After nearly five years as CEO and a total of 26 years with the company, Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) CEO Matthew Levatich is stepping down. A statement from the company posted late Friday afternoon indicated that board member Jochen Zeitz would serve as interim president and CEO, effective today, until a permanent chief executive is found.
The decision was seemingly amicable and understandable. Harley-Davidson, while still a respected name within the motorcycle industry, has seen sales and earnings steadily dwindle since 2014’s peak for both. Last year’s top line fell another 8%. Zeitz commented in the press release, “The Board and Matt mutually agreed that now is the time for new leadership at Harley-Davidson.”
The fiscal retreat may not be entirely attributable to Levatich. In the same vein, Zeitz and Harley’s eventual permanent replacement for Levatich may face a similar struggle.
Bernstein analysts noted as far back as 2018 that millennials weren’t as interested in motorcycles as their predecessors were at the same age, and to the extent they were interested in two-wheeled transportation, they weren’t all keen on big, loud, heavy bikes. Consumers are increasingly interested in more convenient, lower-maintenance motorcycles, including electric bikes. While Harley-Davidson has responded to that shift with its all-electric LiveWire, the high price point of just under $30,000 has already proven a major hurdle.
Indian brand motorcycles from Polaris Industries — generally less expensive than the typical Harley — have also pulled consumers away from Harley-Davidson in the midst of a tough time for the business.
Investors are celebrating all the same. Harley-Davidson shares were up more than 5% in Friday’s after-hours action following the announcement.