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Local fans of Harley-Davidson steer clear of controversy

August 19, 2018

On the showroom floor of the Santa Fe Harley-Davidson dealership, Glen B. Post — a mostly retired owner of a gas station near Pecos and an avid Harley rider — explained his connection to iron.

American iron, that is.

“A lot of us like American iron,” he said Wednesday. “Jeep, Harley. They’re both American iron. Granted, they have parts from other countries. It’s a matter of economics. We do live in a global economy.”

Post is the leader of the Sangre de Cristo Harley Owners Group, a 100-strong, aging group of Harley-Davidson owners who gather for frequent group rides. A storm of anti-Harley tweets from President Donald Trump struck the Wisconsin-based company in June and again on Sunday, when he let loose another volley: “Many @harleydavidson owners plan to boycott the company if manufacturing moves overseas. Great! Most other companies are coming in our direction, including Harley competitors. A really bad move! U.S. will soon have a level playing field, or better.”

Reaction to Trump’s outburst — sparked by the motorcycle manufacturer’s plans to move some production overseas to circumvent tariffs imposed on its U.S.-made products, as well as to plans to close a plant in Missouri and move that production to Pennsylvania — mostly included shrugs from some Harley aficionados.

“It’s an old story already,” Post said.

David Pearson, co-owner of the Santa Fe dealership, said the president’s tweets are misleading. About half the company’s sales are overseas, although 94 percent of its products are manufactured in the U.S.

In a Tuesday memo to Harley-Davidson dealers, company CEO Matt Levatich provided talking points to counter “misinformation circulated in conjunction with this issue.” The memo did not mention Trump by name.

The company will “cover the cost” of tariffs imposed by the European Union this year, according to the memo. That comes to a hit of $90 million to $100 million annually. Eating that cost keeps the motorcycles affordable, Levatich wrote.

“The only reason we have invested otherwise is so that our products have a fighting chance of being price competitive in markets that burden our products with high tariffs,” he wrote.

Pearson, a naturalized citizen and a Canadian by birth, said that assuming Harley owners support Trump may be “a reasonable stereotype.” They tend to be freedom-loving, small-government types, he said.

Still, the Harley-Davidson riders he knows range from teachers and CEOs to plumbers and retirees, with as many Democrats as Republicans.

“I’ve tracked our customers a long time and never pushed their political boundaries,” Pearson said. The attention this summer on Harley-Davidson, overseas production and tariffs has sparked some conversations, but no one has returned a bike or T-shirt in protest, he said.

“Part of the reason a lot of us ride motorcycles is to get away from that crap,” he said.

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