Harley, Stung by Tariffs, Shifts Some Production Overseas

Harley-Davidson, up against spiraling costs from tariffs, will begin to shift its production of motorcycles that are bound for Europe from the U.S. to factories overseas.

The European Union began on Friday to roll out tariffs on American imports like bourbon, peanut butter and orange juice. The EU tariffs on $3.4 billion worth of U.S. products come in retaliation to the duties the Trump administration has imposed on European steel and aluminum.

Harley-Davidson Inc. sold almost 40,000 motorcycles in the European Union last year. The revenue the company generated from those sales was second only to that generated in the United States, according to the Milwaukee company.

The motorcycle maker said in a regulatory filing on Monday that EU tariffs on motorcycles it exports from the U.S. have jumped by between 6 percent and 31 percent. That raises the cost of each motorcycle by $2,200 on average.

“Harley-Davidson maintains a strong commitment to U.S.-based manufacturing which is valued by riders globally,” the company said in prepared remarks. “Increasing international production to alleviate the EU tariff burden is not the company’s preference, but represents the only sustainable option to make its motorcycles accessible to customers in the EU and maintain a viable business in Europe. Europe is a critical market for Harley-Davidson.”

Harley-Davidson said it’s trying to avoid raising its prices to avert “an immediate and lasting detrimental impact” on sales in Europe. It will instead absorb much of the higher costs, at least in the short term. Company officials said they expect the cost for the rest of the year to run from $30 million to $45 million.

Harley-Davidson said it could take anywhere between nine and 18 months to complete its plan to move some of its production operations from the U.S. to factories overseas.

The company is already struggling with declining sales. In January, it said it would take its operation in Kansas City, Missouri, and move it to a plant in York, Pennsylvania. U.S. motorcycle sales peaked at more than 1.1 million in 2005 and dropped quickly during the recession.

Asked about Harley’s decision Monday, Gov. Scott Walker talked about tariffs in general but did not specifically discuss the company’s situation.

“The ultimate goal, if we could get there, is no tariffs or if anything few tariffs on anything,” said Walker, a Republican. “That’s what I’m going to push for, ways that we can get to a level playing field then we don’t have this tit for tat on any number of products out there.”