Harley-Davidson launches 2018 model year with largest product development project

Company introduces 8 new cruisers, 5 new touring models [PHOTO GALLERY]

2018 FLHC Heritage Softail Classic. Softail.

Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. launched its 2018 model year Tuesday with the unveiling of what the company described as its “largest-ever product development project.”

The new models included the combining of the Softail and Dyna lines into eight new Softail cruiser models that were redesigned from the ground up. The models feature a new frame and bring the Milwaukee Eight engine, which previously was only on touring bikes, to the cruiser lineup.

Members of the Harley Owners’ Group will have an opportunity to ride demos of the new models from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 31 at the company’s Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations as part of the Milwaukee Rally on Labor Day weekend. The general public will be able to try the models out during the same time period on Sept. 1 and Sept. 2.

Dealerships will begin receiving the 2018 model year bikes today.

Paul James, Harley manager of product portfolio, said the models were the result of an extensive research and development program.

“Thousands of hours of testing were put into the complete redesign of these new cruisers,” James said. “We focused on taking the total rider experience to a higher level, where authenticity, heritage and soul meet the modern edge of technology for a ride that must be felt to be believed.”

Harley spokeswoman Pat Sweeney said the company sought to combine the best of its Softail and Dyna lines with the new models. She said the cruisers would combine custom styling with more acceleration, better cornering and reduced weight.

But some customers were quick to take to social media to express their displeasure that the Dyna models were discontinued.

“We encourage everyone to just get on these model year 2018 motorcycles and give them a try,” Sweeney said.

Cruiser shipments were up  4.7 percent in 2016, even as shipments of new motorcycles were down 1.6 percent overall for the company. This year, however, has been a different story as the cruiser segment has seen shipments decline by 22 percent in the first half of the year, compared to an 11 percent decline overall.

Harley also launched three restyled custom vehicle operations lines and blacked-out styling on two other touring models. The CVO bikes come with what the company says is the largest-ever stock engine from Harley.

The company has seen sales of its motorcycles decline in recent years as baby boomers begin to age out of the sport and competition from Indian Motorcycles and others increases. Harley’s latest guidance called for a 6 to 8 percent decline in shipments in 2017.

To help turn around falling sales, Harley announced a 10-year plan earlier this year that calls for the introduction of 100 new “high-impact” models, attracting 2 million new riders in the United States and growing international sales to 50 percent of the business.

“The new 2018 lineup reflects our mission to attract current riders and inspire new ones,” James said. “These bikes were designed to celebrate the universal pursuit of independence, authenticity, individuality of riders, with innovations that deliver an unbeatable riding experience for them on the open road.”

The company also took its efforts to attract new riders to social media, partnering with a variety of influencers for video reveals of the new cruiser models. The influencers were each revealed a model from under a black box that only had the Harley logo and #FreedomMachine printed on it. Videos of the reveal were then shared on social media sites.

“It’s really just an opportunity to get out there and create some excitement around our products,” Sweeney said. “The unboxing was a fun way to do that.”

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.