Legendary motorbike brand Harley-Davidson is, this year, celebrating 60 years of its Sportster family of motorcycles. The Sportster platform comprises Iron 883, 1200 Custom, Forty-Eight and Roadster. According to Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) India, two-wheelers sales registered a growth of 9.58% in April-May 2017 over April-May, 2016. Within the two-wheelers segment, scooters and motorcycles grew by 24.67% and 4.04%, respectively.
A Harley-Davidson rider is typically aged between 28-45 years. Urban cities witness people within the 28-34 year-age bracket to be Harley-Davidson customers, whereas those in tier II cities are aged between 35-45 years. What is staggering to note is that 98% of the brand’s customers are male. The company is now looking to bring in more women riders into its consumer fold. Towards that end, Harley-Davidson recently held a women’s only riding event which saw 40 women from various cities taking part.
Also on the cards are regional markets. The company currently has presence in 26 cities across India. “With the growth in improved road networks across the country and growing aspirations of people, the tier II market has witnessed a sudden upsurge in the field of leisure motorcycling,” Pallavi Singh, director, marketing, Harley-Davidson India, tells BrandWagon. The company has been known for being involved with its user community and started off the Harley Owners Group (HOG) in late 2010, a year after the brand started its operations in India, to engage with its consumer community.
Harley-Davidson also organises interactive sessions like Passport to Freedom and Boot Camp to equip new riders and enthusiasts with the necessary skills to handle heavy displacement motorcycles. There are five marquee rallies held every year. Four of these are zonal rallies which culminate in the India HOG rally. Each zonal rally is hosted by a dealership of that particular zone. The India HOG rally is usually hosted in the first quarter of the year in Goa, which sees over 2,000 participants.
Apart from rallies, Harley-Davidson organises interactive sessions with industry and in-house experts to train people on the techniques of confident riding. This is where Passport to Freedom (PTF), Boot Camp and Harley Rock Riders come in. PTF, conducted across all dealership cities, brings together seasoned riders and motorcycle experts to encourage confident riding. Now in its second season, PTF has been conducted in Mumbai, Ludhiana, New Delhi, Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Kozhikode, Surat, Hyderabad and Dehradun so far this year.
The Boot Camp entails an introduction to the Harley-Davidson lifestyle and culture, its origin, history and an understanding of the motorcycle families to identify the right bike for oneself. The company has already organised sessions in Bhopal, Raipur, Ranchi and Lucknow till now.
Then there is Harley Rock Riders, a rock music festival which brings together riders’ interests of bikes and music.
Direct engagement by way of events and activations, Singh explains, is extremely crucial for the brand and to that end the brand launched the HOG ‘Chapter of the Year’, an exclusive recognition programme for Indian customers. It is awarded to the most active chapter, and for the collective effort and contributions made by the members in their chapter in one year. The brand looks to create experiential events at both company and dealer levels. Events such as Harley Rock Riders, zonal and national HOG Rides and Boot Camps are examples. Among upcoming events is the sixth Northern HOG Rally and Harley Rock Riders scheduled to take place over the next couple of months. Associations play an important role in how the brand engages with customers. It has an ongoing association with GoPro, manufacturer of action cameras, for all its big events.
On the brand’s rather offbeat communication strategy, Singh notes, “Since our launch in India, we have focussed on being present where our customer is, be it offline or online, and our marketing mix reflects that. All other mediums form a balanced mix in our communications plans.”
Another player in the biking space, Royal Enfield (owned by Eicher Motors India), sees production happening out of Chennai. The bikes are priced relatively competitively against Harley-Davidson, making it the more affordable option in the category. Amidst news of dipping sales globally, Harley-Davidson launched Street Rod a few months ago priced at Rs 5.86 lakh. The entry level motorbike, Street 750, costs Rs 4.98 lakh. The brand does not seem perturbed about the pricing advantage that this gives its rivals, as it focusses on serving the premium-priced motorcycle aficionado.
Leisure motorcycling — now here’s a category that has steadily been growing as the riding culture sees more and more of a shift from utility based riding to leisure and/or luxury focussed riding. It will be worth watching how far Harley-Davidson leverages biker communities to generate more growth in the country.