A few days ago, Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich was interviewed by the investment web site TheStreet.com. The occasion was the release of HOG's second-quarter earnings. It was a mixed bag, with earnings slightly ahead of analysts' expectations, but disappointing sales in the U.S.
What shocked me was that Levatich waded into U.S. Presidential politics, blaming some of the company's difficulties on the current election cycle – effectively saying it was hurting "American" brands both at home and, especially, abroad. Although he certainly didn't come out in support of Hillary Clinton, he noted that it’s the Republicans who are "leading the crazy parade".
I’ve written before about the Republican Party’s – and Harley’s – demographic problem (here and here). Both organizations are intellectually capable of understanding that in an increasingly diverse America, a message that only resonates with the pale, the stale, and the male won’t fly. Both organizations have nominally identified women and minorities as key growth markets. But so far, both have continued to wrap their brands up in gun-totin’, Jesus-lovin’, flag-wavin’, ‘Murica-fuck-yeah, tough-guy imagery that actively drives those audiences away.
|Right now, Harley-Davidson riders skew Trumpist, big time. |
(Argue it if you want, but I’ve seen Bikers for Trump; they ain’t ridin’ rice burners.)
So it took a lot of nerve for Levatich to call the GOP out.
Right now, Harley-Davidson riders skew Trumpist, big time. (Argue it if you want, but I’ve seen Bikers for Trump; they ain’t ridin’ rice burners.) So it took a lot of nerve for Levatich to call the GOP out.
I find it heartening. As a HOG shareholder, it encourages me to believe that Harley-Davidson is capable of the introspection and honest self-appraisal that’s going to be required, if it is to transition its brand away from “The preferred brand of Bikers for Trump” to something more inclusive that, just maybe, will represent a growing – not shrinking – percentage of the U.S. population in the 21st century.
It was refreshing candor from a guy in charge of a quintessentially American brand that must both diversify its domestic customer base and ensure that, in international markets, “American” doesn’t come to equal “crazy”.