Harley Davidson India: Harley-Davidson may make in India to sell globally, says CEO Jochen Zeitz

American automotive icon Harley-Davidson, which last week began its second innings in India by launching its most affordable bike to date in partnership with Hero MotoCorp, might use the facilities here to sell in other global markets, its CEO Jochen Zeitz told ET.

Zeitz, on his first visit to India after taking over as Harley-Davidson CEO, said the company’s immediate priority, however, is to strengthen local sales with the HD X440, the bike Harley co-created with Hero. “We were manufacturing our 750cc also for the international market (here), so I am not ruling that out,” Zeitz said, referring to India’s export potential for the company. “But right now, the focus is really to make sure that the product is successful in India. From there we can build and come up with other ideas.”

Harley-Davidson stopped manufacturing operations in India in 2020. The company, however, reached an agreement with Hero MotoCorp to continue sales of its imported products in the country. The X440 – the first product jointly developed by the two companies – is priced around ₹2.3 lakh, and intends to challenge the dominance of Royal Enfield in the premium bike category where operating profit margins often exceed those for software exports.

Hero MotoCorp will make the X440 for Harley for the Indian market.

Harley-Davidson’s renewed focus on the Indian market comes at a time when Washington and New Delhi are increasing engagement through a slew of commercial and defence deals to counter China’s commercial influence on the global stage.

“I look at the two most populous markets in the world as an opportunity. You build your roots now in order to grow with the economy and that is why we are here really,” he said.But in countries such as India where the company does not have the know-how for market penetration, Harley-Davidson will work with a partner that can help put in place the right distribution network, and invest into under-represented categories.Fresh Approach
This approach, though, marks a major departure from the past when the company was focused on doing everything on its own.

Zeitz said the strategy is “especially (important in) these markets where the customer is also thinking slightly differently, and you have the issue of import duties.”

India levies import duties of 50-75% on imported motorcycles, depending on the size of the engine.

Zeitz said the company would like to get big bikes into the market without having to pay huge tariffs because it would be more accessible to a greater number of riders. “In theory, why would you have to pay such a tariff for a bike that comes into India versus a bike that goes into the United States?” he asked.

Zeitz said the mid-weight motorcycle segment is certainly a growing segment in India.


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