Matt Levatich Steps Down As H-D President & CEO
A major shakeup has taken place at America’s leading motorcycle brand, Harley-Davidson. President & CEO Matt Levatich is stepping down from his post, and leaving the company, ending a career with H-D spanning 26 years, as reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The board of directors has appointed board member Jochen Zeitz as acting president & CEO, according to Harley press releases. Levatich will stay onboard through March, apparently.
Levatich steps away from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based motorcycle company amidst a season of severe struggle for the brand. Since he took the overall helm in May of 2015, H-D shares have plummeted 46%, with bike sales dropping for the 5th straight year in a row, and global bike shipments have slumped to their lowest since 2010.
Admittedly, Levatich took the company handlebars at a difficult time in American motorcycling, with sales at a decades’ low across the brands and segments. Harley has struggled to bridge the gap between an older demographic that traditionally buys large displacement cruisers and tourers but who are aging out of riding, and the younger generations who are not widely embracing motorcycling like previous gens have. All this, in spite of one of the nation’s strongest seasons of economic growth in decades.
On Levatich’s watch, Harley-Davidson has emphasized an overall strategy to attract new riders to the sport and their brand, most recently with their “More Roads” campaign. They’ve released their first electric motorcycle, the LiveWire, to critical acclaim in the industry but so far, only limited sales in the moto market.
The brand has also unveiled a line of smaller, more affordable, and more approachable bikes aimed at attracting new, younger and female riders, with more debuting later this year. Harley has also announced plans for international sales and partnerships to expand their global reach.
According to Harley-Davidson, the brand ended the 2019 year with 3.1 million riders stateside, an increase of 55,000 over 2018. The company’s goals under Levatich’s leadership has been to reach 4 million by 2027. “Clearly, we have to pick up the pace to close that gap,” he stated last month.
Yet the brand faces increased competition here, from resurgent Indian Motorcycles, owned by Polaris Industries, as well as international brands making renewed inroads in the States, such as Royal Enfield (with U.S. HQ in Milwaukee, ironically), Triumph, BMW, and the “Big Four” Japanese brands, among others, with Honda even operating a plant in Maryville, Ohio.
In Harley’s January 2020 earnings report, their U.S. sales fell for the 12th consecutive quarter, yet posted a rise in profit as well. The brand remains focused on reaching new riders with smaller, more affordable, more approachable, versatile bikes for the future, including electrics.
In the company’s press release, Zeitz stated, “The Board and Matt mutually agreed that now was the time for new leadership at Harley-Davidson. Matt was instrumental in defining the ‘More Roads to Harley-Davidson’ accelerated plan of growth, and we will look to new leadership to recharge our business.”
Levatich shared in his statement, “I am proud of what we have achieved during my time as CEO, in one of the most challenging periods in our history, and I am confident that the progress we have made on the ‘More Roads’ plan will position Harley-Davidson for long-term success.”
We here at Road Dirt love Harley-Davidson and their long, illustrious history, and we wish the best for this iconic brand and its future.
*Photos by Harley-Davidson
*Information sourced from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.