A&R Pro

Harley-Davidson Sold 2,500 Pan Americas in the USA Last Year

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The debut of the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 was the headline event from 2021 – with the Bar & Shield brand offering its first motorcycle that truly deviated from the company’s cruiser lineup.

An integral part of Harley-Davidson’s “Hardwire” plan to restructure the company for the future, the Pan America 1250 is a conquest bike for the American bike-maker, with an eye on scooping up some sales from rival European brands.

Was it a success? That depends on whom you ask. American publications certainly seemed to think so, with the Pan America 1250 taking top honors in several of their shootouts last year. Meanwhile, the European press was less-enthused.

We will let you decide if home-team bias, on both sides of the pond, are at play there. For our money, we’d put the Ducati Multistrada V4 S in our garage before the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250, but reasonable minds can easily disagree on this thought.

Shootouts don’t balance the account’s books however, and for the bean-counters, the true measure of a motorcycle’s success is on the showroom floor.

To that end, Harley-Davidson sold just over 2,500 units of its Pan America lineup in the USA last year, according to our Bothan spies.

If you need confirmation of that figure, it is right inline with the population numbers quoted in the recent recall for the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250’s cold-weather instrument cluster problems.

In those recall documents, Harley-Davidson lists roughly 2,700 units affected by the faulty dash software, with production dates listed from March 2021 thru October 2021.

Base Model Shenanigans

What is really interesting from the recall documents though is how that 2,700-bike split shakes out between the base model Pan America 1250 and the higher-spec Pan America 1250 Special.

The NHTSA documents show that 2,645 Pan America 1250 Special motorcycles were affected by the faulty dash software recall, whereas only 44 units from the base model Pan America 1250 were being recalled for the same issue.

Make no mistake, both bikes share the same dash and software, so that massive sales gap between the two machines almost certainly comes down to production/sales numbers between the two trim levels.

Here is my quick theory on that: it should be obvious to anyone watching the space that Harley-Davidson is trying to mimic BMW Motorrad with its debut of the Pan America 1250 lineup – with the Americans trying to create their own take on the BMW R1250GS.

Harley-Davidson may have cribbed more than what is on two wheels, however. This is because BMW Motorrad is fairly notorious for offering base models of motorcycles that are nearly impossible to purchase at the dealership. 

I suspect the same is happening here with the 44 units of the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 base model, where that number represents the number of riders willing to wait and special order the base model, rather than buy the Special model that is already on the dealership floor.

The counter-argument to this analysis is that in the more premium brands, it is the up-spec models that always outshine the base model offerings when it comes to sales figures, so the sales disparity between the two Harley-Davidson trim levels is to be expected

I am not sure whether the 60:1 ratio that Harley-Davidson is showing is the norm in this regard, but I do know that the sales disparity is enough that some European brands have opted not to bring base model specs into the USA because they languish too long on dealership floors.

There is a chicken vs. egg argument here that is better left to bike-night arguments than the rest of this story’s analysis.

The takeaway though is that Harley-Davidson sold 2,500 ADV last years, and almost all of them were the Pan America 1250 Special.

2,500 – Is That A Lot or A Little?

In August 2021, Harley-Davidson released a terse press release touting that the Pan America 1250 Special was the best-selling adventure bike in the USA.

Cherrypicking a single model in the lineup, with a narrow window of sales, I think Harley-Davidson got pretty fair press when a number of publications questioned the veracity of the claim when zero numbers were given to back it up.

Was the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special the best selling ADV bike in the USA during Q2 2021? Almost certainly. Is that a fair claim to boast about? Probably not.

The message that Harley-Davidson was trying to drive home though was that the Pan America 1250 Special was out-selling the BMW R1250GS in the USA, which certainly would be a big deal.

This is because the BMW R1250GS is the global benchmark for ADV sales, not just in the USA. If you are reading this story, you probably already knew that fact, but it has to be stated to drive the idea home. Apologies.

To outpace BMW would be a big coup for Harley-Davidson, and that is the inference that the American brand was hoping others to come to in their own conclusions.

The mistake in that thought though is the timeframe Harley-Davidson chose for its basis in the press release represents almost solely the initial dealer deliveries of the Pan America 1250 Special.

With Harley-Davidson claiming 630 dealerships in the United States, it would only take each Harley-Davidson dealership to sell between 4 and 5 bikes to tackle BMW’s GS sales figure in the USA.

To break that analysis down, the last time we had concrete data on BMW Motorrad sales was in 2015, where then the BMW R1200GS accounted for 18% of BMW Motorrad’s total sales (the GSA added another 14% – making the two bikes account for ⅓ of BMW’s motorcycles sales).

In 2021, BMW Motorrad USA sold just shy of 16,000 bikes (again, a number we have to thank our Bothan spies for acquiring). Gorilla math then would put GS sales around 2,900 units for the USA last year.

How accurate is that Gorilla math? It’s hard to say without internal access, but we do know that BMW Motorrad sold roughly 6,800 ADV bikes in the USA last year.

A debate can be made regarding how much of that pie went to the R1250GS, but it is certainly more than the global 18% we saw six years ago – the smaller GS models are not strong sellers in the USA.

Did the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special out-sell the BMW R1250GS in the United States last year? Almost certainly not. Was the Harley-Davidson Pan America debut a success though? That depends on how you look at it.

It’s All Relative

Compared to the BMW R1250GS, I think you can make a good argument that the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 gave the Bavarians a run for their money, even if there’s a 500-unit delta between the two brands in this regard. 

After all, the Harley-Davidson was on sale for only three quarters of the year, rather than the BMW’s four. We can debate the value of Q1 sales, and how many of those would have cannibalized Q2’s numbers, but there is a difference here.

On the other end though, one has to remember that a debut model year is always better than the ones that come after it.

The BMW R1250GS  was last refreshed in 2019 – three model years ago. That is quite the staying power for the boxer-twin, and a testament to how popular the GS is in the ADV space.

Will Harley-Davidson continue its momentum from 2021 into 2022? We have obviously the entire year ahead of us to find out, but there might be some hints in Harley-Davidson’s sales and recall numbers. 

The 150 unit difference between the two figures could be the difference between bikes sold to dealers and bikes sold to customers, as NHTSA references the prior and our Bothan’s were quoting us the latter.

150 bikes isn’t a terribly large figure, especially when you remember the 630 dealership tally. The math tells us then that about one-in-four Harley-Davidson dealerships could still have a Pan America on their floor.

That is not a sellout, but it is close, and the conclusion you make there is probably going to depend on the answer you want to hear.

Plenty of brands are running out of bikes, especially new models. So, why isn’t Harley-Davidson with its latest and greatest creation?

Conversely, if you have to travel to four dealers before you find your sought after Pan America 1250 Special…well that makes it pretty rare, now doesn’t it?

To add more insight, let’s take a look at another ADV bike that debuted in 2021 to fanfare – the Ducati Multistrada V4 S.

The 19″ wheel on the Multistrada V4 obviously didn’t hurt sales, as the Multistrada family got a 50% sales bump in 2021 because of the V4 model (based on Q1 thru Q3 numbers, as Q4 isn’t out yet).

In the United States, Ducati North America sold about 1,250 “dual-sport” units, which comprises of the Ducati Multistrada 950 and Ducati Multistrada V4 models.

Even if you attribute that entire figure to the four-cylinder model (which is surely not the reality), then the Italian brand is doing about half the volume of Harley-Davidson during roughly the same time period and launch constraints, with comparable machines.

At A&R‘s last count, Ducati had only 126 dealerships in the USA though, which is exactly 20% of Harley-Davidson’s dealership total.

Does that mean that Ducati would have sold 6,250 Multistradas if it had Harley-Davidson’s dealer network reach? Certainly not, but once again, we can debate the effect that dealership networks have on total sales figures.

My thoughts are that more dealerships may correlate to more unit sales, but there is no causal link for it. Instead, more dealerships (in a well-run brand at least) comes from the fact that there is a large enough consumer demand to support more places of purchase.

Moving forward, all this talk about a couple thousand units of motorcycle, gets me thinking not about the Pan America but instead the V-Rod.

Harley-Davidson brand loyalists will tell you about how the VRSC lineup was a flop for the Bar & Shield brand. That is a curious statement since the water-cooled performance cruisers sold in the five-digit realm throughout their 17-year run.

The problem with the V-Rod selling on average 10,000 units a year was the fact that Harley-Davidson was selling 30x that volume overall during the same timeframe.

By comparison then, the lineup underperformed against the other Harley-Davidson models.

But, Harley-Davidson sales are down 30%-50% now though (depending on how you read the blip in 2020’s sales figures), which means the company’s targets for success have changed.

I would hazard a guess that the Bar & Shield brand would welcome a lineup that could add 10,000 units to its tally at this point. So, compared to the failure of the V-Rod, is the Pan America 1250 a success with its 2,500 units?

That’s what the press releases would have us believe, but then again, Harley-Davidson isn’t the brand it was 20 years ago.

Changing the Goal Posts

I feel like I have done a good job asking lots of questions in this analysis, and offering few answers – so I’ll give you this one so you feel like you got your money’s worth: we need to change the goal posts that defines success for Harley-Davidson.

The question isn’t whether 2,500 adventure bikes sold is a good result for the brand – I think you can spin that news to suit whatever end you are trying to pursue.

Instead, the question should be whether 2,500 of the right customers showed up to buy a Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 last year.

Were these former BMW/Triumph/Ducati/ETC adventure-bike owners? Or were they bike-curious Harley-Davidson fans?

The future of the Harley-Davidson brand might be measured on unit sales and revenue reports, but the metric we should be watching is who are buying these bikes.

The problem for Harley-Davidson hasn’t changed in the past decade – the American brand is watching its core demographic ride off a cliff as they age out of riding motorcycles, and those lost sales are not being replaced at the same rate with younger enthusiasts.

Harley-Davidson built a brand that centered around the exclusion of other motorcyclists, and now with bikes like the Pan America 1250, they are trying to extend that neglected demographic an olive branch to get them in a Harley-Davidson showroom.

The question should be then, is anyone on the other side of the stick grabbing hold of it?