Thursday, February 7, 2013

What Automakers Can Learn From Harley Davidson

The 2013 Iron 883. Photo courtesy Harley Davidson.

The story of American motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson is a truly fascinating one. If you ever have the chance to read up on it or watch a quality documentary on the subject you will understand what I'm talking about. Like some automakers, Harley Davidson has been on the verge of utter collapse before, but in recent years it has enjoyed greater prosperity.

I would argue that automakers could learn much from Harley Davidson's example. One lesson to be learned is the value of offering some back-to-basics models. Like many cars, Harley Davidson motorcycles throughout the years have become more technologically advanced. I see nothing wrong with that per se (I remember when it was a crap shot whether a car would start on the first try during cold weather). The thing is, many vehicle manufacturers have decided their vehicles have to become huge hulks with tons of chrome (or other shiny materials). It's happened to the BMW M3, MINI Cooper quite a few other cars.

Harley has been offering some stripped-down, back-to-basics motorcycles that don't have all the flashy bling-bling garbage you find on some of their other bikes. They look tough, sleeker and more like the old school motorcycles that are legendary. These motorcycles cost less, weigh less and get better gas mileage. I remember the first time I saw the Cross Bones I thought it was one of the coolest new motorcycles I had seen in years. Harley has continued producing these basic throwback bikes, providing a no-nonsense ride, and people are responding. The 2013 Harley Davidson Iron 883 is one of the newest iterations of this philosophy, with a starting price of just below $8,000 U.S.

There are some automakers who are following this example. The Dodge Challenger employs wonderful technology (like a multilink rear suspension) while still delivering a cool retro experience and performance not weighted down by too much bulk, chrome and bling. What cars do you think are offering this same philosophy? Which ones do you think have lost their way in a bloated bling fest?