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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Comment by Editor-in-Chief, Robin Bradley

Will MY2017 techno-conservatism see Harley fall even further behind their competitors?

The reveal of the 2017 Indian and Victory line-ups (several weeks ahead of Harley’s MY2017 announcement) shows Polaris continuing to lay down a solid foundation from which to continue applying the pressure on Milwaukee.
The problem, of course, with mid-cycle launches is that they can somewhat reduce the impact of such moments, but seeing the already announced models in the context of an overall “offer” continues to join the dots as Polaris fills and expands its footprint in a way in which, at the time of writing, remains the stuff of dreams for Harley dealers.
While colourway custom options dominate the collection, much as it has for Harley in recent years, the focus on “infotainment” adds contemporary riding value thinking (though on selected models only), just as it has also done for Harley.
There’s nothing wrong with “creature comforts” in the 21st century. It is easy to assume that they would be an anathema to the generations of riders who built the “custom style” motorcycle market, but don’t be so sure. Remember how many thousands of indignant righteous abandoned kick starters when they had the choice, and how many thousands appreciated the oil integrity of Evo cases when they replaced the Shovelhead in 1984?
All such developments are a child of their time, and in these times of radically different expectations from the riding experience and ownership experience, if anything, both manufacturers’ initiatives so far actually look lame.

"will eight be the new twin?"

Their embracing of ABS, for example, has been lukewarm and incremental at a time when other manufacturers are already populating the premium market with intelligent suspensions, ecall, and much more besides. Much the same happened with EFi and TBW, but such developments are now routine, and both Polaris and Harley-Davidson would benefit from accelerating their use of technology.
In connection with which, I’m writing this just two weeks before Harley’s MY2017 announcement at their dealer convention in Boston, and with so much riding on it, are the new engine rumors driving the current Harley share price rise?
Having fallen back from its July 2nd ‘blip’, Harley-Davidson’s share price opened this week (August 8th) at $54.13, having been as low as $42.39 as recently as June 27th.
With rumors swirling about what will be seen later in August, the investment community is either responding to the widely accepted undervaluation (especially relative to returns) that has plagued the stock price for most of the past 12 months, or the rumors about the new 107 inch (1753cc) Harley-Davidson “Milwaukee Eight” engine are having an effect.
It is being variously reported as being an air-cooled with pushrod actuation or air/oil-cooled (you pick your blog and you take your choice!), with 114” and 131” versions also mentioned. The name is said to be derived from it being Harley’s 8th engine family in its 113-year history, and reports from Sturgis suggested that the engine was there, with selected dealers and members of the press being given advance new model sneak peaks.
The exact configuration is also the subject of considerable speculation, with some even suggesting that it may not even be a 45-degree V-Twin – though the spy shots that have been flying around the internet appear to suggest a very cramped 45-degree layout. This would suggest a shorter stroke and bigger bore (to get those extra valves in). Either way, whatever is going on in those cylinders appears to be hidden behind an oversized, butt-ugly air cleaner in which the design has been driven by airflow needs alone, on a day when the stylists weren’t watching.
The most common reports suggest that it is an 8-valve engine (4 valves per cylinder), with single cam, dual plug heads that will be seen in a new Big Twin model for 2017, with it migrating to the Tourers for 2018. Though if that is the case, expect to see the “lean machine rapid response” manufacturing philosophy that is the Gospel according to Matt (Levatich) result in mid-cycle additions.
It is now some 17 years since Harley superseded the 15 years of Evo with the Twin Cam.
Investors are not normally known for sentiment where “the metal” is concerned, preferring instead to rely on their algorithms and trigger points – so it may well be that the new model range has little to do with the present share price activity.
Besides, it is not unknown for Harley’s stock price to drift north at this time of year, in advance of and in anticipation of hoped for good news ahead – the problem is that in most prior years disappointment has set in quickly, reminding all concerned not only that what goes up can and generally always will come back down eventually, but that where technology is concerned, “conservative” remains Harley-Davidson’s middle name.
If these rumors are anywhere near true, then while the announcement will, at least and at last, be one with more beef than paint, it is hardly a “future facing” package - overdue and still not speaking to market opportunities will be the likely verdict.
With sales still in decline, surely Harley aren’t going to be able to continue to hide behind market decline for much longer if they aren’t doing something other than spending ever more money on trying to sell “same old, same old” at a time when their competitors are doing anything but.
Taken holistically, the changes that have been seen in the motorcycle design and production offer landscape since the “Lehman Apocalypse” pressed demographic re-set on the market in 2008 are the stuff of legend.
Real legend, not the phoney stuff that Harley is peddling, and as we start to eye the 21st century’s third decade, it would appear likely that we are doomed for some more time yet to seeing them remain conspicuous among manufacturers in still trying to market product-thinking that hit a brick wall at the start of this one.
Unless the “Smart Manufacturer of the Year” has some new technology so carefully under wraps still that a month from now we will all be sitting back in admiration and applauding appreciatively from the dress circle? One can dream I guess!