Harley-Davidson's Decline Is Sad And Getting Sadder

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Let’s check in on Harley-Davidson, shall we? Last we heard, the iconic American motorcycle maker was very much in trouble, thanks to an aging consumer base. But the company is still alive, and had its annual shareholders meeting last week. Reporters, naturally, were banned from attending.

Shareholders meetings for big, publicly-owned companies are typically boring affairs. They’re also typically open to the media, since they are a chance for a company to put on its best public face and announce how everything is going splendidly. But Harley has had a rough year, announcing its plan to close its Kansas City, Missouri plant, while also getting caught in the crossfire of President Donald Trump’s insanely stupid trade war.

So, Harley executives may not, exactly, want to face questioning from any inquiring minds, much less reporters. Still, as The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, barring the media from the meeting has only served to draw more attention to Harley.

Harley-Davidson spokesman Mike Pflughoeft said the meeting would only be a rehash of information already reported.

He said the meeting was scheduled for Thursday to coincide with Harley’s first “Bike Night” of the year at the museum.

“We also limited access to shareholders, as it is their meeting,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

[Shareholder David Livingston], who didn’t attend, wondered whether Harley was worried about tough questions at a time when the company’s performance has lagged.

“CEO compensation? Plant closures? I don’t think they want confrontation,” he said.


Rather than calm things down, the whole episode has made Harley look like it has something to hide. There is now more attention on the company than before, which is on the sad side.

What’s remarkable is that nothing of note really happened, with the Journal-Sentinel reporting that questions about the Kansas City plant and a new Thailand plant came up, though that’s nothing new for the company. Of note: Harley has faced union criticism in recent days over those two plants.


I wish Harley would figure out a long-term business model that works for them, too, but stunts like this are amateur hour for any company that takes itself seriously. I’ve contacted a Harley spokesman and will update this post if they respond.

Update, 11:50 a.m. A Harley spokesman gave me the following statement:

This meeting is our “annual meeting of shareholders.” It is a business meeting to conduct important shareholder business. The objective of the meeting did not change, but several format changes were made this year. We moved the meeting to coincide with the Bike Night at the Museum and we also limited access to shareholders, as it is their meeting.