On May 1st, Matt Levatich will take over as the next CEO of Harley-Davidson. He will replace Keith Wandell, who has led the American motorcycle manufacturer since May 1st of 2009.

Levatich will inherit a company that is in much better financial shape than Wandell did – as of last month, Harley had reported profits for six consecutive years – which is a testament to how important Wandell's hiring was several years ago. Back in 2009, Harley-Davidson was laying off thousands of workers and posting negative balance sheets in the face of a drooping market for its brand of heavyweight and expensive motorcycles. Several industry insiders had predicted that The Motor Company was headed for bankruptcy.

While in much stronger financial shape than it was when Wandell took over, there are still challenges in the road ahead that Harley will inevitably need to conquer. Sales are still trending flat in North America, and while an increase in shipments in European and Asian countries have more than offset US deficiencies, that means H-D's financial performance is increasingly intertwined with foreign currencies and the strength of the US dollar. Overall shipments in 2014 came in at 270,726 units, up 3.9 percent from 2013, with the Asia Pacific region's 11.8-percent increase leading the pack.

Looking at its product line, Harley has long been focused on the kind of heavy, torque-laden motorcycles that its core audience has preferred. These days, though, the majority of growth and future potential for the brand comes from its smallest and lightest models, namely the Sportster and the company's most-recent new line, the Street series. We'd be surprised if more liquid cooling weren't in store for more of H-D's product lines in the near future, both large capacity and small.

In the longer-term, Harley-Davidson claims that it is still committed to producing an electric motorcycle, but is more cagey on the timeline for Project LiveWire. On a conference call after announcing its most recent earnings figures, Levatich spoke about some of the challenges that its electric motorcycle program faces.

"We know that there are advances in technology in this space that are in the pipeline," said Levatich, according to The Milwaukee Business Journal. "We're pretty confident we'll get there. We're excited about this space, when you think about urbanization and sustainability and mobility."

In this transformative time, we're hopeful that Levatich's background in engineering – he holds an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a graduate degree in engineering management and an MBA from Northwestern University – will lead to more new models designed to attract a younger global audience.

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TRANSLOGIC 162: Harley-Davidson LiveWire

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