Hog Heaven Hits China

Hollis Zhao, general manager of Harley-Davidson's first authorized dealership in China, tends to one of the bikes at the showroom in Beijing 07 April 2006. Shiny, sleek machines line the showroom of Harley-Davidson's first authorized dealership in China, silently beckoning freedom-loving, individualistic Chinese with the slogan: "Let's Ride!" AFP PHOTO
AFP Photo
Hog heaven has come to China.

Harley-Davidson Inc. opened its first dealership in China on Saturday, with promises to bring its trademark easy-riding attitude to bikers in the world's most sought-after market.

"All around the world, it's been synonymous with freedom, open roads, raw power and good times, and we expect the same things (here)," said David Foley, managing director of the China division for Harley-Davidson Asia.

The 1,500-square-foot showroom and workshop sits just on the edge of the Fourth Ring Road, about a 20-minute drive from the heart of town, where farmers still push carts on the street.

Parked in the center of the store were a handful of sleek, chrome-and-leather Harley models gleaming under spotlights. Customers posed for photos with the bikes and exclaimed how shiny there were.

The walls were lined with shelves stocked with parts, accessories, merchandise and collectibles. They included "Beijing Harley-Davidson" T-shirts, trademark leather caps and jackets and even motor oil. After-sale services also will be offered, along with rider training and events including organized rides.

"Harley-Davidson has succeeded for 100 years. We hope China will continue that trend for another 100 years," said Hollis Zhao, general manager of the Beijing dealership.

Entry to the Chinese market has long been a goal of the Milwaukee-based company, given the country's population of 1.3 billion people, booming economy and its citizens' growing spending power.

But market penetration is expected to be gradual, mainly because of riding restrictions in most large cities. In Beijing, for example, motorcycles are banned from major streets on the Second, Third and Fourth Ring Roads, the capital's thoroughfares.

Motorcycles also have been barred from almost all the main streets in Shanghai, and the city stopped accepting motorcycle registrations in 2002.

Another challenge is the price of the bikes, which range from $12,000 to $37,450. Urban incomes average about $2,200 a year in Beijing.

"Those are significant barriers for us," Foley said. "But ... we're taking a long-term perspective. We're going to take our time to build our brand, build our customers. We still believe this market has a great potential."

Foley declined to provide any revenue projections or give any details on plans for future stores, citing company policy.

"The motor vehicle industry has taken off. We see more people than ever enjoying motor vehicles," he said. "At the same time, you're also seeing an entire leisure industry really taking off, more people taking time to enjoy themselves."

Outside the store, dozens of motorcycle enthusiasts roared into parking spots on their bikes, many with long hair, beat-up leather jackets and caps or headscarves.

Zhao Hong, 23, had a ponytail and an eyebrow piercing. His girlfriend rode on the back of his vintage Harley, a miniature dog in her purse.

"Harleys are like no other bikes," said Zhao, who works in advertising. "It's about the spirit. You feel like a hero when you're riding one. My heart beats so fast when I ride mine, I always have to smoke a cigarette and drink some water afterward."

Dong Fang, a 40-year-old artist, painted an eagle on his Harley Road King.

"It brings freedom to my spirit," said Dong, who sported a black cap pulled low over his sunglasses. "Harley's represent the tears of a man. Men can be happy, they can be sad. When men are sad and they want to cry, they get on the bike and ride off."