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Thursday 21 January 2021


Harley MY21 - Playing it Safe with Chrome, Paint, Audio, Accessories; Some Models Dropped, Nothing New at This Stage

In what is a massive outbreak of playing it so safe it is taking a huge risk, Harley-Davidson's 2021 Global New Model Year announcement event was heavy on hyperbole and light on initiative - despite what one assumes was its best efforts, inspirational, motivational and aspirational it wasn't.
Recycling 1980s style corporate promo video values and techniques, the presentation was entirely devoid of the kind of authenticity that new generations of consumers live for. The 'Grand Unveil' was basically just a 60 minute promo video that was clearly thrown together in November and December last year - not the kind of interactive live experience that contemporary marketing techniques require.

Which was probably just as well, because the Harley site serving the film had crashed, coming to life on a classic 'Just in Time Inventory' basis.
Carefully trying to annotate the number of times chrome, paint and audio were mentioned, it was simply impossible to keep up with the diet of lightweight, superficial cliches - in fact it is unclear if the word 'engineering' actually got used at all. If it did, then it was only a handful of times at best, and in connection with design, sound and finish, not in connection with actual, you know, making metal things.
The use of the English language deployed was grammatically poor in several places, with employees who look scared to death reading from scripts that had come straight out of the school of writing by people who have no idea what they are writing about - not the kind of scripts that one would expect from an institution with nearly 120 years of motorcycle industry institutional knowledge and empathy.

"devoid of authenticity"

The highlights of the announcement (if they can be called that) centered on the "new" Softail Street Bob 114, though actually the only thing that does appear to be really new about it is the upgrade from the 107" M-8 it should never have been on before.
In fact, the Street Bob aside, the elevation up the engine capacity ladder is virtually non-existent - and Harley still appears to think that leaving the burgeoning middleweight market unserved is still a smart play.
Okay, the new 1250 cc engine that will be in the Pan America will debut towards the end of February, and it is known that there are 750 and 950 versions of it 'in-play' at various stages of gestation, but the Sportster line-up is down one model (the 1200 cc Roadster), leaving the Forty Eight and 883 and 1200 cc iterations of the Iron - and by all reports these may only survive for one more year and have already been dropped in Europe - Harley has not been prepared to invest in making the existing XL engines Euro 5 (or BS6/India) compliant.
The other so-called big news is the audio upgrade with Rockford Fosgate now the branded Tier 1 audio vendor of choice and yes, the over-bloated number of Softails has also been trimmed with three 114" models dropped - the Low Rider (the Low Rider S is still in production), the FXDR and the Softail Deluxe. The less than stellar Street and Street Rod 750 have also gone, just leaving the Street 500 cc as a learner platform.
There are still three CVO models at the top of the range, and a CVO and two other Trikes, but when CEO Jochen Zeitz talked about cutting the model range offer by 30% or more, it had been widely expected that there would be fewer still Softails, fewer (not very many) 'Specials' and there certainly need to be fewer than the (still) nine Tourer options - three of which are described as 'Hot Rod Baggers'.
With the Pan America coming to market in a few weeks, it is to be hoped that there will be more mid-cycle initiatives to build some genuine momentum and excitement if the kind of dealerships and dealer groups that Harley is hanging its hat on are to prosper.
Time is short for The Motor Company, and failing to act convincingly and quickly could be a big mistake. In a chronic failure to "speak millennial", Harley remains steadfastly tone deaf. It continues to demonstrate that it wouldn't know an edge if it fell off one.