Harley-Davidson is the most famous and successful manufacturer of motorcycles in the USA, dating from 1903, and specializing in heavyweight motorcycles and choppers. Their models are distinguished for their special style, originally meant for highway driving, but evolved into five different motorcycle categories, in order to match with any taste.
In the mid-80’s Harley-Davidson was facing serious problems because of the Japanese ‘invasion’ in the US market with great motorcycles that managed to outsell Harleys and make them seem rather out-of-date and old fashioned. It was that time when Harley-Davidson realized that they would have to deliberately adopt the looks and feel of their earlier machines in order to explore this ‘retro’ and customizable look they had (1). The response from their brand communities was huge, and Harley-Davidson completely made use of it. The ‘Harley Owners Group’ (HOG) was formed (2), in order to strengthen the brand loyalty, and through the years, people of this group became known as the best consultants in order to customize your motorcycle, and helped the brand realize that mass customization was the future of the company.
In 1999 Harley-Davidson in order to satisfy their most loyal customers, the HOG members, but also to respond to the trend of the market, decided to establish a new family of models focused on the factory custom market. The CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) program is a small selection of mass-produced motorcycle models, including limited edition customizations of stock models with choices such as larger-displacement engines, costlier paint designs, and additional accessories not found on the mainstream models. Every year since then, two to five models are selected and retrieve these modifications in order to offer premium-quality services to the most demanding costumers, who want to differentiate their motorcycles from the factory-based models (3). These were the first steps for Harley-Davidson in mass-customization strategy, based on their costumers’ needs and recommendations.
Since February 2011, Harley-Davidson made one step more towards mass customization, introducing a new website specifically designed to alert costumers for their customization program, the H-D1. Now costumers are able to design their own one-of-a-kind motorcycle, selecting among over 8000 items from the Genuine Motor Parts and Accessories catalog (4). After designing it, the costumer can either send their wish list and online order the motorcycle, or print it and deliver to a H-D dealership. There are two kind of modifications; the ones that the factory is responsible, such as different engine etc., and the rest that the dealership does, mainly external parts and accessories. There are two main benefits from this procedure. Firstly, the production line needs no serious alterations in order to complete an order, and secondly, the dealerships can be much more profitable than just receiving only the order for the motorcycle. In the end, the costumer will receive the tailor-made motorcycle of their dreams, justifying the slogan of the program ‘We fulfill dreams of personal freedom’ (5).
Harley-Davidson managed over the years to evolve into the biggest mass-customization motorcycles company. It was the brand’s community that showed the path of success, and the company fulfilled their costumers need to differ. The marketing strategy to position your dealer as a custom builder seems pretty clever and efficient, since they managed to maximize both their profits in every step of the production process from the factory to the dealer and the costumer, as well as the user satisfaction.
Spyros Adamopoulos (373896)
(1)Field, Greg (2002-09-01). “The Myth of Harley VS. Japan”. In Darwin Holmstrom. The Harley-Davidson Century. St. Paul, MN USA: MotorBooks International. pp. 206–207. ISBN 0-7603-1155-2.
(2) “Harley-Davidson to get new ticker: HOG”, The Business Journal of Milwaukee, 10 August 2006