Interview Xavier Crépet: Harley-Davidson wants to conquer the world
Objectives of the new 2018 Softail range, analysis of the Street 750’s early career, long-term ambitions in the world, future of the LiveWire electric motorcycle: Xavier Crépet, Harley-Davidson marketing and communications director for Southern Europe West, enlightens us on all these questions in our MNC interview !
Site: According to Paul James, Harley-Davidson Product Manager, "the new Softails are the result of the largest R&D program in the history of the brand." This seems quite surprising in view of the advances already introduced last year with the new partially water-cooled engine on the Touring range! Why has this 2018 Softail range monopolized so many resources ?
- MNC tests: Contact with the 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail range
Xavier Crépet, Harley-Davidson Marketing and Communication Director for South West Europe (France, Italy, Spain and Portugal): We always strive to produce the best possible motorcycles taking into account the wishes of our customers. But for this new Softail range, we have also collected a lot of opinions from people who are not part of our clientele in order to know in which directions they would like to see our Softails evolve. The implementation and processing of this process has already taken a long time.
Then, our R&D department set about meeting the expressed expectations, namely to offer more dynamic and more efficient motorcycles but also capable of taking more angles. All while maintaining the iconic "Hardtail" look of the Softail. Our response is reflected in this new range powered by the 8-valve Milwaukee-Eight (4 in 2016, Editor’s note), which combines the strengths of Softail and the dynamic qualities of Dyna. And because of this association, the Dyna range disappears.
50% sales in the USA and 50% internationally within 10 years
M-. N. C: In addition to the Milwaukee-Eight engine, the 2018 Softail models feature dynamism-oriented developments (reinforced and lightened frame, inverted fork on Fat Bob, reduced weight, etc.). It’s a bit of a revolution for Harley. Wouldn’t it also be a reaction to the rise of Indian, whose motorcycle punch is hitting bikers? ?
X. C .: It is above all on the basis of customer and non-customer feedback that we have taken this direction! On the other hand, and this is an important aspect, Harley-Davidson has the will to open up to the international market. Currently, 63% of our sales are made in the United States and therefore 37% in other countries of the world. Our objective is to achieve equilibrium in the next ten years, ie 50% in our domestic market and 50% internationally. And this of course without reducing sales in the United States !
This therefore implies increasing the overall volume by attracting other customers in the rest of the world. And to achieve these new conquests, particularly in Europe, our range must tend to meet their driving styles and their expectations. In this sense, I personally find that the 2018 Softails form the most "European" range ever designed by Harley-Davidson..
M-. N. C: With its aggressive look and the vigorous Twin 114 of 94 hp and 155 Nm, the Fat Bob openly flirts with the Muscle Bike style, where the Ducati X-Diavel and the late Yamaha V-Max exibit. Is this a way to compensate for the withdrawal of the V-Rod ?
- MNC test: Fat Bob 114 2018
X. C .: Yes, because requests for this style of "Power Cruiser" motorcycles still emanate since the V-Rod discontinuation. We are aware that there is a place for this "sporty" segment, and the new Fat Bob – while retaining the Harley codes – does indeed provide an answer..
No question of stopping the Street 750 !
M-. N. C: The Street range made in India has met with discreet success, since from August 2016 to August 2017, only 222 were sold in France, to which 150 were added. How do you interpret these results? According to your network, what are the reasons? A withdrawal of these water-cooled motorcycles is it possible ?
X. C .: There is absolutely no question of stopping the production of these motorcycles! These are still fairly recent models (launched in summer 2014 for the Street 750 and in spring 2017 for the Street Rod, editor’s note), which are progressing after a start that is actually below our expectations. At first, the fact that the Street 750 was devoid of ABS complicated its debut, as did certain manufacturing details that it was accused of..
The fact is that the reception of the media was not extraordinary either (logical in view of the complaints mentioned above, but also the rather high price and the engine not very sensational, Editor’s note), while a certain reluctance has sometimes been observed in a few outlets. Fortunately, a second model with ABS and an improved finish is La Street is now the 10th best seller in our range across countries which is a good result considering we have 35 models. !
Harley-Davidson in motorcycle schools…
M-. N. C: You mentioned a form of "blocking" in the network. Does this mean that some dealers did not welcome this Harley with Indian origins (the Street is made in Milwaukee for the American market but in Bawal for the rest of the world) ?
X. C .: Some dealers did not immediately realize that the Street 750 was an opportunity for additional sales. For them, as for some "purist" customers, the Iron remained the first Harley, the one with which we start in our brand. However, the Street 750 is a motorcycle of conquest, conceived in particular to seduce and retain young drivers or "sleeping" bikers who have left the motorcycle aside for a few years. But also bikers: as such, it fulfills its mission since the Street 750 is our best seller to women.
From our point of view, this bike does its job, especially since it attracts a new type of clientele: motorcycle schools! We are in fact dealing with more and more requests in this direction, essentially coming from licensing structures that wish to distinguish themselves from their competitors in this way. So much so that in recent days we have signed a partnership with the CER (Center for Road Education, Editor’s note) in order to be able to equip motorcycle schools in their network at the request of their network, which currently has 250 points in France..
M-. N. C: However, the Street 750 is not really the ideal tool for examining the set! With 222 kg all full and a typical "custom" ergonomics, we are far from the maneuverability of featherweight roadsters like the MT-07 or Z650 which reign supreme in motorcycle schools. ?
X. C .: Our motorcycles are only used for the "driving" part on the road, not during plateau exercises. The motorcycles-schools concerned also offer them during the "bridge" examination which allows you to go from the "A2" license (compulsory for all new licenses and limited to 48 hp, Editor’s note) to the "A" license (without power limitation , Editor’s note). Beyond the "image" aspect that interests these motorcycle schools, this initiative allows students at the end of their course – already with a good mastery of two-wheelers – to familiarize themselves with another motorcycle, which has more skills. character.
M-. N. C: In India, over the same period from August 2016 to August 2017, the Street sold 2113 copies according to our colleagues at BikeAdvice. That’s not a lot in a market where some 17 million two-wheelers were sold at the same time, right? Can we consider this as a first step in a market where everything remains to be done for large engines? ?
X. C .: First of all, we are already happy to note that the Street is India’s first large-capacity sale. Of course, the volumes are still quite low, but we are number one! For the moment, “big bikes” represent a very limited market – reserved for a certain form of elite – in this part of the world, which consumes more small-displacement utility vehicles. But things are changing and a better-off middle class is growing: in this context, Harley-Davidson has every interest in "occupying the field". And the point is that our brand is highly regarded there.
A production electric motorcycle will be released by 2020
M.N.C: In 2015, during our LiveWire prototype test, you said that a production electric Harley would be launched "before 2020, maybe or maybe not in the form of the LiveWire.". What exactly is this project, less than three years from this deadline? ?
X. C .: 85% of the feedback concerning LiveWire was very positive during the various tests that we have set up. This success convinced our managers to validate and continue this project, then to announce that a production electric motorcycle would see the light of day by 2020. Currently, we are already able to offer it but the price positioning would not be attractive. . Our teams are also working to improve the range and charging time, fundamental criteria in the success of an electric vehicle..
M.N.C: Last spring, Bill Davidson, great-grandson of the founder of Harley-Davidson, even mentioned the possibility of having a real range of electric motorcycles within ten years. In addition to or as a replacement for certain models ?
- MNC of May 16, 2017: Harley-Davidson plans 100 new products in 10 years including electric motorcycles
X. C .: If Bill Davidson says so, it certainly is! Honestly, no one today can ignore electric propulsion. Some car manufacturers are developing complete electric ranges and others are even planning to end their combustion engine soon (Volvo announced this summer that it will be shutting down its gasoline and diesel engines for 2019 to devote itself solely to electric and the hybrid, Editor’s note).
The hybrid engine is not on the agenda because it is complicated on a motorcycle
MNC: All motorcycle manufacturers looking for an alternative to gasoline are interested only in electric propulsion (Harley with the LiveWire, BMW with the C Evolution, KTM with the E-Freeride) … Another solution is it not possible, like the hybrid, with an electric motor used in town and a petrol unit for the road? The problem of the size linked to this double engine would not be an insurmountable problem on the Touring range, for example. ?
X. C .: Indeed, Touring bikes are the best suited motorcycles for introducing this kind of advancement. But very sincerely, I doubt that the hybrid was one day taken into consideration by our engineers … In any case, no communication was made to us in this direction. Moreover, I do not believe that another motorcycle manufacturer is involved in this area..
It is more complicated on a motorcycle to install a hybrid propulsion because of the size and weight constraints. However, at present, we are more in a search for weight reduction, including on our Touring range. The double motorization would cause the opposite. We would also be forced to reduce baggage carrying capacity to install additional technology..
Interview by Alexandre BARDIN
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