The CMG Chat: Scott Winhold, Harley-Davidson Canada’s new boss

Scott Winhold was named Managing Director of Harley-Davidson Canada in mid-June. He’s the most senior Harley executive in Canada, filling a position that had been empty all year, but he doesn’t report to head office in Milwaukee. Instead, he reports directly to the Vice-President of Developed Markets, who is based in Oxford, U.K.

Winhold, who is 43 and married with a young son, has never worked for a motorcycle company. You can read his CV at LinkedIn here. Originally from Stratford, Ontario, he spent 10 years in various sales and marketing jobs across the country with General Motors, then six years at BMW, becoming National Manager for Retailer Development, and most recently, almost three years at Porsche Canada as Director of Network Development.

Now he’s the guy in charge of Harley-Davidson’s third largest retail market, after the United States and Germany. The company is changing itself both quickly and radically with its adoption of the More Roads policy, working to find new and younger riders to replace its aging demographic of devotees. The LiveWire electric motorcycle, seen as the future of the company, was revealed to the press this summer and while its technology was generally praised, its $37,250 price tag has been roundly criticized by many as unrealistic.

Mark sat down with Winhold at Harley-Davidson Canada’s head office in Vaughan, just north of Toronto, to find out what’s going on. This conversation has been edited for length.


Scott Winhold sat down for a coffee with Editor Mark Richardson in the boardroom of Harley-Davidson Canada. “I think I need to get rid of these wasteful stir sticks,” he said. “Mark, you have just encouraged me to make this the last stir stick I’ll ever use.” And so it went from there.

CMG: So – Are you a car guy or a bike guy?

SW: I’m both. I didn’t start out as a car guy. The passion grew over many years, culminating in the real passion at Porsche. As for being a bike guy, it started when I was 12 when my brother got a dirt bike. He then bought a motorcycle. One day, when no one was around, I got on it with one of my friends, and I wasn’t so experienced with clutch and gas, and put it right in the shed. That was my first experience. Almost dumped it into the family pool, but I slammed on the brakes just before.

It was 20 years before I rode a motorcycle again. I got back into riding with BMW. I got my full M licence and for six years rode a different BMW every year. There was a nice lease program that made BMWs available to employees at a reasonable price. It reignited my long-ago passion for bikes and the opportunity was staring right at me, so I took advantage of it.

CMG: Do you own a motorcycle at the moment?

SW: I don’t own one, but I do ride one. In the past 60 days, I rode a Fat Bob around town, I rode a Fat Boy to Barrie to a HOG event, I rode a Sport Glide to various events.

CMG: How was it for you at the HOG event?

SW: In Barrie, they were very receptive, very warm. I had a breakfast meeting with the HOG chapter directors, I told them who I was, I gave a little speech, and then we had an hour-long Q&A. I think they really appreciated it because they had Harley-Davidson listening, which everybody from our HOG members to our dealers want. They want us to listen and react to what they say, which we’ll do.

Winhold is the boss, so he gets to ride and take home pretty much any Harley-Davidson he wants.

CMG: Have you always been a sales and marketing guy?

SW: Yes. At General Motors, I was in almost every aspect of the business. Sales, marketing, network development, I led a region. Then at BMW I spent most of my time in the network development department. My expertise is in shaping networks and helping grow the dealer network, and ensuring that they’re strong and profitable and doing what we ask of them.

CMG: And then you moved to Porsche.

SW: I actually spent six months as Director of Sales at Kia. It was a bit of a blip. I took a director’s position, which helped me transition to Porsche.

CMG: And then you moved to Porsche, which I assume was a bit of a dream job.

SW: It was absolutely a dream job. If I could have told you, at any day in my 20-year career where I would have liked to be, it would be Director of Network Development at Porsche. I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I took that position, and frankly, on every day I was there.

You ain’t at Porsche now! Winhold has been visiting Canadian dealers – here he is on a genuine business trip this week, somewhere between Quebec City and Rimouski.

CMG: Did you keep riding a bike?

SW: I didn’t, but it had nothing to do with going to Porsche, and everything to do with having a 3-year-old son. Between changing jobs and having a new child, there was no time for it at all. I used to golf once a week, but I don’t golf at all now.

CMG: If this was such a dream job at Porsche, why did you come to Harley?

SW: It’s an opportunity to lead an iconic brand. At Porsche, I was a director among five directors, and this was an opportunity to lead an iconic brand with an iconic history and a world-renowned product. But that wasn’t the only reason. What really got me interested is the change that’s taking place at Harley-Davidson: the transformation from the brand that it is, to the brand that it will be.

I was really convinced, as I did research on future product and branding, that the company is going to transform. We’re still going to have the DNA that makes Harley-Davidson great, with internal combustion engines and big, beautiful touring bikes that satisfy our loyal customers, but we’re also going to broaden our product offerings, broaden the number of two-wheel-powered freedom machines to segments that we don’t reach right now, to customers who have no idea that they should be interested in Harley-Davidson.

CMG: Why did you get this job?

SW: It’s because of my breadth of experience, but the one thing that’s very similar between Porsche and Harley is the passion that both sets of customers have for the product. They’re not just buying two wheels or four wheels, but they’re buying almost a love affair. They’re both iconic brands, where the product lasts a lifetime, and where there’s a great customer experience. It’s bigger than just buying a car or a motorcycle.

Beyond that, I bring a structured approach to business that’s strong on process and big on communication. I’ve always been a dealer advocate, and strong dealers are really important to me. We have 66 dealers right now, and there’s no current plan to expand that, other than occasional alternative formats. My intention is to grow the strength of our network and improve dealer profitability. More profitable dealers invest in their facilities, which is an investment in the retail experience.

CMG: Do you not find that all your dealers have been doing this for hundreds of years and they’re all just stuck in their ways?

SW: That’s our job, to help evolve the network as we’re evolving the product.

CMG: Surely there’s been kicking and screaming from your dealers about the electric motorcycles?

SW: I would say the exact opposite. The dealers I’ve talked to are very excited, particularly after all the rave reviews about the quality and the engineering of the bike.

The new LiveWire is a radical model for Harley-Davidson – an electric motorcycle entering a world of traditional V-Twins.

CMG: But it’s more than $40,000 out the door! You can buy a pretty decent car for that!

SW: And I would say worth every penny. My personal message is that this is a halo product. This is the first time that we as a brand have introduced an electric motorcycle and we only had one chance to do it right. And you don’t do it right by cutting corners. And you don’t do it right by investing minimal amounts of money. You do it right by building the best thing you can do, and that takes a lot of expense in R&D and technology.

If I compare it to Tesla, they didn’t launch the Model 3 – they launched the Model S. They launched a $100,000-plus car, and then they went downstream as they evolved the technology. We’re not expecting this bike to be mainstream; it’s not a bike for everyone. It’s a motorcycle for those who have the means and who want the experience that it provides, and I think we’ll have plenty of customers for it.

CMG: So in 10 years we’ll see affordable electric motorcycles?

SW: I would be shocked if we don’t. And there’ll be much better ranges than what we have today. The technology of battery-powered vehicles, whether they’re two wheels or four wheels, is only going to advance from where we are. The amount of energy and funding behind it, whether it be car manufacturers or motorcycle manufacturers or even other manufacturers, is enormous. Billions and billions and billions of dollars, and that technology will be applicable to motorcycles as much as to cars.

So I’m absolutely convinced we will have a broader range of electric two-wheeled mobility in the future. I’m convinced there will be more affordable offerings in the future. But I’m also convinced that the LiveWire in its current form is the absolute best thing this company could have done, because we proved to the world that we’re innovative, and that we can think beyond the traditional, and that we deliver on our promises.

CMG: How many are presold in Canada?

SW: Approximately 50, and we’ll start deliveries in early October. Not ideal timing, but I’m sure our customers will still be excited. I was quite surprised that we still sell plenty of new bikes in November, December, January, February. People get energized to ramp up for their summer experience, and we do pretty well.

Costa rode the LiveWire in Oregon this summer and was impressed with its performance and quality.

CMG: People have written off Harley-Davidson, saying it’s just a bunch of grizzled old guys who are dying. They say electric bikes will not take over because their range is too short. They say Harley sells only very expensive machines that only appeal to your father, and the company is basically doomed. What do you say to that?

SW: I say that we’re expanding the portfolio to be able to offer something to almost everyone. That’s anyone who’s interested in two wheels, and in having the freedom or the thrill of riding something with two powered wheels. In the future, we’ll have something for them. That is from the 3-year-old (through Harley-Davidson’s recent acquisition of StaCyc, which makes battery-powered toy bikes) through the teenage years, graduating to larger powered-two-wheel mobility. The intention is to get more people on the brand, with the brand, and then graduate through the brand to the great products we build today and will continue to build.

CMG: But your bikes are expensive. How can you have something for everyone if your bikes are so costly?

SW: Expensive is relative. Porsches are expensive and they sell extremely well. Rolexes are expensive. Luxury goods are expensive and yes, they’re not necessarily for every person in the market, but we do cater to those people who want quality and innovation and everything that Harley-Davidson brings with the Milwaukee 8s. It’s a different experience to what they get with other motorcycle manufacturers.

If we can get more customers in, earlier in age, and maintain those customers and loyalize those customers through the product portfolio, then we can see customers on electric bicycles moving potentially to some other electric product, like a scooter, up to possibly the Streets or the Sportsters. We’re introducing the Roadster sport bike, and adventure tourers. We’re going to have a motorcycle for anyone who’s interested in motorcycling. But we’ll continue to be loyal to our existing customer database.

Harley-Davidson Canada has a much more relaxed dress code than many Canadian businesses.

CMG: But how do you combine the traditional Dirty Biker image – the ones with bandanas and tattoos and wrinkles, and that’s just the women – with the clean-cut people with some money who just want to get into motorcycling?

SW: I honestly don’t know what a dirty biker is. I don’t know what that means, but we’re already developing some new brand imaging. Beyond that, the retail environment is really important: how our sales people interact with our customers needs to evolve as well, so we can provide our existing loyal customers with the experience that they want, while also welcoming and providing a different customer experience to those customers who want to ride the Roadster or the Adventure Touring.

Beyond that, it also means changing the retail environment so there is space within that caters to new customers. I can envision a part of our dealership that is catering to the adventure touring crowd, and also catering to the electric bike crowd. You won’t see these new bikes just mingling in with the existing portfolio.

To go beyond even that, I absolutely have a vision of a unique, or alternative, retail format in the urban centres that caters more specifically to the urban audience, which means electric mobility and electric bikes. And while they may sell motorcycles out of there, the focus will be more on electric mobility. We’re moving toward the idea of having urban showrooms by 2021. Having a glass showroom in the base of a commercial tower, potentially on King West or Queen West or whatever, potentially near a place where people are cycling in the city.

These teaser images of new electric vehicles, including a scooter and e-bike, show Harley-Davidson is moving itself past the old Americana tropes.

CMG: You have bikes that are being built in China. Do you have plans to bring those bikes to North America?

SW: Not currently. The bikes that are being built in the Asian market are there to grow the significant opportunity we have to grow our brand in China. We also have an enormous opportunity in India, the Number One market for motorcycle sales. With the More Roads plan, it’s our goal to sell 50 per cent of our motorcycles outside the US in the near future. A big part of that is growing our sales in China and India.

CMG: How’s that going?

SW: We’re making progress on that every day. It’s critical to our future success and our profitability, and will only help us reinvest in the product we need for North America as well.

CMG: Is Canada any different as a market for Harley-Davidson than the US?

SW: There are definitely a couple of differences. I’ll avoid the obvious difference of weather, but I’d say insurance is a unique challenge. It’s not exclusive to Harley-Davidson, but it is a real challenge in certain provinces to an entire industry. We’re going to have to work as an industry to address that.

CMG: Why not start your own insurance company?

SW: Well, I guess that’s something I can look into. I haven’t been here long enough to think about that at this point, but all options are on the table that will help us better serve our customers.

CMG: Are Canadian demographics any different from US demographics of Harley riders?

SW: I think they’re very similar. We certainly have a maturing ridership, and there’s been a decline in the touring segment over the last couple of years that’s been quite obvious. It’s one of the reasons we’re working to expand our access to new customers. But I also see a huge opportunity to conquest existing riders of all demographics from non-Harley competitors. The sport bike market is fairly strong, the adventure touring market is growing, and those are exactly the segments we’re entering. There’s huge opportunity in the short term for Harley to grow its conquest of those customers.

CMG: So when do we get the Pan America adventure tourer in Canada?

SW: Late next year. I would say near the end of next year.

The Panamerica is Harley-Davidson’s planned adventure tourer. This is a concept of the final bike, but pretty close to the finished product.

CMG: Do you think motorcycles in general are growing in popularity, or not?

SW: I think there’s a bright future. I would call it two-wheeled mobility that includes motorcycles.

I’m very big on trends. Urbanization is a huge trend. Digitalization is a huge trend, and we need to cater to those trends. That’s why we’ll continue to build wonderful, beautiful touring bikes for those who want to hit the open road, but we’ve got to create opportunities and deliver products that cater to the urban customer. That’s what will grow and help maintain the industry in the future.

This is what I’m referring to. We have the Adventure Touring and the future Streetfighter models, future other motorcycle models, so we’re absolutely focused on motorcycles. I call this two-wheeled freedom, two-wheeled mobility, you can call it what you want, and these are prototype models, but we’re looking to build and introduce models similar to these in the future, and other variations.

The Streetfighter is a sexy Harley-Davidson sportbike, one of many soon-to-be-introduced new products.

CMG: But Harley-Davidson has to be very careful, because it’s an iconic brand. If you were to build, for example, a Harley-Davidson scooter, some people would be appalled, because that’s not what Harley is. Your grizzled dirty bikers, for the sake of a better term, would be scratching off their Harley tattoos and feeling betrayed.

SW: I absolutely understand that opinion, and I think it’s a very fair one. I’m sure there will be some traditional Harley-Davidson customers who will be frustrated that we’re building electric bikes. But I would say to them that we’re absolutely committed to continue to build the motorcycles that appeal to them and which deliver on the experience they’re looking for.

I’m 100 per cent convinced that doing one thing well doesn’t mean you can’t do many things well. I don’t mean to keep comparing us to other brands in the automotive world, but there are many brands that successfully introduced very different products. The Smart car was launched by Mercedes-Benz, and they continued selling S-Classes, and they still sell just as many S-Classes as they ever did. Porsche introduced an SUV, and the ultra-luxury manufacturers like Ferrari and Lamborghini introduced SUVs, and it’s not hurting their super-car sales.

We can and will continue to do the things that make us the great brand that we are, but we’ll also do things that will help us expand our access to new customers, with new product.

CMG: Do you have any tattoos?

SW: I don’t. My wife makes fun because I’ve been talking about that. But like buying a bike, which I will buy this fall or early next spring, you don’t want to make a mistake. You want to know what’s right for you. I read somewhere the other day that Harley-Davidson is the Number One tattoo in the world. Number 2 is Mom, or something like that.

Harley-Davidson is a traditional and iconic company, but Winhold says it still has plenty of room to expand.

14 thoughts on “The CMG Chat: Scott Winhold, Harley-Davidson Canada’s new boss”

  1. HDs demographic is affluent middle age riders. The years have ticked over. It is now the guys who rode air cooled 2 strokes in the 70s. They want a big bike with some off-road capability.
    Compare hd’s prototype to the latest honda Africa twin.

  2. I used to visit my local HD dealer (the former Canadian importer) from time to time and they were generous in allowing lengthy test rides. Of course, the bikes I rode were Buells, which had to be kept in a separate building, presumably because of the embarrassment. They were great bikes. So at the very moment they could have capitalized on a marketers dream, winning a road race championship, they said “fuggit “ and built another FLH, with another long string of letters to differentiate it, ever so slightly, from some other model.

    I lost all respect for Harley, then.

    They do have nice paint, though.

  3. Ex-managing director of H-D Canada, Anoop Prakash, has jumped ship and is now president of the ambulance group at REV Group Inc. I’ll leave it to others to make the appropriate comments….

  4. Wow, that was a big load of marketing speak! Did you happen to ask about HD’s electric R&D philosophy? Partner with or invest in innovative emerging companies like Mission and Alta, drain them of their intellectual property and leave them dying at the side of the curb. I guess that when StaCyc goes down, HD will be 3 for 3 on their kill ratio.

    I like the “turning the Titanic” image. HD has spend a lifetime building their love it or hate it rah rah American bad boy image. Do they seriously expect people to think they can change? Especially when they have to rape and pillage to do it!

  5. “CMG: So in 10 years we’ll see affordable electric motorcycles?”

    We probably will. I doubt if H-D will be selling them. “Affordable” and “competitive pricing” don’t really seem to be in the H-D lexicon, after 20 years of booming sales.

    I would consider an H-D bike. I wouldn’t pay a nickle extra just for the fact that it’s a Harley, though. Make a competitive product in a segment that I’m interested in, and I would consider it.

  6. “But how do you combine the traditional Dirty Biker image – the ones with bandanas and tattoos and wrinkles, and that’s just the women…” …what an utterly disgraceful thing to say about people who love their bikes. Are you stuck in 1972? I realize you’re trying to be funny, but that was a childish and insulting thing to say and shows your ignorance far more than anything else. Instead of bashing Harley riders, why don’t you get out there and meet some? It might make for some illuminating editorial! But you probably won’t…
    Good old Trev Deeley always said “It’s not WHAT you ride, it’s THAT YOU RIDE”. He was the man that brought Honda to North America. He loved Harley-Davidson, but always respected other brands. It’s a pity Canada Moto Guide isn’t as open minded.

    1. Zac does make a good point in reply. Like it or not, the traditional cliched image of a Harley rider is of the guy in the photo on the wall next to Scott Winhold. He doesn’t look anything like me, though, and I’ve owned and ridden my Low Rider for 11 years now, hanging out with riders of all makes. I even have the Harley tattoo.

  7. Obviously a long, in-depth interview, and you challenged him on a number of instances which makes a good interview in my opinion.

    Beyond that what I see is another guy filling a position in a corporation as he climbs the larger ladder. I’m sure he’s capable, affable and has some degree of enthusiasm for the product of the company where he is employed, but I don’t see anything different in his perspective, pronouncements or views that differentiates him from the others that have held the position. I recall reading about the last fellow in his position, and his views etc. were very similar

    Lots of 21st century corporate speak of conquest or conquering customers of other makes, and branding, but also a lot of downplaying the significance of the preferences and biases ingrained into their dealers and loyal customers. All of which was created by the company itself over many years of intentional marketing efforts.

    There’s a metaphor about not being able to turn a ship as large as the Titanic quickly. To build on that, it takes the concerted, purposeful, well-led efforts of many people to make that huge object move even slightly over a long period of time.

    I don’t doubt his sincerity or intentions, but I’m skeptical of the company’s vision for it’s future.

    1. Very good point. It seems to me that several individuals on the top of the ladder don’t really listen to the people. So, we hear the same ….. things again and again.

  8. Great work CMG. No word about the desir to develop new markets when Harley owned Buell. Not all salespersons were happy to see sportbikes on their showroom. Memory loss from Harley? It will be fun to watch Harley trying to satisfy the adventure market and the loyalists. How to manage to get this 2 very different worlds in the same building … successfully? Harley seems to want potential buyers outside of the Harley crowd.

    I went a few times in a Harley dealership for demo ride. I call that scientific experiences. I really … really doesn’t fit with a big part of this crowd. I know that …. they know that …. Harley salepersons know that too. How to interest people that mocking Harley and get them to buy Harley. Did SW read comments on advrider forum about the Pan America adventure bike?

    Big …. very …. big challenge!

    1. I went to a demo ride too. It was a busy day, the parking lot was loaded with prospective customers. And me. I Had the cheapest bike there by a factor of ten (an old Japanese sport tourer). I had the most expensive jacket/helmet combo there by a factor of ten (safety yellow ballistic nylon jacket and Arai full face).

      I must not have fit “the image”, as out tf the eight runs they had that day, I only missed one. The photographer was there all day. Guess which run had its pictures all over promotional materials?

      The sport tourer is gone, replaced by an ADV bike. Sorry for wasting your time, HD.

  9. Nothing to say about the profound lack of acceptance for the Street 500s and 750s ?
    If H-D is going to change SW suggests its from the top down, others (including me) believe it must be from the bottom up as well.

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