Harley-Davidson Inc. (HOG) has hit upon what it thinks is a rich trove of untapped demand in Japan: four-wheel drivers who can’t ride two-wheel motorcycles.
To give them a taste of what the American motorcycle-maker has to offer, Harley-Davidson is rolling out the three-wheel Tri Glide in Japan, its largest market outside North America. The Milwaukee-based company began selling the trikes in Japan this month, at a starting price from 4 million yen ($39,000).
“It’s a relatively easy way into Harley-Davidson,” Stuart Farrell, head of the company’s operations in Japan, said in a Feb. 24 interview in Tokyo. “You can park it next to a nice car and people will still look.”
In Japan, trikes are classified as automobiles, like a Toyota Corolla, which means that anyone with a driving license can ride the Tri Glide without a motorcycle permit. Trike riders also don’t have to wear a helmet and can travel on highways, according to the National Police Agency.
Targeting car drivers opens up a potential market of 80 million customers for Harley-Davidson, compared with the 5 million holders of motorcycle licenses, Farrell said. The company also plans to introduce in Japan the smallest of its two-wheel models, the Street, he said, without disclosing the price.
Harley-Davidson is expanding outside North America and reduce dependence on U.S. consumers, who still buy more than half its global output. The maker of the Fat Boy and Road King touring motorcycles will start building the Street in India this year to cater to young urbanites wanting a nimbler ride.
Response to the Tri Glide in Japan has been encouraging so far, said Yuji Kurihara, 34, who runs a Harley dealership in Tokyo. He has received more than 50 inquiries for the trike in the one month after the model was introduced, he said.
“Its grabbing lots of attention, from people who have never been on a motorbike before and don’t own a license to ride motorbikes,” said Kurihara. “They’re people who have known and yearned for the Harley experience from a long time.”
In Japan, the company’s main customers remain men ages 35 to 54, though younger people are increasingly buying Harley’s motorcycles, according to Farrell.
Harley-Davidson’s sales in Japan rose 1 percent to 10,642 units last year, a third annual increase, according to the company. Industrywide sales of two-wheelers have declined every year since 1986 through 2012, according to the most recent data from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.