The U.S.-based Harley Davidson motorcycle company opened its first dealership in China this month. The firm has famously claimed its product is a lifestyle as much as it is a machine.VOA's George Dwyer reports on an American icon's appearance in the one billion person market that manufacturers covet most.
Motorcycle lovers descended on Harley Davidson's new Beijing showroom earlier this month, posing for photos alongside the newly arrived and legendary symbols of American rebelliousness and freedom to roam open spaces. The walls in the dealership are lined with trademarked collectibles, accessories items that have become as important - in many ways - as the motorbikes themselves.
David Foley, Managing Director of Harley Davidson Asia's China division says, "Harley Davidson is definitely more than machine. It's a lifestyle and all the experiences that go with it. That's what attracts people to Harley Davidson brand. It's the camaraderie that people have with other riders, the experiences that they get from riding it. It's something that, ah, it seems to be universal across the world."
The new dealership will help satisfy a growing demand for the sleek power bikes knows as "hogs." Until now they were only to be found on the black market in China.
Harley Davidson’s mechanic, Li Dongshui is pleased to be working on an authentic motorbike, "In the past, the Harley Davidson motorbikes we repaired were smuggled, but now we can repair genuine motorbikes from the Harley Davidson dealership. Our work so far is just to change the engine oil and do the maintenance work," he said.
Early sales may be modest due to riding restrictions in most large cities. In Beijing, for example, motorcycles are banned from most major thoroughfares.
Harley fans like Beijing's Dong Fang believe such restrictions are at odds with the spirit of Harley Davidson ownership.
"Riding Harley Davidson symbolizes freedom, happiness and expression of your emotions," he said.
Entry into the Chinese market had been a long-time goal of the U.S. company, given China's booming economy and its citizens' growing purchasing power. Now that the bikes are here, many must be wondering: will the Harley attitude follow in their wake?