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Harley-Davidson: Over 100 Years of Brand Management

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Harley-Davidson: Over 100 years of Brand Management


Harley-Davidson: Over 100 years of Brand Management

New Product Development

It all stated when William S. Harley and the Davison Brothers rolled out the first prototype of the new loop-frame Harley-Davidson after four years of development. This prototype proved its functionally on September 8, 1904, when it placed fourth in a Milwaukee motorcycle race held at State Fair Park. This was the landmark appearance of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle ever document in history.

The Beginning

The founders of Harley-Davidson designed their first engine in 1901. William S. Harley at age 21, created the initial design of the engine, which was constructed for use in a regular pedal-bicycle frame, a power-cycle. This original design was abandoned after it failed to provide enough power to climb Milwaukee's modest hills without pedal assistance. Though the first motor-bicycle was unsuccessful it yielded a valuable learning experience.

With innovative fervor they immediately began the development a new and improved second generation "motorcycle. The first "real" Harley-Davidson Motorcycle had a bigger engine 405 cubic centimeters with 25 centimmeters flywheels weighing 28 lbs (13 kg). The machine's advanced loop-frame pattern was similar to the 1903 Milwaukee Merkel motorcycle (designed by Joseph Merkel, later of Flying Merkel fame)1. Enlarging the engine compelled the development team to enlisted the support of Ole Evinrude, an outboard motor specialist. Adapting the proven Evinrude type engine to the Merkel frame were shrewd moves for young Harley-Davidson. However, Bill Harley added a feature of his own to make the Harley-Davidson a superior motorcycle. This was the provision of an adjustable belt tightener between the running engine and the rear wheel. Most early motorcycles were direct drive. They had no clutch or provision for disconnecting the engine from the rear wheel. This direct-drive feature made earlier motorcycles difficult to ride and unstoppable unless the rider killed the engine. So most riders chose NOT to stop, and threaded their way through horse-drawn traffic, farm animals, and children with sometimes tragic results. Hills were rushed at high speed because most engines didn't have adequate hill-climbing power. As a result, early motorcycles quickly gained a bad reputation that exists to the present day. Bill Harley's combination of a powerful engine set low in a loop-frame with a flexible belt tightener made the Harley-Davidson an easy-riding and safer vehicle. Oddly enough, by the fabricating a larger engine, the modified loop-frame design moved it out of the motorized-bicycle category. This subtle variation would have lasting influence on the construct of modern motorcycles for years to come.

The innovation of the Harley-Davidson introduced a manufacturing first that drove a total make over of the motorcycles. It was no longer acceptable to adapt gasoline engines to bicycle frames. The frame would now have to be built around the engine. This adaption took other competitors time to figure that out.

The Harley-Davidson (HD) was first marketed as a "do-it-yourself" in the "Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal", in January 1905. The small advertisements resulted in limited sales, but interests inspired Carl H. Lang of Chicago to become the first Harley-Davidson dealer that same year. Only three bikes sold from the dealer that year, but HD continued to built in the Davidson backyard shed. A year later, Bill Harley and the Davidson brothers built their first factory on Chestnut Street (which remains Harley-Davidson's corporate headquarters today). The company produced about 50 motorcycles that year.

Throughout 1905 and 1906 the company's main production was the single-cylinder models with 26.84 cubic inches (440 cc) engines. As their sales increased, the HD began to gain more notoriety. It cement its' name Americana history when the company began selling its' motorcycles as a transportation vehicle to police departments. This stroke of genius gained HD brand recognition in a market which they remain a leader in today.

In 1907, HD unveiled a prototype model with a 45-degree V-Twin engine at the Chicago Automobile Show. The significant was astonishing, almost doubling the power of the first singles. The V-Twin displaced 53.68 cubic inches (880 cc) and produced about 7 horsepower (5.2 kW) and its' top speed was about 60 mph (100 km/h). Although production of the V-Twins did not start until 1910, production jumped from 450 motorcycles in 1908 to 1,149 machines in 1909.1

What's In A Name

From its inception Harley-Davidson motorcycle set records. In 1908, for example, the Harley achieved a record 188.234 miles per gallon. It captured seven-first place finishes in 1910 motorcycle racing, and, by 1912 claimed 200 U.S. distributors. A Harley-Davidson Sidecar won the first annual Pike's Peak race in 1916, and another bike claimed first in the 1922 Adelaide to Melbourne South Australia race.6

By the 1960s "the H.O.G.," as it affectionately referred, garnered seven consecutive victories at the Daytona 200. During the next decade the Harley took several consecutive wins at the American Motorcycle Association Grand National Championships and broke the world motorcycle record for land speed.

Though not the first American made motorcycle, Harley-Davidson quickly overshadowed its competitors to become America's most recognized motorcycle with an unique engine mounted frame and a performance second to none. Its innovative gas engine design surpassed the coal powered steam-engine motorcycle developed in 1867 by Howard Roper and the gas-powered motorcycle developed in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler, a German, which he attached to a wooden bike. The introduction of Harley-Davidson marked the moment in history when the dual development of a viable gas-powered engine and the modern bicycle collided.

During World-War I Harley-Davidson went into full production to supplying 20,000 motorcycles to the U.S. Military for transport conveyance. In addition to supporting the U.S. Government during WWII, Harley-Davidson exported motorcycles to England when their manufacturing efforts began to focus on the war and motorcycle manufacturing was suspended. These accomplishments



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