Hoping to pressure Harley-Davidson into keeping its production in the United States, President Trump this weekend tweeted words of encouragement to riders who planned to boycott the American motorcycle brand.
This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that Harley-Davidson has increasingly found itself at odds with the White House, primarily over President Trump’s trade negotiations and agreements.
The tension started with the United States withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, and reached a boiling point when President Trump imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel.
Now with Harley-Davidson signaling its plans to move into new segments and create a new business plan for the 21st century, the Trump Administration is increasing the pressure for Harley-Davidson to maintain the status quo.
Many @harleydavidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas. Great! Most other companies are coming in our direction, including Harley competitors. A really bad move! U.S. will soon have a level playing field, or better.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 12, 2018
President Trump’s tweet comes after he met with “Bikers for Trump” supporters at his golf club in New Jersey, this past weekend. The leather-clad Trump-supporting bikers met with the President at the fancy club, showing their support for the President, over the brand that they previously adored.
This encouragement signaled by the President of the United States of America is unique in that it aims to punish an iconic American business, by driving a wedge between its loyal customers and their political ideology.
The President of course is angry at Harley-Davidson for buckling to economic pressure, while the White House tries to play hardball with the very concept of globalization.
President Trump’s negotiating strategy relies on anchoring terms with grave consequences, before agreeing to a softer position for both sides. Harley-Davidson announcing plans to shift production overseas (something that Polaris plans to do with Indian, as well), undermines the President’s bargaining position.
Conversely, Harley-Davidson is at a crossroads with its business. Sales in the United States continue to drop, while growth overseas is promising. The American brand has continuously butted heads with its unionized work force, as it tries to adapt to the changing market realities of the motorcycle industry.
Now signaling a massive shift in its business strategy, Harley-Davidson seems finally willing to enter the 21st century of business, which is difficult enough to manage with any loyal consumer base, let alone one that is being radicalized by the sitting American President.
Despite the pressure put on by President Trump, we do not see how Harley-Davidson would buckle to this pressure. The American motorcycle brand simply cannot survive by keeping its production in the United States, while facing tariffs on raw materials domestically and imports abroad.
Showing support for “Bikers for Trump” certainly isn’t making this transitional period easy for Harley-Davidson, and President Trump hopes to lead Harley-Davidson back down a path towards an “America First” business strategy.
For Harley-Davidson though, it is this “America First” notion that has lead to its continued decline over the past 10 years or more. Harley-Davidson has been down that road before, now it is betting its future on another.