Editor’s Note: Margie Siegal has been covering the motorcycle scene since the late 1980s and has written for a number of magazines. She is also the author of “Harley-Davidson: A History of the World’s Most Famous Motorcycle.” She is working on a second book about Harley-Davidson. The views expressed in the commentary are her own.
Harley-Davidson – and, really, the American motorcycle industry – is in many ways iconic of America. Motorcycles are symbolic ambassadors for the American spirit. At the same time, the industry, which employs many people in both manufacturing and retail, runs on a very thin profit margin. Cutting into that profit margin does not help the motorcycle industry, motorcyclists or the American economy in general.
Recently, the Trump administration raised tariffs on some European products, which, predictably, led to something of a trade war. The European Union came up with its own tariffs – including higher duties on American-built motorcycles – that will add an estimated $2,200 to the price of Harley-Davidson motorcycles exported to the EU.
This is not the first time in recent history that trade problems that have little to do with the motorcycle industry have affected motorcyclists. In late 2016, when American farmers trying to export beef to Europe ran into difficulties, federal authorities proposed imposing tariffs on European off-road motorcycles.
American factories do not build any equivalent to these dirt bikes, and raising the prices on them would have directly affected American dealers, American manufacturers of accessories and the American families who buy and use these bikes. Luckily, the idea fizzled.
Now, however, the American motorcycle industry could be in real trouble. Raising the tariffs on Harleys sold in Europe forces Harley to make a business decision: either to raise prices or to move production overseas, both of which could elicit blowback from the company’s core customers.
If Harley raises prices, it will be more difficult for European Harley dealers to sell bikes. At some point, the European rider will decide to buy an EU-built BMW or Moto Guzzi, or a Japanese-built Kawasaki or Honda motorcycle instead of a much more expensive Harley.
Anyone concerned about American manufacturing does not want to push companies toward overseas manufacture, and that is what the new tariffs do. Like it or not, we live in a global economy, and actions of the federal government will inevitably cause a reaction elsewhere.
The motorcycling community is diverse and has many political perspectives. We run the gamut from far left to far right. We ride many different styles of motorcycles from many different manufacturers. What we have in common is that we all ride, and we all try to help each other. Another point of commonality: We do not appreciate having our bikes held hostage due to problems in other sectors of the economy. Our bikes are not status objects and our industry is a niche industry, but, seemingly, politicians think that the cost of a new bike can be raised without political ramifications.
One of the prime ways to stay safe on a motorcycle is to be aware of conditions around you, look ahead and consider the likely consequences of what you intend to do before you act. We ask that people involved in trade act like a seasoned motorcycle rider and think about the likely consequences of their actions before making decisions.
If President Donald Trump wants Harley-Davidsons destined for the European market to be manufactured in America, he should not make it harder for the bikes to be built here.