Words like "independence," "camaraderie," "freedom," "empowerment," "individuality," and even "anonymity" pepper a conversation between a customer and a dealer long before Cruise Drive transmission or engine torque.
A Young, Upscale Hispanic Market
Mr. Tapia has two Spanish-speaking salesmen at Merced and two at Los Banos, but more often than not, his Hispanic buyers – successful in whatever line of work they have pursued – complete their transaction in English.
These Hispanic buyers tend to be in their mid-20's to early 30's, easily a decade younger than the current mainstay Harley buyers, Mr. Tapia adds.
Generally, they are looking for the "classic" Harley look in such models as the Heritage Softail, Fat Boy, Dyna, and Road King models, Mr. Tapia says. They tend to prefer sport bikes, opt for wider rear tires and higher performance engines, and "trick out their bikes more than white bikers," he explains. The basic bikes without extras range in price from $6,500 to $20,000.
At the corporate level, Harley-Davidson estimates that 3.4 percent of its U.S. buyers were Hispanic in 2004. That estimate of about 12,700 purchases may be skewed by vague data gathering with regard to who identifies as Hispanic and what is a Hispanic surname, in line with the "riders are riders" philosophy. But Mr. Tapia says his own sales to Hispanic clients closely parallel that overall niche.
And aside from these numbers, "we know of no one that has kept any records on Hispanic motorcycle owners," says LAMA's Mr. Nieves. "Harley-Davidson is the first company to our knowledge that started addressing this issue a couple of years ago." At LAMA's last count, in 2003, by far the largest segment of its membership (45 percent) owned Harleys. The next largest segment, at 28 percent, was Honda, followed by Kawasaki at 12 percent and Yamaha at 10 percent.
If Harley-Davidson's figures are credible, another 8.0 percent of its customers are African American, meaning this demographic buys more than twice the number of bikes per capita as Hispanics. One interesting question is whether this group might be more weighted in the baby boom age group.
On the marketing side, Harley-Davidson allows its dealers to advertise as they see fit, according to corporate spokesperson Rebecca Bortner. And though at the corporate level it has done little to appeal to bikers directly through ethnic channels, it still knows that survival in dramatically changing demographics requires outreach.
Recently, for example, the corporation chipped in as a sponsor of the August 2005 U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention in Milwaukee, and has given to various functions organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The company also recently participated in Lowrider magazine demos at trade shows in San Diego, California, and Houston.
Harley "was the first company to reach out to LAMA," says Mr. Nieves. "They showed an interest in teaming up with LAMA on some of our events…and played a…role in [the organization's 2005 annual] Latin American Rally in Florida."
More may be indicated. Reaching new markets is essential to Harley's future, asserts Jake Balzer, a senior equity analyst with Guzman & Co. in Miami. To the extent that Harley-Davidson can be included in the economics of the motorcycle industry, the outlook is good. More than 12 million motorcycles were manufactured worldwide last year and growth continues at a 7 to 10 percent annual sprint.
But for Harley's U.S. market, "Next year is the peak of the baby boomers," says Mr. Balzer, "and my worry is, 'Who is going to replace them?' They need to find new markets."
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