Harley-Davidson Project Rushmore Reaches High

by , Dec 13, 2013, 3:13 PM
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It's a cold day at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, but at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show here one can look at hundreds of motorcycles and at least pretend that it’s already spring. The show features just about everything on two wheels, with a major theme, as always, of getting younger people and people who haven't ridden before outside and onto two wheels.  

Take Harley-Davidson, which is showing off its new Project Rushmore portfolio of motorcycles at the show. The program evinces a new product-development and marketing culture at the Milwaukee-based company focused on intramural cooperation and communication. "A few years ago our senior management challenged us to take product development to a higher level," said spokesperson Matt King. "It's about getting the right products to the right customers at the right time." He tells Marketing Daily that after former Johnson Controls battery-business director Keith Wandell came on as CEO five years ago, the entire company underwent a top-to-bottom transformation in product, marketing, and manufacturing.

For example, it used to be that each of the company’s two North American plants had dedicated production lines: specific models at each plant, period. "Now we have flexible lines where we can build any bike we need to build on that line for that demand. Business is much more seasonal than it used to be. There are different customer profiles around the country, so we need that flexibility," says King.

The company also instituted a "Voice of the Customer" program for product development, starting with product planning. "The marketing area works much more closely with engineering, using studies, customer research, and focus groups; literally talking to customers about how the motorcycles ride, what do they like about bikes, what do they want to see changed, what are we not delivering that they would like to have. And carrying that voice through the entire product development based on attainable measurable and deliverable goals.” 

According to King, the changes in production and marketing insight allowed the company to bring motorcycles to market 30% faster with defined customer goals guiding all decisions. The first Project Rushmore bikes were introduced in August. 

King says last year half of all sales worldwide were to people who had never owned a Harley before; four of ten riders in the U.S. were new riders. He says the company is also bringing in new kinds of riders. Its outreach market comprising consumers 18 to 34 years old, African-Americans, women and Hispanics, grew twice as fast as sales to the traditional white, male buyer base. "One way we did that was to introduce new street bikes to all outreach groups. There is a growing global urban young adult audience interested in the brand."

Last month in Milan, the company introduced a new street motorcycle for a new generation of young urban riders. "We did something unusual launching it ahead of U.S. delivery but we will show them later in season in the U.S. early summer and spring."

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