Harley-Davidson celebrates its 110th anniversary with the new, 2013 Breakout… (Harley-Davidson Motor…)
If there's anything that underscores Harley-Davidson's holiness in the motorcycle world, it's the company's announcement Monday that Pope Benedict XVI will bless its bikes at the Vatican next June as part of the Milwaukee manufacturer's 110th anniversary.
While Harley, like much of the motorcycle industry, has suffered significant sales declines in recent years due to the global financial crisis, it remains a steadfast icon -- albeit an expensive one that many consumers aren't able to afford, even if they'd like to.
Harley bikes retail for $7,999 to $38,599. The company, which sells 55% of all motorcycles in the U.S. with displacements larger than 650 cc, is the oldest, continuously operating American motorcycle manufacturer. And it's celebrating that longevity with a small selection of anniversary models and a large roster of events that will begin next week in Milwaukee and travel to 15 cities around the globe, including stops in Austria, New Zealand, Africa, China, Italy and Mexico.
Harley will produce extremely limited editions of just seven 110th-anniversary models for 2013, all of which will be serialized and sold with commemorative, solid bronze fuel tank badges and vintage bronze or vintage black paint. The 1200 Custom, Super Glide Custom, Fat Boy Lo, Heritage Softail Classic and Road King are among the handful of bestselling models that will be produced as 110th anniversary editions.
For its 105th anniversary, Harley offered twice as many special editions with three times the production numbers. Each of the Harley-Davidson's 800 U.S. dealerships will receive just two or three 110th-anniversary bikes, which will begin deliveries during the second week of September, according to Harley-Davidson media relations manager, Jennifer Hoyer. The rest of the 2013 lineup will be available this week.
The only new models Harley is introducing are the Breakout, an entirely new CVO, or Custom Vehicle Operations, high-performance Softail with hand-polished steel sections on its fuel tank and fenders. Its popular touring bike, the Road King, is also now available as a higher-end CVO with a new vented windshield and hi-fi audio.
The Street Bob is the only bike to get an update. For 2013, it will have a blacked-out powertrain, chopped rear fender, side-mounted license plate and mini ape-hanger handlebars that can all be customized at the factory level. In a bid to appeal to younger riders, Harley is also building on the Hard Candy idea it launched earlier this year with its new Seventy-Two, a lowrider-inspired Sportster with metal flake paint, whitewall tires and a reasonable $10,499 starting price.
In addition to the Big Red Flake color it debuted earlier this year, Harley will offer metal flake in green and gold as solid-color options on its Seventy-two, Street Bob, Blackline, Softail Deluxe and Forty-Eight models. Thirteen other big flake finishes are also available from its accessory department.
The last time Harley-Davidson celebrated an anniversary -- in 2007 -- the motorcycle industry was just beginning to taper from 14 years of consecutive gains that pushed annual U.S. unit sales over the 1 million mark. In 2011, sales of new on-road motorcycles in the U.S. had plummeted to about 312,000 units, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council in Irvine.
Retail sales of new Harley-Davidson motorcycles in 2011 were up 5.8% in the U.S., compared with an increase of 1.8% for the rest of the industry, according to the MIC. This year, Harley's sales are up 9.3% for the first six months of the year globally.
"The Harley-Davidson name means somewhat less to the current generation than it did to their traditional buyers," said industry expert Michael Millman, managing member of Millman Research Associates in New Jersey. Earlier this month, Millman's firm described Harley-Davidson's business as "cyclic" and "dependent on (high end) consumer discretionary spending," which is uncertain given the present state of the U.S. and European economies.
Harley's 110th anniversary celebration is "good publicity," Millman said, but he's doubtful it will lead to significant increases in sales. "When you have a birthday, does that change how people treat you at the office?"
Harley-Davidson unveils Seventy-Two and Softail Slim Motorcycles