Monday, August 31, 2009

Harley-Davidson roars into India -

NEW DELHI -- Twenty-five Harley-Davidsons rumbled through the heart of the rain-drenched Indian capital Sunday, aggressively announcing the arrival of the legendary U.S. company in one of the world's largest motorcycle markets.

The American motorcycle's long-awaited journey to India was enabled by what has come to be called the "mango-motorcycle swap" in 2007 trade negotiations, when the United States decided to allow Indian mangoes to be imported in return for the export of Harley-Davidsons.

As the engines settled into idle, onlookers milled around the black-jacketed bikers and their machines.

"There is now a confluence of factors in India that is favorable for us," said Matthew Levatich, president of Harley-Davidson's main motorcycle division. "The rise of middle-class consumption, increased government investment in new highways and the recent economic boom have ushered in a perfect time for the market for leisure motorcycle riding."

Harley-Davidson is now looking for Indian dealers so it can roll out its first bikes in the first half of 2010. The Milwaukee-based company does not plan to manufacture or assemble any of the motorcycle parts in India, instead importing the bikes, accessories and riding gear from the United States. Levatich said that if the brand considers manufacturing outside the United States at a later stage, it would be only to meet local demand and not to sell the bikes back into the United States.

Levatich said Harley-Davidson motorcycle sales are doing better in the non-U.S. market, even though the domestic market still accounts for about 70 percent of global retail sales.

India is the second-largest motorcycle market in the world, dominated by small, inexpensive utility bikes that cost roughly $1,200 and are used by those who cannot afford to buy a car. A new Indian car called the Nano was launched this year at a price of $2,500, aiming to convert millions of users of two-wheeled vehicles to first-generation car buyers.

The Harley, however, will target affluent Indians. The company will sell about 12 models in India at a starting price of about $14,000, twice the American starting price.
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