The National·The National Today

Here's why Harley-Davidson wants to start building bikes in EU

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: here's why Harley-Davidson will start building bikes in the EU; Canadian peacekeepers in Mali may have been handed an unwinnable war; Uber is fighting to retain its licence to operate in London

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

Harley-Davidson is moving some production to Europe to avoid a new $2,200 US tariff on every bike it exports there, and Donald Trump is not happy about it. (Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Harley-Davidson has angered President Donald Trump with news it will start building bikes overseas — here's why the company doesn't have a lot of choice
  • Canadian peacekeepers in Mali may have been handed an unwinnable war
  • Uber is fighting to retain its licence to operate in London
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Who wants a Harley?

Donald Trump is very angry at Harley-Davidson.

For two days now he has been attacking the iconic American motorcycle company with the kind of fury he usually reserves for Democrats, Robert Mueller, or anyone who questions his television ratings.

The focus of his rage is the Milwaukee, Wis.-based manufacturer's decision to shift some production to Europe, to avoid a new $2,200 US tariff on every bike it exports to the EU — a retaliatory reaction to Trump's steel and aluminum protectionism.

Harley-Davidson sold 242,788 bikes worldwide in 2017, a substantial decline from prior years. Honda, by comparison, sold 17.6 million motorcycles last year. (Grant Hindsley/Associated Press)
The company flogged almost 40,000 motorcycles in the EU in 2017 — 16.4 per cent of its worldwide sales — and estimates that the trading bloc's measure could cost it between $90 million and $100 million a year.

Trump is trying to make it a fight about patriotism, a virtue the company has long claimed as its own through advertising taglines like "American by birth, rebel by choice."

But the reality is that the company has been looking overseas for the better part of a decade as it tries to counter slumping U.S. sales by tapping into emerging luxury markets.

Harley-Davidson already has assembly plants in Brazil and India. And it is closing a factory in Missouri and building another facility in Thailand — a response, in part, to Trump's decision to pull out of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which would have lowered tariffs on motorcycle exports.   

Motorcycle sales in America peaked in 2005 at 1.1 million bikes, then plummeted during the recession and have remained fairly flat ever since.

The logo for Harley-Davidson appears above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)
Harley-Davidson remains the U.S. market leader, but it only sold 147,972 motorcycles at home last year — 20,000 fewer than in 2015.

Overall, the company sold 242,788 bikes worldwide, but that was also a substantial decline from prior years. In fact, Europe and Canada — where 10,881 "hogs" sold in 2017 — are the only regions where the firm's sales aren't falling.

Honda, by comparison, sold 17.6 million motorcycles worldwide in 2017.

Harley's long-term goal is to increase foreign sales to 50 per cent of its total, up from 43 per cent of its current annual volume.

Trump — and his voters — like the big, obnoxiously loud American motorcycles. There was a "Bikers for Trump" rally to his inauguration as president, and he invited company executives to the White House to show off their wares shortly after he took office.

President Donald Trump give a 'thumbs-up' as he meets with Harley Davidson executives and union representatives on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington in February 2017. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
But that, in a nutshell, is the big challenge facing the firm.

Harley-Davidson stopped disclosing the average age of its riders back in 2008, but by that point it was 48 years old, up from 46 in 2004 and 43 in 1999. If it stayed on the same trajectory, the average age is now well over 50.

The company's bikes might come wrapped in blue-collar mythology, but they are comparatively expensive. Canadian models start at $7,999 and run all the way up to $53,699. A classic Harley Fat Boy starts at $22,999 — as much as many compact cars.

And the evidence suggests that young riders don't like them very much, turning to the company's sleeker and cheaper competitors. Or even opting for rival "heritage" brands like Indian or Ducati.

A man on a Harley drives away from a New York City showroom on Sunday. The company sold 147,972 motorcycles in the U.S. last year, 20,000 fewer than in 2015. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The glut of hog-owning boomers has also contributed to the company's woes, as they age and sell their bikes on the second-hand market. That's keeping prices for used Harleys low, and depressing new sales.

The 115-year-old company is trying to turn things around. In March, it purchased a stake in Alta Motors, a California-based maker of electric motorcycles. The first battery-operated Harleys — no gears, no clutch, no roar — are set to debut next year.

Just imagine how much Donald Trump will like that.

  • Like this newsletter? Sign up and have it delivered by email.
  • You may also like our early-morning newsletter, the Morning Brief — start the day with the news you need in one quick and concise read. Sign up here.

Mali's complicated conflict

David Common reflects on what he saw and learned in Mali in 2013, much of which still holds true today.

Five years ago, al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists were on the verge of taking complete control of Mali. I was part of a CBC News team dispatched to cover French soldiers, as the former colonial power sent in an enormous military force and blasted the extremists into the desert.

The road was hell — littered with rockets, mines, ammunition, burned-out vehicles, blown-up buildings.

Soon after came a peace agreement between pro-government and rebel groups. And the UN sent in peacekeepers to support the supposed peace.

David Common was in Mali in 2013 covering the heated military offensive by French soldiers against al-Qaeda-affiliated extremists. This photo, taken on a road he traveled, shows one of the many burned-out vehicles and some of the abandoned ammunition that littered the area. (David Common/CBC)

Canadian soldiers are now in Mali, to support that peacekeeping mission from the air with helicopters.

But the parties that agreed to peace haven't exactly practiced it.

As Aisha Ahmad, a University of Toronto terrorism researcher and regular visitor to Mali, told me, "Those groups are implicated in cocaine trafficking and illicit business, and have become financially incentivized to maintain the status quo."

In short, in their battle for turf, the various sides in this conflict are still shooting.

Ahmad sees some opportunity for Canada to make small gains, but ultimately says, "I'm deeply concerned that our men and women in uniform would be put into a situation where they're potentially being handed an unwinnable war."

Uber's London woes

Uber will continue to operate in London, the company's biggest European market, but only under strict new conditions after a series of embarrassing revelations about its lax driver screening and safety problems.

In a legal hearing that began Monday and concluded today, the car-hailing app admitted that Transport for London (TFL), the body that oversees transit, taxis and roads in the British capital, was in the right when it declined to renew Uber's licence last fall.

The TFL had raised concerns that the firm was failing to report serious crimes or even check whether drivers had been to jail.

Uber has 3.5 million customers and 45,000 drivers in London. (Will Oliver/EPA-EFE)
But the company's argument that it has since made important changes to how it does business in the U.K. was enough to persuade the judge to give it another chance, granting a conditional, 15-month licence, with an independent, outside safety review to be conducted twice a year.

(Uber, which has 3.5 million customers and 45,000 drivers in London, had been allowed to continue operating while it appealed the TFL decision.)

Nonetheless, some of the information that has come to light in court is likely to give Uber riders pause before they tap the app:

  • In London alone, 1,148 drivers have been accused of what authorities term "category A" offences, like sexual incidents, stalking or dangerous driving.
  • A further 1,402 drivers have been accused of "inappropriate interpersonal conduct," or making abusive or discriminatory comments to passengers.
  • Uber has fired 607 drivers in the city and reported 58 crimes against its riders to police.
  • In reviewing its files, the company now says it has determined that another 120 incidents should have been referred to the cops.

Then there's the issue of vision tests. Uber now admits that it was a bad idea to conduct its medical exams using an online video service called "Push Doctor." Drivers were sent a package in the mail that included an eye chart and a tape measure, and were then trusted to report their own results to a doctor via Skype.

"With hindsight, the eye tests offered by the Push Doctor service may not have been adequate," the company said in a written submission.

London regulators have also raised questions about Uber's use of an internal program called Greyball to defeat driver spotchecks. The software tagged the accounts of suspected investigators and told them that no cars were available in their vicinity, frustrating efforts to see if Uber drivers were playing by the rules.

Data safety concerns were a focus of the appeal hearing as well, following the revelation last November that hackers had stolen the personal information of 57 million customers and 600,000 drivers, and that Uber had tried to cover the breach up by paying off the criminals.

Uber has since shaken up its senior ranks in the U.S. and the U.K.

The new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has vowed to "make things right" in London, introducing a 24/7 call centre for customers and mandating that serious incidents be immediately reported to police.

Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, speaks at the 2018 NOAH conference in Berlin on June 6. He has vowed to 'make things right' in London. (Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)
In a decision handed down this afternoon, Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot granted the company a temporary reprieve, but cautioned that there can be no repeat of Uber's past attempts to "grow the business, come what may."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan  hailed the ruling as a victory for regulators.

"Uber has been put on probation," he said, delivering a message that "no matter how powerful and how big you are, you must play by the rules."

The company has been ordered to pay almost $750,000 in costs.

A few words on ...

A U.S. political spat that's spilling over the border and onto an unsuspecting Canadian restaurant:

Quote of the moment

"I've always said the most difficult part of polyamory, even for me as an adult, isn't having my wife have a happy, positive, loving relationship with someone else. You know, the jealousy is there, but that's not the tough part. The tough part is seeing her heart broken."

- A man, identified only as David, tells CBC Saskatchewan's The Morning Edition about the difficulties he encounters in his polyamorous relationship.

What The National is reading

  • Italy agrees to take some migrants from ship stranded off Malta (CBC)
  • North Korea scraps 'anti-U.S. imperialism rally' (Guardian)
  • Trudeau close, but does not hit goal of 15 per cent female peacekeepers (CBC)
  • Mexican town's entire police force detained after assassination of candidate (CNN)
  • India is the most dangerous nation for women, says poll (Indian Express)
  • Duterte calls God 'stupid,' faces uproar in Catholic Philippines (Bloomberg)
  • Australia buys $7 billion worth of high-tech drones to monitor seas (Asia Times)
  • Mosquitoes show way to develop painless microneedles (Science Daily)

Today in history

June 26, 1976: CN Tower opens to the public

You would think that opening something that took 40 months and 40,000 cubic metres of concrete to build would be a huge deal. But they held the ceremony at midnight, and let Federal Finance Minister Don Macdonald throw the switch to turn on the CN Tower's lights ... so not really. The public lined up the next morning to ride the elevators up what was then the tallest free-standing structure in the world — at a cost of $3.75 per person. Today's price is $38.

CN Tower opens to the public

Digital Archives

45 years ago
The tower lights up at midnight and crowds wait over an hour to get in on opening day. 1:14

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to ​


Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.