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Harley-Davidson Rebrands Itself To Reach Millennial Generation


Harley-Davidson leads the U.S. motorcycle market, but sales have slipped. Many Harley customers are, well, maybe what you might expect - aging, male baby boomers (imitating motorcycle). From Harley-Davidson's hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin Public Radio's Chuck Quirmbach has this look at the company's efforts to reach a more diverse group of riders.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: Harley-Davidson is taking some newer motorcycles to the millennial generation.

So what's the trick to start it? Do you pull the clutch?

ED MAKOWSKI: You hold it down...

QUIRMBACH: Thirty-five-year-old Ed Makowski prepared for a free test ride of a Roadster model that Harley brought to the streets of several cities this past week, including downtown Milwaukee.

When he came back, Makowski said he likes the sporty and powerful Roadster, but isn't ready to give up his 1976 BMW motorcycle.

MAKOWSKI: You know, the price is a big thing for me. I'm not in a new bike market. I'm a poet, you know? It would take a coup for me to be able to be shopping for a brand-new motorcycle.

QUIRMBACH: Harley-Davidson has priced the Roadster at about $11,000, well below the cost of Harley's bigger and more traditional motorcycles. Michael Spaeth is in charge of the company's outreach to millennials and women.

MICHAEL SPAETH: Harleys are attainable. These bikes that we have out here today, the new Roadster that we just launched, really targeting kind of that urban demographic is the equivalent of 7 bucks a day. And when you take that into what does that really mean? Some people have coffee habits - a lot of people have coffee habits that are equivalent to that.

QUIRMBACH: That's $7 a day for five years, according to one financing package. Harleys also trying to attract more women customers. And part of the effort is taking place at dealerships in the Milwaukee suburbs.

JIM WISKERCHEN: Does anyone have any writing experience? A show of hands?

QUIRMBACH: At Wisconsin Harley-Davidson in Oconomowoc, instructor Jim Wiskerchen welcomes an all-women ridership training class. Student Deb Smith says she's glad Harley has started offering sessions for women only.

DEB SMITH: So that I would be able to focus on learning and listening. Taking the class with just females and not just being intimidated by male riders who might already have experience.

QUIRMBACH: Smith says she and her husband, Chris, are now empty-nesters, and she wants to join him as he gets back into motorcycling. They may each buy a new Harley. But the competition for motorcycle customers remains intense. Bikes from Asia and Europe attract many. And in the last few years, the domestic battle has stepped up.

ROB SCHOPF: This year's 2016, Scout 60 - starting price at 8,995.

QUIRMBACH: Rob Schopf starts a new model from Indian motorcycles, another iconic U.S. brand revived a few years ago by Minnesota-based Polaris Industries. Schopf recently opened a dealership near Milwaukee.

SCHOPF: We've only been out since 2014. We're on target to hit our second-quarter goal for bike sales, which excites me.

QUIRMBACH: In order to fight off challengers and win new customers, Harley-Davidson plans to spend an additional $70 million this year on marketing and product development. For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.


THE JACKSONS: (Singing) Can I take you for a ride on my motorbike? It's Harley, and she's fast. Yeah. You will be surprised just how smooth she glides. It's Harley, and she's fast. Yeah. Can I take you for a ride on my motorbike? It's Harley, and she's fast. Yeah. You will be surprised just how smooth she glides. It's Harley, and she's fast. Yeah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.