Declining sales and a continued stock slide have proven to be too much for Harley-Davidson CEO Matthew Levatich, who has resigned according to a statement issued by the company Friday evening. Levatich will also vacate his seat on the board of directors, according to numerous sources including the Wall Street Journal. He had been with the company for 26 years, and was promoted to CEO in 2015. “I am very fortunate to have spent many years with a company as revered as Harley-Davidson,” Levatich said in the statement posted on Harley’s website.

Board member Jochen Zeitz will become acting president and CEO while The Motor Company looks for a new leader. “The Board and Matt mutually agreed that now is the time for new leadership at Harley-Davidson,” Zeitz said in the prepared statement.

The iconic American brand continues to struggle in the marketplace as demand for it’s often expensive motorcycles has seen declines year over year. Analysts have blamed a number of factors, including the “greying” of the company’s core customer base, a decline in interest from younger consumers, and increased competition from other makes, including Indian, which was resurrected by American conglomerate Polaris in 2013 and has taken aim at the new riders Harley-Davidson is competing for. And while Harley-Davidson has competed successfully with Asian bike makers for decades, the new battles with the resurgent Indian and the rising popularity of other legacy marques such as U.K’s Triumph and Italy’s Ducati (which is owned by Germany’s Volkswagen) have resulted in a multi-front battle for the dollars of what seems to be a shrinking pool of people interested in riding motorcycles at all.

During Levatich’s tenure as CEO, Harley-Davidson became the first (and perhaps most unlikely) major legacy motorcycle maker to produce and sell an electric motorcycle, which it calls the LiveWire, as part of Levatich’s “More Roads To Harley-Davidson” brand expansion campaign. However, the $29,799 price tag was thought be too expensive in some quarters, although H-D said less-expensive models were in development. Harley also introduced a less-expensive “Street” line of bikes that started at $7,600, which competed price-wise with many Asian and Euro models and are also sold in overseas markets where Harley-Davidson has been trying to grow market share. Indeed, international sales gave the company a boost in the 3rd quarter of 2019. However, the Street bikes also got Leavtich sideways with President Trump after it was revealed that some Street models were being made overseas. Harley had to clarify that Street models made for the U.S. market were indeed made in America while models for overseas markets were made in countries closer to those markets, often to avoid tariffs.

The current state of affairs is unfamiliar territory for a company that came roaring back from near death in the early 1980s when company principals bought the storied brand back from AMF and executed what is one of the most storied comebacks in American business history. But after decades of growth and with their core group of loyalists getting older and buying fewer motorcycles, Harley-Davidson has had trouble finding new buyers in an age of Uber, Tesla and new transportation options available at the tap of a finger.

Levatich’s transition out of the company will culminate at the end of March.



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