing team department headed by Bill Harley. The racing team would come to be known as “The wrecking Crew” for their sweeping victory in the races.
d. 1914: Sidecar introduced. Company enters into accessories. It becomes an instant hit among delivery men, commercial circles, and families.
e. 1916: The Enthusiast launched
3. 1921-1930: Surviving Cars
There are 8 million cars on the road in America. Ford’s Model T is a hit. People are buying cars over motorcycles.
a. 1920: Harley-Davidson becomes the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world with a presence in 67 countries through 2,000 dealers
b. 1921: Sales hit lowest in 10 years. Alfred Rich Child, the company’s top salesman, tours Africa on a J model Harley to set up dealerships around the continent.
c. 1923: Harley sets up a financing entity with Kilbourn Finance Corporation to help enthusiasts buy Harley on credit
d. 1926: Harley enters the lightweight racing segment with the 350CC Peashooter
4. 1931-1940: Customisation and service during World War-I
a. 1932: Paint colour and detailing options are offered: beginning of Harley-Davidson Factory Custom Works
Servi-Car introduced. A three-wheel ride, it’s a hit with police and delivery men.
b. 1933: The art-deco eagle becomes standard on all Harley tanks
c. 1935: First overseas production starts in Japan
d. 1936: 1000CC Knucklehead launched. It’s picked up by police for patrolling.
e. 1937: William Davidson dies
5. 1941-1950: A generation ends with World War II
a. 1942: Walter Davidson dies. Bill Davidson Jr. (William Davidson’s son) becomes the president
b. 1943: Bill Harley dies
c. 1947: H-D leather jackets introduced ‘formally’
d. 1949: With the inception of ‘Hydra-Glide’, hydraulic telescoping front forks are introduced
e. 1950: Arthur Davidson and his wife die in a car accident
6. 1951-1960: Challenging times, changing times
Come 1953, Harley turns 50. It’s the only running American motorcycle manufacturer in the market. But British and Japanese bikes too make a mark for themselves.
a. 1954: The Wild One, featuring Marlon Brandon and Lee Marvin — in motorcycle gang rivalry — is a hit. The ’Rebel Biker‘ image boosts Harley’s persona.
b. 1956: The May issue of The Enthusiast has Elvis Presley riding a Harley
c. 1957: HD introduces XL Sportster. World sees a ‘Superbike’.
d. 1958: Duo-Glide launched: hydraulic rear brake and new rear suspension introduced to motorcycles
7. 1961-1968: Rock Rules and Harley shakes
It’s a period of confusion. Customised choppers and draggers — bikes with high handles running barely above ground without much safety — are everywhere. Biking and bullying are fast becoming synonymous. America introduces laws on bike customisation to keep riding safe. The ‘outlaw image’ pulls Harley back. To add to it all, Honda, a rival Japanese motorcycle maker, in 1963 advertises itself thus: ‘You meet the nicest people on Honda’.
a. 1961: The company buys half interest in Aeronautica-Macchi, an Italian motorcycle maker. Amermacchi Harley-Davidson — a European division of the company — is formed in Italy.
b. 1962: Production in Italy starts. A step to shed costs.
c. 1963: Willie G. Davidson (William Davidson’s grandson and ‘Young Bill’s’ son) joins as stylist.
d. 1964: Electric starters introduced in Servi-Car and other bikes.
8. 1969-1979: Suits take over, quality loses control.
H-D is losing business. 1969: American Machine and Foundry (AMF) buys out the company, making it a subsidiary. The family ownership ends.
a. 1971: AMF logo appears on Harley tanks.
b. 1973: AMF shifts the assembly line production to York with spare-parts production in Milwaukee. A 300-mile separation spells disaster for quality control. ‘Young Bill’ quits the company.
c. 1978: Harely is 75. A cross-country race is organised by President Vaughan Beals.
d. 1979: ‘Fat Boy’ revealed. It is ‘fat’ owing to its dual gas tanks. The ride is a success.
AMF puts the company up for sale.
9. 1980-1989: Harley comes home
13 Harley executives offer a letter of intent to buy the company in 1981. The $81.5-million deal is closed in June. In celebration they ride from the York plant to Milwaukee with the rallying cry “The Eagle Soars Alone”.
a. 1980: Three models put out: 1300cc FLT Tour-Glide, 1300cc Sturgis, 1300cc Wild-Glide. All three carry Willie G’s signature.
b. 1983: The company forms Harley Owners Group (H.O.G).
c. 1984: Harley presents its boldest engine — the 1340cc Evolution: no oil-leak.
d. 1986: The Heritage Softail, with Evolution 1340 engine, debuts.
e. 1987: Harley-Davidson Inc. (HDI) is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
1988: Harley’s 85th anniversary; 1200cc Sportster, the biggest yet, released.
10. 1990-2000: The Eagles flies high
This is the phase of product expansion and aggressive marketing and building an efficient management model. Willie G. brings back the lost vigour of the founders back into the machines.
a. 1990: Wille G. rolls out the FLSTF Fat Boy. Arnold Schwarzenegger would ride it in 1992 in Terminator 2.
Company opens a warehouse for parts and accessories in Germany
b. 1991: Paint shop opens in Milwaukee. Customisation grows
Dyna line debuts with Dyna-Glide Strugis
c. 1993: Dyna Wilde-Glide and the FLSTN Heritage Softail Nostalgia come out
d. 1994: FLHR Road King debuts. It’s a winner.
e. 1995: The Company opens Harley-Davidson Learning Centre
f. 1998: A new Assembly plant opens in Manaus, Brazil, the first plant outside the U.S.
g. 1999: Twin Cam 88 engine fitted to Touring and Dyna models
h. 2000: FXSTD Softail Deuce debuts as a classic. All Softail models get the twin cam 88 engine.
11. 2001-Present: The Road Never Ends
In 100 years, Harley has travelled a tough road. In 2003, 250,000 HOGs ride to Milwaukee, marking 100 years of Harley. Brand and legend are inseparable.
a. 2002: VRSCA V-Rod launched: The first bike to combine fuel injection, overhead cam, and a water-cooled engine at 115 horsepower.
b. 2003: Harley turns 100. Celebrations all over the world.
c. 2005: FLSTNI Softail Deluxe and the Springer Softail Classis bring back the chopper custom feeling of 1930s and 1940s
d. 2006: Harley’s stock ticker symbol changes from HDI to HOG
e. 2008: Harley-Davidson Museum opens in Milwaukee
f. 2009: Harley-Davidson India is set up
g. 2010: XL Forty-Eight is introduced, recalling the raw, custom Sportsters of earlier days
h. 2011: Harley-Davidson opens a CKD (completely-knocked-down) at Bawal, Haryana — the second unit outside the U.S. after Brazil.
i. 2013: Harley-Davidson celebrates its 110th anniversary