We haven’t heard much about Harley-Davidson’s plans to sell made-in-China motorcycles for a long, long time. Pretty much since the start of the COVID pandemic, really. We thought the plan was dead, under the MoCo’s new CEO and general overhaul in the past couple of years.
Now, it seems the plan could be very much alive, with Motorcycle.com reporting the bike is still going through regulatory hoops. The good people at Motorcycle.com found paperwork for the bike in the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, indicating the bike is still being prepared. The VIN decoder information indicates this is a liquid-cooled parallel twin, with 353cc capacity—pretty much what the original reports suggested, years back, with the engine slightly larger now. The bike will be built by Chinese manufacturing giant Qianjiang, which already builds many bikes under other brand names, including Benelli. Indeed, Qianjiang bought the Benelli brand way, way back in 2005, and was one of the first Chinese motorcycle outfits to establish a strong connection between western marques and Chinese manufacturing.
So, expect the 350-class Harley-Davidson to still come to the global market; the fact that this paperwork is being filed in the US hints that maybe we’ll even see it come to North America. Crazy? Nope—don’t be surprised if Harley-Davidson brought this bike in and didn’t even sell it for street use, but confined it to rider training courses.
Or maybe not. Perhaps this whole thing may end up canceled yet, or confined to overseas markets. But while some fans will complain about the Bar & Shield brand moving away from its solely built-in-America roots, the reality is that Harley-Davidson already has several offshore manufacturing locations, and its Street 500/Street 750 experiment shows the company isn’t afraid to try to integrate offshore manufacturing with American sales. That experiment didn’t end well, but no doubt there were lessons learned.
The reality is—except for Moto Guzzi, almost every other major motorcycle OEM has outsourced some measure of its production to southeast Asia or China, at least for small-cc models. Harley-Davidson will have to do the same, if it wants to retain some lower-priced models in its lineup.