Americans have been driving Harley-Davidson motorcycles since 1903 and Latin Americans have been buying Harleys for work, racing and pleasure since at least 1915.
In that year, the company opened its first dealership in Mexico City, and the family-owned Mexican firm, now called Grupo BMC, is still going strong.
Today, Harley-Davidson has 55 independently owned and operated dealerships in Latin America and the Caribbean, and sees strong opportunities there as many regional economies continue to grow, creating potential new Harley owners.
“With the expanding middle class in Latin America, we’ve enjoyed a lot of growth in recent years,” said Sean Cummings, vice president and managing director for Latin America, a post which also includes responsibility for the Caribbean.
In 2013, Harley had retail sales of 11,415 motorcycles in Latin America, up 13.1 percent from the previous year. Harley’s dealers in the region also sell parts, accessories and other popular Harley-branded gear. Moreover 25 stores at hotels and resorts in the region sell popular Harley-branded merchandise.
“We hope to see more growth in the future,” said Cummings, who grew up in Milwaukee, Harley-Davidson’s home base, and has worked in international business for 30 years at companies that manufacture power sports and recreational equipment, as well as in other sectors.
Cummings, who joined Harley in early 2014, oversees the company’s regional headquarters in Doral. His division manages sales, marketing, logistics, dealer development, finance and other functions for the region. It directly manages 18 dealerships in 17 countries (Colombia has two dealerships) and operations in the Mexico and Brazil offices, which handle the other regional dealerships. Harley also has an assembly plant in Brazil, which supplies motorcycles to the Brazilian market.
Harley-Davidson opened its regional headquarters in Doral in 2011, and currently has 42 employees there, around double the number it had three years ago. The division also employs about 250 throughout the region. In addition, its 55 independent dealers provide thousands of jobs in sales, service and other areas.
Harley’s Latin American headquarters is one of four divisions. The others are North America, Asia Pacific and Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The company has dealerships in 89 countries.
The emphasis on international markets is part of a strategy to grow Harley’s overseas sales as it simultaneously works to expand its reach in the U.S., its home market. “One of our goals is to grow international markets faster than the domestic [U.S.] market and to grow our outreach faster than the core market,” said Cummings, who has been riding since he was 17 and owns an ’89 Harley Springer Softail with a 1,340cc (cubic centimeter) engine.
In the U.S., for example, Harley is reaching out to women, Hispanics, African Americans and other groups who were not usually traditional Harley owners, said Cummings, who has bachelor’s degrees in natural resources management and landscape architecture from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
In Latin America, motorcycles and motor scooters (typically called motos and motonetas) are extremely popular. In Caracas, for example, huge numbers of motorcycles and scooters vie for space on the streets with cars, trucks and buses.
They are essential for legions of workers going back and forth to their jobs, and for the many people who work as messengers or provide delivery services.
But most of the motorcycles used in Latin America and the Caribbean are considerably smaller than those offered by Harley-Davidson, which range from 601cc to 1,802cc on the larger bikes, sometimes called “hogs.”
Also, the smaller motorcycles used in the region are priced within the reach of the working class, while Harleys can range from around $8,000 to more than $40,000.
Competition is fierce among manufacturers of small and large motorcycles. Harley competes with firms like BMW, Triumph, Yamaha and Honda. Japanese companies account for a major share of the smaller motorcycles sold in the region.
Latin America’s rich and famous, as well as the upper middle class, have long been fans of Harley-Davidson, and Cummings pointed out that internationally known performers, sports figures, politicians and wealthy businesspeople own Harleys. The company, however, won’t reveal any of their names.
More important than the rich and famous, however, are the increasing numbers of potential Harley buyers among the growing middle and upper middle classes. “We reach all socio-economic levels,” Cummings said.
To attract these potential customers, Harley offers a wide range of bikes in Latin America, from the sleek, Iron 883 model to the most luxurious and comfortable cruising editions
The company already has a large customer base in the region. Brazil and Mexico are its largest markets, and both Colombia and Chile are showing substantial growth. It took the market share lead in the 601cc and above category in its biggest market, Brazil, for the first time in 2013.
Harley holds rallies and other events that attract thousands of Harley owners and publishes a Spanish edition of its owners magazine, HOG. Many Latin Americans have studied or worked in the U.S., and are familiar with the history and culture surrounding the distinctive Harley brand.
One of Harley’s biggest selling points is customization, Cummings noted. The company offers a wide range of motorcycles with different styles, engines and performance capacity. Owners can choose from wild color schemes and a host of options and accessories like seats, handlebars, chrome, sound systems, saddlebags, suspension systems, etc.
“That’s why our motorcycles are called ‘rolling art,’” he said.
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Harley-Davidson Motor Co.
Business: Harley-Davidson’s Latin America division in Doral oversees operations at 55 independent Harley dealerships in Latin America and the Caribbean, managing sales, marketing, finance, dealer development and other areas. The Doral office also directly manages 18 dealerships in 17 countries (there are two in Colombia), as well as subsidiary operations in Brazil and Mexico that are responsible for the remaining dealers. The company has an assembly plant in Brazil and 25 shops at hotels and resorts throughout the region that sell Harley merchandise. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., the main division of parent company Harley-Davidson Inc., designs, manufactures and sells motorcycles, parts, accessories and general merchandise to independent dealers in 89 countries.
Head office: Milwaukee
Latin America regional headquarters: 3470 NW 82nd Ave., Doral
Vice president and managing director for Latin America: Sean Cummings
Founded: The Latin America regional office was set up in Doral in 2011; Harley-Davidson was established in Milwaukee in 1903.
First dealership in Latin America: Mexico City in 1915 (still operating)
Employees: 42 at the regional headquarters, about double the number since the office opened three years ago. There are some 250 Harley employees throughout Latin America plus thousands of sales and service staff who work for independently owned Harley dealers.
Ownership: publicly traded, NYSE ticker symbol is HOG.
Sales: 11,415 Harley-Davidson motorcycles were sold at the retail level in Latin America in 2013, up 13.1 percent from 2012. Total world retail sales were 260,839 bikes in 2013, of which 91,976 were international. Harley’s worldwide revenues in 2013 were $5.9 billion.