By the end of 2020, we can expect to see a "smaller, more accessible" 338cc Harley appearing in dealerships across China, as the American company partners with Chinese manufacturing giant Qianjiang to get its brand into more hands.
Qianjiang already produces a colossal 1.5 million motorcycles a year out of its 32-acre "factory zone" in Zhejiang, just south of Shanghai, making it one of the world's largest manufacturers. So, a few Harleys here and there won't be a problem.
The move follows on from several moves Harley-Davidson has been making in recent years to stop the bleed as its traditional baby-boomer base has started trading Fat Boys and Electra Glides for Zimmer frames and golf carts. There are still plenty of riders who would never touch another brand, but let's just say, they ain't the future any more.
So, Harley has been scrambling to build itself a business that will survive the coming decades. The first indications came back in 2013 when it started talking about building learner bikes and electrics, which turned into the Street 500 and Livewire bikes. In 2018, we saw the brand begin firing wildly at different segments, announcing adventure and nakedbike concepts, and even electric bicycles as part of a "More Roads to Harley-Davidson" strategy designed to reach out to anyone with their original hip joints still intact and a few new bike purchases left in them.
Each of these was its own kind of sacrilege at the time, but a 338cc Harley manufactured in China feels like a liminal moment for the quintessentially American brand. Designed as a stepping stone to get Asian riders eventually onto the company's big American cruisers, the new bike represents Harley's goal to sell more than half its motorcycles outside America by 2027.
The company says its upcoming bike will "embody a distinctive look, sound and feel that will spark powerful connections with riders," and promises that Qianjiang will be held to the same "rigorous quality standards and testing processes followed for all Harley-Davidson products."
Even before this move, Harley's sales in China have been growing strongly on the back of an expanding Chinese middle class, a hunger for premium brands and an expanded Harley dealer network. Chinese sales in 2018 were up nearly 30 percent over 2017's numbers, while the numbers slid 10 percent in the same period in the United States. So it certainly seems like a solid plan, provided current trade and tariff tensions don't affect the brand's precious image too badly.
We look forward to seeing what this new machine will look like.
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