Harley-Davidson Low Rider S is the last motorcycle to come from H-D’s standalone operations in India. It is everything we expect from a Harley power cruiser and sets the mood for the B-side of the H-D India album.
The very first day of the week I spent with the new Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, all I could think of was Low Rider by War playing in my head – not just for its lyrics but also for the upbeat and funky music. But as the time for it go back came closer, we heard the news about Harley-Davidson announcing its exit from India and the song playing on a loop in my mind was replaced by Hey Hey My My by Battleme. The year 2020 had claimed yet another sad story.
Harley-Davidson is joining a growing list of foreign companies folding their wings in India. General Motors shut down its operations in India in 2017 but continued with exports and earlier this year announced an agreement for the sale of its plant in Talegaon to China’s Great Wall Motors, shutting shop completely.
Eicher Polaris exited in March 2018, the same year Ssangyong Motor seized stand-alone operations, Volkswagen Group’s MAN Truck and Bus also wrapped operations in 2018, FCA India Automobiles pulled the plug on Fiat in March 2019, the same year US-based Cleveland Motorcycles exited, and in October 2019, it was the end of the road for UM. Ford agreed last year to move all its assets into a JV with Mahindra & Mahindra, and this year, Toyota announced that it wouldn’t expand its India business any further.
Harley pulling the plug on independent operations here is a blow to the country’s efforts to lure and retain foreign manufacturers. US President Donald Trump had stated earlier that Harley’s decision to exit India could brew another diplomatic tussle with the US with whom India is negotiating a free trade agreement.
However, the brand has struggled in India to gain stable ground even after import tariffs were slashed by 50%, owing to an extensively competitive two-wheeler market which also happens to the largest in the world. 1.7 crore motorcycles and scooters are sold here every year.
Nodding to the funky beat of War’s Low Rider, Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been incredibly popular in India. For some, they are the epitome of what motorcycles should look and sound like for the Indian motorcyclist adores the appeal of a big cruiser. Should the price tags on H-D bikes be only as big as those Royal Enfields, we’d probably ache to see other brands on the road at all.
But the fact is the opposite as Harleys remain out of reach for most. Another problem came from the fact that many are preferring a used Harley. If kept well and nurtured with some soul, these are the kind of motorcycles that can be passed down generations.
Founded in 1903, Harley-Davidson has been an icon that put American motorcycles on the world map. Having been featured on classic 1969 Hollywood movie Easy Rider, the American riding culture catapulted to young hearts around the world. Then there are the one-percenter motorcycle clubs like Hell’s Angels. Sure, no need to absorb the outlaw behaviour from them but they propagated the joys and freedom of the open road.