CW INTERVIEW: Mark-Hans Richer

Harley-Davidson’s marketing boss talks about the 2016 model lineup.

Mark-Hans Richer headshot

Cycle World:**** It’s good to see the High Output 103 is in all the 2016 Dyna and Softail models. What’s driving this, the Voice of the Customer? Or is Harley simply making logical improvements?

Mark-Hans Richer: "I think those things aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. The Harley customer is always looking for an even more exciting ride. And, obviously, the engine is a big part of that. While they are very satisfied with the stuff we've got today, if you ask them if they'd like to have more, the answer is always yes. It's particularly important in the Softails and Dynas. These are bikes that are obviously lighter than our Touring bikes. So the incremental thrill that comes from adding an engine like that to these types of chassis is really dynamic. Our customers are really going to love it. So yes, it is generally what our customers are always asking for, which is why we make engine improvements pretty rigorously and repeatedly over the years."

CW:**** The Fat Boy S and Softail Slim S get revised styling for 2016. More importantly, they get the Screamin’ Eagle 110 powertrain. These bikes will be hot rods. Is it time to have the 110 replace the 103?

MHR: "There are so many different types of customers. I just mentioned how our customers generally want more power. At the same time, not everybody wants the maximum power. And it's always good to have a place to go for those customers who really want all the grunt they can get. Others are fine with a strong, really capable engine. For them, maybe there's maybe more than just pure power involved in their choice of a Harley. So it's just a nice way for people to segment themselves and their needs.

Harley FLSS Softail Slim S and Harley FLSTFBS Fat Boy Slim S group static

"That 110 is a tire-smoker. It's great. It's a terrific engine in our CVOs and we're really excited to bring it into a more accessible price range, in the Fat Boy and the Softail Slim. I don't know if you've had the chance to see the Softail Slim, but it's so iconic Harley-Davidson. We've done some Dark Custom on it as well.  It's a nod to the kind of modern military with a lot of blacked-out parts. It's a terrific sort of mash-up of essential style, and one that's really authentically Harley. We're really excited. I can't wait to see one on the road."

CW:**** The Road Glide Ultra is returning with enhanced style, Rushmore improvements, and the Twin Cooled High Output 103 Twin Cam. It’s designed as a true long-distance machine. If you were to ride from, say, Milwaukee to LA tomorrow, is it the Harley you’d ride?

MHR: "I have a Road Glide in my garage today. It's a Road Glide Custom. I tend to ride solo, and I tend to pack pretty light. I'd probably not choose the Ultra; I don't need all that capability. But there are a lot of people that do. There are a lot of two-up riders that we serve. They need all that capability, and they want all the amenities from the Rushmore bikes. As it relates to going cross-country, there are lots of Harleys I could choose. In some cases I might go real old school and hop on a Sportster. Do it old-school style. My top choice would be a Road Glide, but it would be the one without the tour package."

Harley Road Glide Ultra FLTRU on-road action

CW: You've updated the Sportster with better shocks, a cartridge fork, a better seat. Will this easier-to-ride Sportster possibly sell better at the expense of the Street 750? And do the customers for those bikes overlap?

MHR: "There is some overlap, and there are some similarities. The style, for one thing, is Harley-Davidson. So there is sort of a Dark Custom ethos that goes across the line. The Iron is our original Dark Custom, and it has been hugely successful for us. The Iron and the Street continue to draw in buyers that are 80 percent new to Harley. Eight out of 10 of those buyers are new to Harley-Davidson. That's true for the Iron and for the Street. And that hasn't changed since the launch of the Street.

“If you look at the styling of the new Iron 883, and you look at the seat, and the air cleaner, and the beautiful nine-spoke wheels, if you look at that garage-built attitude it has, it’s really a beautiful machine. I think you’ll see that from a character perspective, while they are both very Dark Custom, the Street is leaner and more accessible, for those who are starting out in their riding journeys, while the Iron is a different expression. It’s sort of that next step, where you get even more attitude and even more sort of custom. I think you’ll see in the looks that that they are more pulled apart now than they were with the old Iron. I think you’ll appreciate that when you see the bike itself.”

CW: We see that the Streets have better brakes for 2016. How are they selling internationally and in the US?

MHR: "You expect me to say this, but it's actually true: It has been a great first year. It was supposed to help us grow internationally, while growing the core in the United States. It has helped us do that, even though we were doing that before the Street.

Harley Street 750 on-road action

“The Street has enabled us to hit a new market space in Australia. It has helped Harley become the number one selling brand in Australia. The Street has really led the way in that. It’s the best-selling Harley of all time, already, in Asia Pacific. And it is been at the heart of us continuing our growth with young adults in the United States, where we remain the number one selling motorcycle brand with young adults. In our view, it’s a great success. Despite that, we’re always looking for ways to improve the product and respond to customer feedback. We did get some feedback that the customers would like the brakes to be a little better, so we worked with Brembo to get some nice brakes here in year two, and we’ll always be looking to make continuous improvements on behalf of our customers. This is just one example of that.”

CW:**** Harley has seen a small but noticeable reduction in sales and market share for the last quarterly report. How do you feel the 2016 Harley lineup addresses this? Is it focused on new customers, or enticing existing customers?

MHR: "It's always a balance. We like all customers. Any time we come out with new products, we are thinking about different customers. This is one of the broadest lines we've ever introduced in a model year. And if you look across the board, all the way down to the improvements in Street, there isn't a cruiser we haven't improved in some way through style, power, or accessibility, across our entire lineup. And that covers an immense amount of different customer types. We're all about being customer-led for all of our customers.

“We’re playing a long game here; we’re not obsessed with quarterly or half-year shifts in market share. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world today with currency swings that have been dynamic in the industry with some of our competition, but we’re very comfortable with our core strengths. Seeing those strengths played out in the new product introductions…I think any competitor who opens a website, magazine, or newspaper may not be as happy as they were before they saw all the things we’re bringing to market at one time.”

Harley LiveWire static side view

CW:**** What’s Harley’s biggest success over the last two years?

MHR: "No question. It's Project Rushmore. That has been a huge hit with our customers. And not just in the United States. We've gained market share in the touring space in Europe. And that's a tough place to compete in touring because there's tough competition there, but we've gained share there since the introduction of Project Rushmore. We've gained share in Asia. And we've maintained our incredibly high market share in the Unites States despite a lot of other folks who have tried to take it from us. So no question, Project Rushmore has been a huge step forward for our customers, our business, and the brand.

CW:**** Why isn’t the LiveWire electric in the 2016 lineup?

MHR: "You guys know better than anyone that it's a very immature marketplace. There really is no real market for electric motorcycles right now. Part of Project LiveWire was to start to get a better sense of where that market wants to go, how big is it, what are they looking for, what's really the sweet spot. It's not obvious. There are certainly electric motorcycle makers, but there are no profits, and there's very little sales. We're continuing to learn from the customer. The market is speaking a little bit. We believe with the introduction of Project LiveWire, we got a lot more people interested in the space. And over time, we'll play that out."

Mark-Hans Richer.