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Trump's war with Harley-Davidson shared America's biker



A move by the company has put one of the country's best known brands in the awkward position of colliding with a president who is hugely popular with most of his clients.

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This is Sturgis: a massive biker rally in South Dakota Harley-Davidson has always been a mainstay, but since the company announced that it is moving some productions overseas Some hard-nosed fans question their allegiance. Published on [19659005] August 11, 2018 Credit Image of Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

STURGIS, SD – Gary Rathbun rumbled to South Dakota, to attend the upcoming gathering of motorcycle fans in the United States, has his Harley-Davidson, a 2009 Ultra Classic that brought him 800 miles from Idaho, it's the 40th Harley he heard, and it's likely to be his last.

Like many of Harley's most loyal customers, Mr. Rat was hbun was furious with the company's announcement this summer that it would start manufacturing bicycles sold in Europe outside of the United States because of the Trump government's trade struggle.

His anger echoed that of President Trump, whose public judgment on Harley's decision had put one of the nation's best-known brands into an awkward position, to collide with a president who is hugely popular with most of his clients.

I drive my last Harley, "said Mr. Rathbun, 67, a retired truck driver whose bike rally included a steel knife in his belt, a saddlebag filled with a Ruger pistol, and a small bottle of Jack Daniel's cinnamon whiskey. "It was American made, and that's why we stood behind them."

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Like many of Harley's most loyal customers, Gary Rathbun was angry at announcing the company in the summer to begin manufacturing motorcycles outside of Europe United States. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

Harley took a public risk to limit his earnings when it said it would turn down the tariffs of the European Union directly against the industry for Mr Trump's steel and aluminum duties, instead of paying the customs duties or the price of bicycles sold in Europe for US $ 2,200 r, the company said it would relocate some productions overseas.

In a warning to other companies that might follow the example, Mr. Trump described Harley's decision as an act of corporate treason, declaring in a Twitter post in June "If they move, fit she was the beginning of the end – they surrendered, they quit! "

Many hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts gathered this week in the Black Hills of South Dakota, most of which developed a relationship with their Harleys before Mr. Trump became president. But as leather-clad Baby Boomers engines spun, drank beer, and swung to classic rock ballads, Mr. Trump's influence was palpable. [196599] Like Gary Panapinto, 63, a machinist from Illinois, Mr. Harold had doubts about Harley's truth In the belief that the company intended to sell most of its bicycle production, and as Mr. Trump has suggested, he suggested that Americans would be forced to buy a product that was manufactured overseas. While Mr. Trump has come to grips with this perception, Harley has said that he will relocate production only for bicycles he sells in Europe and that American motorcycles are still manufactured in the United States.

"They have to keep them here in the United States, especially if they want to sell them here," Panapinto said. "I think Trump is just trying to protect jobs in the US"

An antique Harley-Davidson at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times
Some of the generally pleased with Mr. Trump, said he was wrong to merely bully the motorcycle manufacturer just to try to make a profit, but they still remain loyal to him. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

Oliver Lapointe, a retiree from New Hampshire who drives cheaper Japanese bicycles, said he used to go for a Harley, but could never afford one. Now he thinks they are not worth it because they are filled with outsourced parts and, as he said, are increasingly being manufactured overseas. Like some Trump officials, he accused the company of using tariffs to justify a decision they already had in mind.

"They always advertise that they are made in America, so I do not think they should do it," said Mr. Lapointe, 70. "They are greedy."

The company declined to comment, but pointed to an interview in July in which CEO Matthew Levatich defended the decision. He denied that he wanted to postpone his production, noting that it would not take him up to 18 months to execute the plan if he was stuck in the cards all the time.

"We have worked very hard to be apolitical about our business and our consumers around the world," he said. "We have to do what we have to do based on the facts and circumstances that lie ahead, and we do that."

Some stubborn Trump supporters said they understood the economic reasons for Harley's decision. Few complex machines are now fully procured and assembled in the United States, and even drivers committed to the ideal of a product made in the United States have declared that companies around the world must compete.

A map of the hometowns of visitors to the Motorcycle Museum Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

Motorcyclists were among the most trumpeting groups because motorcyclists in the US are predominantly working-class men 50 and veterans-demographics that make up the bulk of the presidential base. Mr. Trump has accepted this allegiance and recently said, "I guarantee that anyone who has ever bought a Harley-Davidson has chosen Trump."

On Saturday, Mr. Trump invited hundreds of bikers from the New Jersey Bikers for Trump chapter to visit him on vacation in Bedminster. He praised them as "people who really love our country".

Some, generally satisfied with Mr. Trump, said he bullied the motorcycle manufacturer just for trying to make a profit, but they still remained loyal to him.

"You have to take it with a grain of salt, it's hot one day, and it's cold," Bill Shaner, a North Dakota electronics retailer with seven Harley motorcycles, said about the president. "If you want to build bicycles in Europe and sell them in Europe, let them go, we will take the bicycles made in America."

At a souvenir stall selling Trump memorabilia on the main street in Sturgis, Larry Rich said, As a businessman, Mr. Trump should understand that Harley does everything he can to keep you profitable.

A jacket of the capitalist tools, Malcolm Forbes motorcycle group, in the museum. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times
Rally participant this month in Sturgis. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

"I do not like everything he says, but I do not like everything my wife says," said Mr. Rich, 72, who used to ride Indians American Brand, made by Polaris – before he gave up the hobby.

Mr. Trump was good for the business. Mr. Rich was busy selling shirts printed with a picture of the President flying past the White House on the Harley-Davidson […] […] . [4] [StormyDanielspornographicalmovie-thieveshavebeenAffairedwithMrTrumpshallbecomeinconveniencetheWomanDaniels-sincereNameStephanieClifford-hadn't-foundin2006thatthecustomershadn'thim

"Well, he was a Democrat at the time," Mr. Rich said with a smile.

Veterans of the Sturgis Bike Rally, who are in their 78th year, said Harley-Davidson's difficulties go beyond Mr. Trump's harsh words, and stem from years of waning passenger shipments in the United States.

The average cost of a Harley is about $ 20,000, and they top around $ 40,000, making motorcycles a luxury item for people who do not use them as their primary transportation method. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

Leslye Biber, owner of The Beaver Bar in Sturgis and several other biker bars across the country, said Harley and other American motorcycle manufacturers are at a crossroads, because their products did not appeal to young people in the United States. She pointed out that the trade disputes have increased their raw material costs and hampered their ability to export to Europe, a growth market.

"I think they are doing what they need to do to stay in the game." Ms. Beaver, who lives in Georgia and supports Mr. Trump, said while patrolling the parking lot of her bar in a golf cart. "It's humane that people are crazy because Harley is so American, but I think they want to be here."

For years, Harley-Davidson sales in the United States have steadily declined as the company battles with Milwaukee for an aging population, a brisk aftermarket and the changing tastes of consumers. More recently, it has focused on selling its motorcycles to women, selling branded clothing, and increasing international sales to make a profit.

At a souvenir stall selling Trump memorabilia on Sturgis' main street, Larry Rich said that Mr. Trump should understand that Harley is doing what it can to remain profitable. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

The average cost of a Harley is around $ 20,000, and they make the round $ 40,000, making motorcycles a luxury item for people they do not consider their primary Use method of transport. For the third consecutive year, US retail sales in the US declined to 147,972 motorcycles in 2017, while sales in international markets rose slowly or remained stable and offered more room for growth. Over the last five years, the price of Harley's stock has fallen by almost 25 percent, even though the stock market has fallen into a crisis.

Harley is also under more intense competition. In the '90s in Sturgis, Harley riders would torch "rice burners" – a derogatory term for Japanese motorcycles – or tie them to the back of their all-American motorcycles and pull them through the streets. Although Harleys continue to be the most popular racing machine, foreign brands such as BMW, Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki are more and more common.

The greater esteem for overseas motorcycles was shown on Buffalo Chip, a sprawling 600-acre campsite, located miles east of Sturgis. At the campsite, Michael Lichter, a Colorado-based photographer and curator, is hosting exhibitions of specialty motorcycles from around the world to make the rally less Harley-centric and expand interest and inspiration beyond American motorcycles.

The Ponderosa Pines Inn and Cabins in Lead, SD, located about 15 miles from Sturgis Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times
For years, Harley-Davidson's sales are in the United States steadily declined as the Milwaukee -based firm struggled with an aging population, a brisk secondary market and the changing tastes of consumers. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

"People need to be more exposed," Mr. said. Lights hoping to show a show of bespoke motorcycles from all Japanese builders next year. "If you only buy because it's American, I do not think that's a good thing."

He added, "It means there is no pressure on American manufacturers to build better."

To the most fervent presidential admirer, there is nothing better than American Made.

Chris Cox, founder of the group Bikers for Trump, who has been organizing demonstrations for Mr. Trump across the country since joining, took advantage of the Sturgis meeting this year to drum up more support for Mr. Trump and mobilize opposition against Harley. He wants shareholders and drivers to come together and submit petitions to the company to promise that there will be generous severance packages for workers who could be laid off if they postpone production to other countries.

Like Mr Trump, Mr Cox is furious with Harley's boss Mr Levatich, who, according to Mr Cox, has 'connections' to Europe and wants to make the company less American.

Chris Cox, the founder of the biker for Trump, in Sturgis. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

Mr. Levatich, who has been with Harley since 1994, has held senior positions and led his European operations, including managing the Italian motorcycle business MV Agusta, which Harley acquired in 2008.

"We're not going to retreat to a hope and a promise that they'll do the right thing," said Mr. Cox, who was wearing a leather jacket signed by Mr. Trump in the White House when he was recently signed was with some motorcyclists in Washington. He said that Mr. Trump insisted that he visit the Oval Office because his group is so supportive and loyal.

Mr. Cox explained that Viet Nam veterans who came to motorcycle clubs after the war were decades disappointed Later, when the new brake pads they had to buy were made in Vietnam. He said that many bikers he knows now wear long sleeves to hide their Harley tattoos.

Cyclists are among Trump's most loyal groups, as motorcyclists in the United States are predominantly working-class men over 50 and veterans-demographics that comprise the bulk of the presidential base. Credit Benjamin Rasmussen for the New York Times

But even Mr. Cox, a South Carolina chainsaw artist who carves trees and other objects, could not cope with the realities of global supply chains and the high cost of manufacturing some products escape the United States. While he used to sell American T-shirts, he sold the $ 20 Trump shirts he sold outside of his R.V. were made in Haiti. The American-made shirts proved to be a tough sell.

"If I get a t-shirt from the US, it will cost about $ 8 more," Mr. Cox said. "I've looked far and wide to get a shirt made in America, it's just that they get you, they're going to break you."

Alan Rappeport is a Washington Reporter for Economic Policy. He covers the Ministry of Finance and writes about taxes, trade and tax matters in the era of President Trump. Previously, he worked for The Financial Times and The Economist. @ arappeport


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