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Harley-Davidson has left a trail of broken hearts. Who will mend and enrapture them?

The cruiser market is ripe for the picking, but the winner may be someone who knows how to price it right 

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It took all of ten minutes to break the news to a bewildered bunch of people. From being dealers of the iconic Harley-Davidson, they were now out of business.

In his address to the 30-odd folks, Sajeev Rajasekharan, managing director (Asia Emerging Markets) of Harley-Davidson Motor Company, as one of the livid dealers recalls, was very matter of fact and to the point. “He just spoke of Harley changing its business model in India and the decision to shut down the manufacturing facility in Haryana,” says the dealer. That was on September 24 and it was made clear to all that no contracts would be renewed after December 31. None of the questions relating to investments made or unsold inventory were answered, recalls the dealer. 

Understandably, the way it has been done has not gone down well. For at least a month, the market and media were buzzing on the motorcycle manufacturer’s exit from India. It was only after repeated requests from the trade that the management agreed to talk. A good part of the dealers have been with the company from the time it entered India in 2010. Though nobody is willing to go on record, some of the dealers did admit to considering the option of going legal. “Our interests have not been protected and we will incur huge losses,” says one of them, speaking for many.

Harley’s management responded to Outlook Business’ queries saying that the company is changing its business model in India as part of “an overhaul of its operating model and market structure”. This exercise will continue through the end of 2020 and a new strategic plan will be unveiled for 2021-25.

Harley-Davidson India has always struggled. In fact, it has sold only 25,000 units since its entry, though at the time of its launch it was targeting 10,000 units every year. For all the talk of the music this beast strums on the road, it has had one disappointing journey. In August, it sold just 176 units.

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