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Harley-Davidson exits India, world's top two-wheeler market

American motorcycle icon sputtered against lower-cost rivals

Harley-Davidson sold just 25,000 units during its 10 years in India, less than what it shipped during the first quarter of 2019 in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson)

NEW YORK -- Harley-Davidson is leaving India, the American motorcycle maker said Thursday, ending a decade-long presence in the world's largest two-wheeler market after struggling to gain a foothold.

The company is "discontinuing its sales and manufacturing operations in India" and will lay off about 70 employees there, Harley disclosed in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Its plant in the city of Bawal will close.

Harley had high hopes for an expansion in India as sales decline steadily at home. But the U.S. icon made limited inroads in a market dominated by lower-cost vehicles from local players like Hero as well as entrenched Japanese manufacturers such as Honda Motor and Suzuki Motor.

With its announcement Thursday, the Milwaukee-based company joins compatriot General Motors in leaving the Indian market behind despite the huge potential promised by the country's population. Harley's departure also comes as a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's scheme to attract major global manufacturing.

In February, Harley reported selling a cumulative 25,000 motorcycles during its 10 years in India -- less than what it shipped during the first three months of 2019 in the U.S.

About 21 million motorcycles and scooters were sold in India during the year ended March 31, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.

The company said two years ago it looked to develop a more accessible, small-displacement motorcycle for Asia's emerging countries, "intended to fuel Harley-Davidson's customer access and growth in India, one of the largest, fastest-growing markets in the world, and other Asia markets."

In early August, before finalizing the decision to exit the market, Harley announced a massive price cut in India for the entry-level model Street 750, its best seller in the country, to 469,000 rupees ($6,355) from 534,000 rupees.

Harley entered India in 2009 after an agreement between Washington and New Delhi that allowed American motorcycles to access the Indian market in exchange for Indian mango exports to the U.S.

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