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FILE PHOTO: The logo of U.S. motorcycle company Harley-Davidson is seen on one of their models at a shop in Paris, France, August 16, 2018.  REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo (REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: The logo of U.S. motorcycle company Harley-Davidson is seen on one of their models at a shop in Paris, France, August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo (REUTERS)

Harley-Davidson: Out of gas?

  • The brand of cruise bikes that America has been keen to push onto our streets may be on the verge of shutting shop in India. Before the White House makes an issue of it, let’s be clear. Indian import policy is not to blame for its failure

After all the high-level drama it caused, is Harley-Davidson set to pull out of India? After US President Donald Trump took up its cause, trying to portray its tiny share of India’s market as evidence of unfair Indian trade barriers and glare down our tariffs on big bikes, it was forgotten that the story of its domestic debut dates back about a decade before he assumed power. It first found itself on the agenda of US-India talks as part of a mangoes-for-bikes deal. As reported, America would let in more of our favourite summer fruit, while we would clear a path for its great flag-bearer of highway freedom, its Harley cruise bikes. Now, reports suggest, the brand is giving up on India.

It’s no secret that bike hasn’t sold in large enough volumes to justify the company’s Indian operations. When it entered the market, our economy was in boom and leisure biking was in vroom mode, revving up for rapid growth. This did happen. But with Royal Enfield as its chief beneficiary, a local option that’s more affordable. Its fabled Bullet sells at a fraction of a Harley set of wheels. By some estimates, the US bike maker managed to sell just around 30,000 units in 10 years, half the average Royal Enfield does every month.

As for the mass market that Trump had alleged Harley was being deprived of, it comprises low-cost bikes used by people to get around town cheaply, for the most part. With so few Indians ready to indulge their adrenaline, Harley may not have got far even if import duties on its assembly kits were zero. If it does choose to shut shop in India, our import policy would not be to blame.


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