Harley-Davidson, eager to increase market share and maintain its position as the top manufacturer of motorcycles in the U.S., has formed a new partnership with EagleRider, the world's largest motorcycle rental and tour company.
Among the attractions for customers: The partnership will allow a renter to pick up a Harley in a departure city, take an extended two-wheel tour and drop it off at another destination — without being required to ride it back.
The move is part of many Harley strategies to pump up brand awareness and sales, which have sagged in recent years.
The company reported in April that its first-quarter numbers were down sharply in most markets. Retail motorcycle sales fell 5.7% in the U.S. from a year ago, and dropped 4.4% in Canada and 9.3% in the Asia Pacific area. On a positive note, sales rose 24.2% in Latin America.
Sales were also down in merchandise, parts and accessories, the company said.
To combat the declines, the company said in April that it would "build 2 million" new Harley riders over the next decade, launch 100 new motorcycles and increase its international business to 50% of total motorcycle sales.
Los Angeles-based EagleRider, which offers rental services in 59 cities and nine others outside the country, already rents Harley-Davidsons. It serves an estimated 100,000 rental customers a year.
The new arrangement, which will utilize some of Harley's 700 U.S. dealer locations as rental pickup and drop-off points, could increase revenue for both parties.
"We are going to be buying a lot more motorcycles, and adding additional pickup and drop-off points makes more door swings for the dealer," said EagleRider co-founder Chris McIntyre, who estimated that 30 to 40 Harley dealerships could contain EagleRider rental stations by the end of this year.
The motorcycles rented under the new arrangement will all be owned by EagleRider, bought from Harley, and could serve as an introduction to the brand for customers who might be reluctant to invest big money in purchasing a machine without first having experienced it.
"This strategic deal with EagleRider supports our efforts to grow ridership by making it easier for more riders to throw a leg over and experience the thrill of riding," Harley Vice President Mike Kennedy said in a statement.
EagleRider got its start in Los Angeles in 1992, when McIntyre (profiled here recently) and co-founder Jeff Brown began renting four Harleys out of a garage. The company now rents Harley, Indian, Triumph, BMW, Honda and Yamaha motorcycles, as well as Polaris three-wheelers, from a fleet of several thousand.