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Harley-Davidson CEO out at struggling motorcycle maker

Harley-Davidson CEO Matthew Levatich is leaving the struggling motorcycle maker. The Milwaukee company announced Friday that Levatich will leave his chief executive post as well as his seat on Harley's board of directors.

Board member Jochen Zeitz will become acting president and CEO while a board search committee is formed and Harley hires an outside search firm to fill the job.

"The Board and Matt mutually agreed that now is the time for new leadership at Harley-Davidson," Zeitz said in a prepared statement.

Harley has been struggling with declining sales in the U.S., its biggest market, as it tries to adapt to an aging customer base while looking to expand markets overseas. 

Higher costs from President Donald Trump's trade tariffs the past two years also hadn't helped matters. 

The tariffs' impact had thrust the company into the spotlight thanks to its rocky relationship with President Trump. Early in his administration, Mr. Trump lauded Harley as an example of America's manufacturing prowess. But his opinion soured in 2018 after Harley said it would move some manufacturing overseas to escape retaliatory tariffs from the European Union.

US industries feel impact of Trump's tariffs 02:48

Friday's announcement of the leadership change, made after the markets closed, pushed Harley's shares up 5% in after-hours trading. They had fallen 2.3% with the broader markets during the trading day.

Harley's closing share price Friday was down 18% for the year.

Harley reported a net profit of $423.6 million in 2019, but it made only $13.5 million in the fourth quarter.

The company said Levatich will stay on through March to assist with the transition.

Zeitz also was named board chairman, replacing Michael Cave, who becomes presiding director. He said the board is confident that its leadership experience and understanding of the company will bring an effective transition.

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