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'Easy Rider,' Harder Sell For Young People: UBS Asks Whether Harley-Davidson's Moment Has Passed

'Easy Rider,' Harder Sell For Young People: UBS Asks Whether Harley-Davidson's Moment Has Passed
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Have big motorcycles had their cultural moment?

That’s the question asked by UBS Securities following a survey that shows the biker culture that drove Harley-Davidson Inc (NYSE: HOG) to American icon status may not be continuing among younger people.

That raises big questions for the big bike maker.

An Aging Demographic

“The most significant finding of the survey is that, when looking at primary reasons why people buy a new motorcycle, the top reason for 21-24 year olds is 'ease of transportation,' while for the older demographic primary reasons to buy were 'as a hobby' or 'motorcycles are cool,’” UBS analyst Robin Farley said in a Friday note. 

The typical Harley buyer is an aging one: a relatively affluent married man in his early 50s who rides the bike more as a hobby than as a means of transportation, the analyst said.

When those buyers age out of the years during which people typically ride motorcycles, the question arises: can Harley replace them with younger buyers?

Given that younger buyers tend to be motivated to consider motorcycles more as a way to get somewhere, they may be likely to be more interested in lower-priced, lighter weight and lower-margin motorcycles than the ones Harley makes, Farley said. 

“We believe this significant divergence in incentives to buy a new bike could be what is partly behind Harley's and the broader heavyweight motorcycle industry's challenge to tap into a new segment of younger riders to drive growth." 

Barring some change that makes motorcycling more appealing to younger riders as a hobby or lifestyle choice — rather than simply a way to get around — the outlook for the big bike industry appears dependent on an aging demographic, the analyst said. 

UBS has a Neutral rating on Harley-Davidson with a $36.50 price target.

'A Generational Shift In Rider Preferences' 

One hopeful sign for the industry that came out of the survey was that younger potential buyers did list as their second most likely reason to buy a motorcycle as the idea that it matches their self-image, Farley said. 

The challenges for Harley come as overall motorcycle ownership is at a high, with a record number of bikes in American garages last year, the analyst said. Many of those are used bikes, however. The market for used bikes is three times that of the market for new ones, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. 

That still leaves the future of Harleys — and their place in the culture — in question. 

“We see risk to HOG's outlook and little room for multiple expansion, given key risks of aging rider demographic and a generational shift in rider preferences." 

Harley-Davidson shares were up 0.88 percent at $36.82 at the close Friday. 

Related Links:

Jim Cramer: 'I Feel Bad For Harley-Davidson'

Harley-Davidson Hogging All The Market Share It Can

Latest Ratings for HOG

Oct 2018CitigroupMaintainsBuyBuy
Oct 2018BMO CapitalMaintainsMarket PerformMarket Perform
Oct 2018ArgusMaintainsBuyBuy

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