New Orleans Harley-Davidson motorcycles are American road classics. The company has problems from time to time. Sometimes there will be a backlog of orders, forcing customers to wait months and months for a particular bike that can run up and over $50,000. Other times, we will read that they have fallen behind imported cycles, or there is an uproar because they might move production to Mexico, or something. They are iconic, and they keep on trucking.
Honestly, they also have a certain reputation, we might say, and it’s not soccer moms, but more like Hell’s Angels, harking back to Hunter Thompson and James Dean. They conjure up an image of bad boys to the bone. If you’re ever in the West, when some of the riders roll towards Sturgis, South Dakota, you might even pull over when a gaggle of them get ready to pass your ride. Not all the crowd will be riding Harley’s, but most will wish they were and apologize for the difference.
I had a motorcycle a million years ago, and I’ve ridden some big ones, so I notice them on the road and in the parking lots of places where I stay. Maybe it’s the price or a wish finally fulfilled, but most of the riders I see these days are more the gray gang lining up for complementary breakfast, than the fellows we see in the movies crowding the bars with their molls.
That part of the tribe may be making their payments regularly, but I totally got the point when I read about the trials and tribulations of workers complaining about how hard it is to repossess a Harley from a deadbeat owner. Any of us who have also watched the classic, mid-80’s movie, “Repo Man”, know this is always a tough and thankless job and a heckuva a hard way to make a living. It doesn’t take much to understand that if a fellow had a chance at another job during the pandemic labor shortage, he might think twice about signing up with what they call the “recovery industry,” especially to take back Harley’s.
It also turns out that defining this job as precarious or gig, is almost like putting sugar in your coffee, and doesn’t come close to gripping the reality. Lenders only pay $350 for a repo. “Some repossession companies said Harley doesn’t pay enough for a job that is more complex and dangerous than reclaiming cars – and, like other lenders, doesn’t pay at all if a recovery agent (they mean repo man) fails to come back with the goods.” Harley’s representatives were whining about their quarterly financials to investors, because they had a higher loan default rate than usual, (see news of a potential recession), and that they could not get enough folks to do repo’s. One guy was quoted saying, “Who wants to back up in a driveway at 3 a.m. and get shot at…you can make the same money doing something else.” He’s got a point, especially when many of these hogs are garaged, rather than being like cars parked on the street, that you can hook and haul.
This is one of those deals where everyone loses, and no one is a hero. Harley ought to charge less. Harley ought to offer more forbearance to pay their bills. Harley ought to pay more for anyone wild enough to take on this job. Nothing about this story is “right on!”, even if it’s all about “ride on!”