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How American is Harley Davidson?


Written By: A. Coffin

August 2014

How American is Harley Davidson?
Recently, I did an in-depth series of articles for Back in the USA, focusing on just how 'American' our 'Made in the USA' automobiles really are. The series covered where they’re assembled, where the components originate, and what country gets the profit from the cars the dealerships sell. One of our readers asked if we could do the same for motorcycles in general, and Harley Davidson in particular.

The question is an interesting one to me, personally, as I currently ride a 2006 Harley Davidson Softail Deluxe, and I’d like to know the answer. I do know, as I begin this, that there are Harley Davidson components that are not made in the US and haven’t been for years. But how much of my beautiful bike is made here? If you have a Polaris made Victory motorcycle, you might be wondering the same thing. How much of any so-called American bike is made in America?



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Today’s American Bikes

It turns out that there are a lot of US motorcycles you’ve never heard much about, and a few you have. Quite truthfully, history is littered with defunct motorcycle companies, as well as resurrected ones. Many of the resurrected ones died again during the last recession.

Here is the list of companies we see in business today as US motorcycle manufacturers, according to Wikipedia and Enginecycle.com. In this case, a US manufacturer means that the principal headquarters and assembly are in the US.

    • Alligator - Santa Ana, California
    • Arlen Ness - San Leandro and Dublin, California
    • ATK - Centerville, Utah
    • Boss Hoss - Dyersburg, Tennessee
    • Brammo - Ashland, Oregon
    • Cleveland CycleWerks - Cleveland, Ohio
    • Confederate Motorcycles - New Orleans, Louisiana / Birmingham, Alabama
    • Erik Buell Racing - East Troy, Wisconsin
    • Fischer - Pocomoke City, Maryland
    • Harley Davidson - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    • Indian Motorcycles - (owned by Polaris Industries) Spirit Lake, Iowa
    • Janus Motorcycles - Goshen, Indiana
    • MTT - Franklin, Louisiana
    • Mission Motorcycles - San Francisco, California
    • MotoCyzyz - Portland, Oregon
    • Motus Motorcycles - Birmingham, Alabama
    • QLINK Motorcycles - Dallas, Texas
    • Rokon - Rochester, New Hampshire
    • Travertson Motorcycles - Fort Lauderdale, Florida
    • Victory Motorcycles (owned by Polaris Industries) Spirit Lake, Iowa
    • Zero Motorcycles, Santa Cruz, California

How American is Harley Davidson?
Most of the companies are quite small, with only a few employees, and encompass everything from off-road bikes to electric motorcycles to essentially custom motorcycles. Many of the companies only manufacture a few bikes a year.

Are these American companies? Yes, they are American companies; the profits for these companies remain in the United States, and they provide jobs to Americans. By that definition, they are American.

Are American Bikes Made in America?

Since the question really is about components and manufacturing, and how much of the bike is made in America, let’s look at that, focusing on two companies, Harley Davidson, and Polaris Industries, which makes both the Victory and Indian lines of motorcycles. Both companies are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and all three of the bike marques are represented as American bikes. On blog forums, they tend to compete with each other regarding comments of who is ‘most American.’

I quickly discovered that it's not as easy to answer the question, 'how American is it,' for motorcycles as it is for automobiles. Not to be deterred, I decided to throw caution to the wind, put the pedal-to-the-metal, and look at the manufacturing facilities' locations for each.

Harley Davidson’s Manufacturing Facilities

Leaving out the facilities that are corporate, financial, or sales and administrative locations, we end up with a list of Harley’s manufacturing and assembly plants per the Harley Davidson website:

    • Menominee Falls, Wisconsin - Powertrain
    • Tomahawk, Wisconsin - Windshields, composite plastic parts
    • Kansas City, Missouri - Assembly, Powertrain
    • York, Pennsylvania - Fabrication, Paint, Final Assembly
    • Manaus, Brazil - CKD* Assembles models sold in Brazil
    • Bawal, India - Manufacture of Street models for India, Italy, Spain, and Portugal

*CKD means complete knockdown. Models are basically built in the US, for example, and reassembled in the country where the bikes are sold.


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There has been a lot of conversation regarding the Brazil and India plants, but word is that these facilities manufacture or assemble only for purchases of motorcycles outside of the US.

Polaris Manufacturing Facilities

Polaris engineering, manufacturing and assembly is performed in the following locations, according to their website:

    • Roseau, Minnesota
    • Osceola, Minnesota
    • Spirit Lake, Iowa
    • Vermillion, South Dakota
    • Passy, France
    • Ballarat, Australia
    • Winnipeg, Canada
    • Hudson, Wisconsin (joint venture with Japanese company Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd.)

According to Polaris, the engines for the 2013 models were about 25% manufactured by Fuji, but the percentage is declining. Polaris has had a relationship with Fuji since 1968.

How American is Harley Davidson?
Where Are the Components From?

Here's where it gets tricky, friends. Neither Polaris/Victory/Indian nor Harley Davidson are making it easy to understand where exactly their parts are from. Typically, in all blogs and forums related to both Harley and Polaris, the number of American made components is somewhere between 60% and 70%.

For Harley, it is well known that many of the wheels for the bikes are made in Australia, and suspension has been made by Showa of Japan for over 30 years, according to parties on HDForums.com. There are other components, anecdotally, that are foreign-made, such as instrumentation on some models.

For Polaris, it was announced in 2010 that they would be re-aligning their manufacturing and establishing it in Mexico, for at least part of their line.

Using a subscriber based site, Panjiva.com, to research statistics for import parts for Harley Davidson, we find:

  • Over the past 5 years, HD has only 300 "direct import" shipments on record, mostly wheels from Australia.

My source says he's seen this before with other companies. The way they get around direct import records is to have a US based distributor be the importer of record, rather than HD themselves. They still have to have country of origin records internally, but by using middlemen for importing, it is very difficult to get public data.

The only way to get more context would be to cull through the list of all suppliers of HD components and then check their public import records.

  •  The site lists 15,000 companies who claim to trade in HD parts, but there is no easy way to know which of the 15,000 sell to HD for production, versus "just sell parts for HD motorcycles," which includes aftermarket parts under all manner of brands which are not original equipment.

In other words, that would take months to get through all of this data, and one would still not have anything terribly credible. The research...without any true exact numbers.

What Else Do We Know?

If we can’t find that exact percentages, is there anything else we can know or infer about how much of American bikes are American?

In the case of Harley, there is a little more information to be gleaned from their 2013 annual report and K10 government filing.

According to the 2013 annual report:

  • Six in 10 customers are from outside the United States.
  • Two out of every three new dealerships are in ‘emerging markets.’

Harley Davidson’s strategy is changing somewhat, as they seek out sales in different market segments within the US and especially outside of the US.

According to Harley Davidson,

  • 3.5 billion people live in cities globally
  • 50% of the population is under 30
  • The strategy is to grow outside the US faster than growing inside the US
  • The strategy inside the US is to grow the ‘outreach segment,’ which includes women, young adults 18-34, African Americans, and Hispanics
  • In 2013, this outreach segment grew twice as fast as ‘core’ customers

Their newest bikes, the Street 500 and Street 750, were engineered with these young urban riders in mind - smaller, more efficient bikes.

Harley Davidson is growing in this direction, and they are expanding to other Americans, and to other countries.

How American is Harley Davidson?
What Does It All Mean?

In summary, it’s nearly impossible to determine the exact percentage of parts made in America that are used by any American motorcycle company, including Harley Davidson and Polaris.

There is, however, still a commitment by these American companies to manufacture and assemble the motorcycles used in the United States here in America.

But companies aren’t blind to their ability to export motorcycles to the world at large, or to recognize other segments of their market, nor should they be. To expand in these new areas and markets, in many cases, they’ve opened facilities overseas or outside US borders. That ability to export using foreign facilities certainly doesn’t seem like a bad thing for an American company as it grows.

How American is Harley Davidson, or any other American motorcycle? At the end of the day, as many of the forums have done, we’ll have to leave it for you to decide. As for me, I’ll continue to enjoy riding my Harley, knowing that American hands manufactured most of it, and American hands put it all together. The work it generated fed someone’s family somewhere. I’m okay with that.

~~~~~

Other Articles of Interest:

Is It American? Car Companies Cloud the 'American Made' Connotation

Did You Hear the One about Ethical Companies

Chinese Imports are Hurting More Than America's Economy

Updating the Face of American Manufacturing

Recall Mania - A Warning Light for the Industry?

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