Harley is winning in Europe—without a trade war


Willi Breuckmann could have gone for the BMW motorcycle—it was a comfortable and affordable machine. And it made sense for him to stick with a ride made in his own country, Germany.
Instead, he chose a Harley-Davidson. The Road King.
“It comes down to a feeling,” what the Germans call “ein Gefühl,” said Breuckmann, a 54-year-old web developer who lives in Dortmund, in the nation’s northwest.
The Road King is a big bike, starting around 24,000 euros ($28,100), long and low with the iconic V-Twin engine and dual exhausts growling the sound that made Harley famous. It’s a smooth ride for long trips and perfect for autobahn cruising. Over the years, Breuckmann added custom paint and a backseat for his wife.
“The BMW is also very comfortable,” he said. “But it was a dream of mine to get a Harley.”
While US President Donald Trump rails at Europeans for restricting trade and a reluctance to buy Detroit’s automobiles, the Milwaukee-based manufacturer of iconic motorcycles proves every day that consumers across the Atlantic are willing to buy American. One of Harley’s biggest German dealers says it sells 500 bikes a year. The company almost doubled its market share in Germany in the past decade, to 6.4 percent in 2017 from 3.3 percent in 2006, by attracting customers like Breuckmann in Europe’s biggest economy who crave the open-road American lifestyle from atop a powerful machine.
American car companies haven’t been as lucky. With less than 1 percent market share each, high-performance American brands like Cadillac and Chrysler haven’t been able to chip away at the dominance of BMW or Mercedes.
With sales in the US falling, the European market has become so important to Harley that the company is willing to invoke Trump’s wrath, announcing a few months ago it would shift manufacturing abroad to skirt retaliatory tariffs enacted in the president’s trade war over steel and aluminum shipments. The European Union is imposing a 25 percent tariff on US motorcycle imports in response to Trump.
Harley’s success in Europe is evidence that American companies can compete and even flourish there, without a trade war—if the products are good enough.

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