Harley-Davidson's young riders hit record, despite retail sales slump

More people are riding Harleys than ever before.

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Harley-Davidson, Inc. boasted more than 3 million riders in 2018, an all-time high, the company said in its second-quarter earnings report Tuesday. That number has been pushed by an increasing number of younger riders. New U.S. retail sales among people ages 18-34 increased 2.7 percent, the company said.

That’s promising for the future of the Milwaukee-based motorcycle builder that has struggled with an aging client base. That increase in younger buyers came amid an 8.4 percent decrease in worldwide retail sales for the quarter, an 8 percent drop in U.S. retail sales and an 8.9 percent decline in international retail sales in the second quarter, which the company blamed on weak sales in the industry.

Despite the retail sales drop, Harley posted earnings of $1.23 per share for the quarter. The company also repurchased $42.9 million of shares and paid dividends of $0.375 per share.

Matt Levatich, president and CEO of Harley-Davidson, said the company “continued to lay a solid foundation for future growth” during the quarter.

“The decisions and investments we’re making, within a highly dynamic and competitive global marketplace, demonstrate our intense focus to build the next generation of riders and maximize shareholder value,” he said.

Harley isn’t just looking for young riders in the U.S. The company said it aims to increase its ridership in Asia, and it benefitted from cheaper manufacturing in Thailand.

That helped year-over-year retail sales grow 7.6 percent in emerging markets and 77 percent in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations markets.

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Last month, Harley announced it was also partnering with Qianjiang Motorcycle Company to build “smaller, more accessible” motorcycles in China starting in 2020.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to build more Harley riders in China, one of the world’s largest motorcycle markets, by creating new pathways to our brand,” Levatich said at the time.