I remember the glorious day when the American company Harley Davidson, which manufactures motorcycles, launched its bike on Indian roads for the first time. A few select journalists were called to the Lodhi Garden area of Delhi for their trip. Those who were invited to the trip were all considered lucky and my name was included in them as well.
Well we all got this powerful bike to ride on a fixed route in Delhi. It was obvious that Harley Davidson was responsible, but it did not happen. We could not control our enthusiasm and enjoyed an arbitrary ride that broke the queue. In fact, the excitement at the start of this heavy bike was different. Certainly, the Harley Davidson bike was a rare thing at the time. Things are different now in 2020 after a break. This American company, which manufactures unique bicycles, is preparing to leave the Indian market completely. While this is not the case, the company is at least trying to stay inside. It seems that Harley Davidson has become unhindered over the Indian market after a difficult journey of almost a decade.
However, the first few years for Harley Davidson after launch were full of hope. Anoop Prakash, then MD, used to be enthusiastic about the Indian market. In fact, the era of superbikes did not start in India at that time. Like a superbike, the Suzuki ‘Hayabusa’ was sometimes seen on the road. Harley Davidson was also seen as a strong and promising company that manufactures bicycles. It seemed that the company intends to become a long-distance horse in India. Harley Davidson set up his unit in Bawal, Haryana for collection. This was a big deal, because then such large bikes were directly imported. Even companies like Honda and Yamaha did not mount units in India.
The initial enthusiasm was gradually cooled. After this, this famous American company had to face the bitter reality of the Indian market. That is, the initial enthusiasm for a product does not mean that it will actually be sold. Although Indian buyers try all the brands but in the end some choose only the trusted brand. In the case of the car, it is dependent on the Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motor, while in the case of the bike it is affiliated with Hero Moto, Bajaj Auto, TVS and Royal Enfield. Apart from this, Indian companies that manufacture bicycles have also changed over time. They launched better and attractive models over time. While the light from Harley Davidson disappeared.
Not surprisingly, in the last ten years, only 30,000 Harley Davidson bikes have been sold in India. While 17 million or 70 million bikes are sold every year in India and that is when the market for bikes with more than 500 cc engine is in its infancy. In the following years, Harley Davidson also had to compete with other international companies such as Triumph, KTM, Ducati, Benelli and BMW. The annual sales of top end bikes in India are just over 25 thousand. So the arrival of many companies made Harley Davidson’s problem difficult.
Later, the Royal Enfield of India also broke into Harley Davidson Fort. It launched the 650 cc interceptor and Continental GT. Aside from this, most of Harley Davidson’s cruisers and laser bikes proved to be weak ahead of the bikes in Austria, Germany and Italy and their capabilities. Even now, the cheapest bike from Harley Davidson starts at 5 lakhs, while at the same price there are many attractive models of a dozen well-known brands on the market.
Clearly, the road ahead of Harley Davidson is full of challenges. Demand for premium bikes has dropped due to the Corona virus epidemic. Apart from this, there is a fierce competition in the market. Internationally, the Harley Davidson company has not met the challenges facing Kovid-19. The company has launched a layoff plan to increase its sales and earnings. There is also a plan to remove itself from the non-profit market.
The story of American car companies in India and their failed strategy forces them to think. General Motors had to completely stop its operations in India. At the same time, Ford had to merge with Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) to maintain its existence. It looks like the Harley Davidson Company is also choosing one of these routes. The decision may come soon.
(Author: employed by ZEE Group’s international channel WION.)
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s personal views)