Harley-Davidson CEO pushes back against Trump, ‘misinformation’ in memo to employees

President Donald Trump meets with representatives of Harley-Davidson, including CEO Matthew Levatich (R), at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 2, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters President Donald Trump meets with representatives of Harley-Davidson, including CEO Matthew Levatich (R), at the White House in Washington, U.S. February 2, 2017.

Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich struck back against “misinformation” about the motorcycle company’s plans to move some production overseas in response to President Donald Trump’s tariffs in a memo to employees and dealers. The iconic American brand has been in a political firestorm since it announced in June it would move European production out of the U.S. because of retaliatory tariffs from the European Union. Trump has threatened to tax Harley-Davidson “like never before,” and on Sunday praised owners who plan to boycott the company. “There continues to be misinformation circulated in conjunction with this issue, and I want to reiterate and share facts about Harley-Davidson that you can both be proud of and share with interested customers,” Levatich said in a memo sent to Harley employees and dealers on Tuesday. Without mentioning Trump by name, he reiterated the company’s preference to manufacture its bikes in the U.S. as well as its explanation for the shift overseas — high tariffs in some countries make its motorcycles unaffordable in those markets. While its bikes were once taxed at 6 percent in Europe, the new tariffs raised that to 31 percent. Harley-Davidson was already under pressure because of the Trump administration’s tariff that levied a 25 percent tax on steel and aluminum imports. Harley estimated the tariffs will cost between $90 million and $100 million annually. Levatich said the company can’t bear these costs “indefinitely,” so it made the decision to build some of its bikes overseas to avoid the tariffs and give the company better access to customers abroad. “We don’t take sides in politics,” he said. “Today, however, we unfortunately find ourselves in the center of a heated political conversation about fair trade. “It is not our intention or our desire to be in this political spotlight, and the entirety of our effort and focus is to minimize any impact on this great brand, company, the business of our dealers and, critically, the passion and loyalty of our riders who we do everything for,” he said.