Secret Service buying Harley-Davidson motorcycles despite Donald Trump feudSeptember 15, 2018
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published 1:57 PM EDT Sep 14, 2018
President Donald Trump may be calling for Americans to boycott Harley-Davidson Inc., but U.S. Secret Service agents who protect him will continue to ride Harley’s motorcycles.
This week, the Federal Business Opportunities website posted the Secret Service’s plans to purchase a new Harley that could be paired with a sidecar. The website is a place where federal agencies publish solicitations and requests for proposals from government contractors and private businesses.
In its pitch for buying a Harley-Davidson, rather than another brand of motorcycle, the Secret Service said it already had mechanics familiar with Harley, spare parts and sidecars that fit the bikes.
“Any other motorcycles would require additional training of staff,” the agency said.
Trump’s feud with Harley-Davidson was triggered this summer when the company announced it was moving production of motorcycles destined for the European Union to an international factory. Harley said it was in response to the EU slapping a 31 percent tariff on motorcycles made in the U.S., which in turn was a response to Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
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Trump said Harley was using the tariffs as an excuse for moving production abroad. “Many @harleydavidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas. Great!” the president tweeted in August.
Harley-Davidsons are already built in other countries. The company has plants in India and Brazil where bikes are assembled for foreign markets. It also is opening a plant in Thailand, closing one in Kansas City, Mo., and expanding its plant in York, Pa.
But Harley says its motorcycles sold in the U.S. will continue to be made here.
And that’s a sticking point for the Secret Service and other federal agencies often bound by made-in-America buying requirements.
The U.S. Parks Service, for example, also uses Harleys.
“It would be a little unseemly,” for the Secret Service to buy a foreign-made motorcycle, said Victor Beecher, a former Milwaukee police officer and now associate director of police training at Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer that they’re buying a Harley,” Beecher said.
Harley has competitors for police motorcycle sales, including Honda, BMW and Kawasaki. The New York City Police Department uses BMWs, and Japanese motorcycle maker Yamaha recently entered the field.
Yet BMW is still a “distant second” to Harley when it comes to police patrol bikes, Beecher said, even if Harleys are more expensive to maintain and don’t run as well in hot weather.
Harley-Davidson builds specially made police bikes in its factory, while other brands are modified for police use. Thousands of law enforcement agencies have Harleys, and the company has been selling bikes to police departments since 1908.
“The reason Harley is so dominant (in police bikes) is because of the length of time they’ve been in that market,” said Robert Pandya, a veteran of the motorcycle industry who has worked for Polaris Industries, the maker of Indian Motorcycles.
“As a taxpayer, I am happy to hear the Secret Service doesn’t want to revamp everything just for some bitter feud the president is having with Harley-Davison,” Pandya said.
Indian was founded in 1901, two years before Harley. For the next 50 years, the brands fought to capture the hearts of American motorcyclists — until 1954 when Indian folded.
Numerous attempts to revive Indian failed, but the brand has made a comeback under Polaris Industries, a $5.4 billion Medina, Minn.-based manufacturer of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.
Still, Indian hasn’t shown interest in making a police bike, according to Pandya, and that could be because Indian has far fewer dealerships than Harley.
“A medium-size municipality would have a hard time justifying buying an Indian motorcycle if there’s not a dealer in town to service it,” he said.
You can’t use just any motorcycle for police work, as the bikes have to meet special requirements.
“If a police bike gets in a crash, you don’t want a gun flying out of the saddlebag,” Pandya said.
This isn’t the first time Harley-Davidson has been caught up in politics.
In 2008, then presidential candidate, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, launched a radio ad in Milwaukee, accusing his opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain, of turning his back on Harley by opposing “Buy American” rules for government purchases.
Obama’s ad said “when it comes to his record, American-made motorcycles like Harleys don’t matter to John McCain.”
McCain was a critic of provisions that require the U.S. government to buy American products, saying it was sometimes costly to taxpayers and antithetical to open trade.
“I firmly object to all ‘Buy American’ restrictions, as they represent gross examples of protectionist trade policy,” McCain said on the Senate Floor.
In its justification to buy a Harley, the Secret Service said its goal was to replace older bikes “of the same make and model that have excessive mileage and are outside a standard replacement cycle.”