President Trump on Tuesday further chastised Harley-Davidson over its decision to move some operations overseas, describing the company as slumping and saying he is helping some of its foreign competitors move to the United States.
Trump, in a slightly incongruous Twitter post, said Harley-Davidson’s sales were down 7 percent last year and that “Harley customers are not happy with their move.”
But Harley-Davidson made the announcement on June 25 that it would be moving some operations overseas in response to high tariffs the European Union is imposing on the motorcycles. It could not be learned why Trump was linking the company’s 2017 sales figures to a decision it made in the middle of 2018. The E.U. decision was put in place as a way of retaliating against steel and aluminum tariffs Trump imposed on member countries.
Trump’s continued attacks on Harley-Davidson reflect a growing concern within the White House that other companies will follow suit. Numerous firms have expressed outrage at Trump’s snowballing trade fights and have said there could be severe effects on their sales and the broader economy.
Trump was personally offended by Harley-Davidson’s announcement, threatening the company with high taxes and predicting its eventual collapse if it followed through on the decision. But the company has not wavered on its announcement, even though its stock price has suffered. It marked the first major U.S. company to move jobs outside the United States in response to the current trade war between Trump and a number of other countries.
Trump did not identify the foreign motorcycle companies that he is actively helping to move to the United States. But several of the largest motorcycle companies are based in countries with which Trump is feuding.
These include Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki, which are all based in Japan. Japanese officials were furious when Trump refused to exempt them from steel and aluminum tariffs.
Ducati, another large motorcycle companies, is based in Italy. BMW makes motorcycles, but it is based in Germany, one of the countries about which Trump complains the most when it comes to trade policy.
BMW and Honda already have large U.S. operations, however, and it’s possible Trump could be trying to entice those companies to bring some motorcycle production here.
Last week, Trump attacked Harley-Davidson in a way that he typically reserves for political opponents. At one point, he cautioned the company’s executives not to “get cute with us.” But the firm did not change its plans. It has not said where precisely it will move some of its U.S. operations to avoid the European tariffs, only that they would be based somewhere outside the country. The company already has assembly plants in Australia, Brazil, India and Thailand.
Trump’s supporters like how he fights for U.S. jobs, and Trump has said that many of the company’s customers and workers agree with his position.
But his anger directed at the company is a sharp reversal from the glowing terms he used to describe it last year. In February 2017, when Harley-Davidson executives visited the White House, Trump heaped praise on the Wisconsin-based firm.
“So thank you, Harley-Davidson, for building things in America,” he said. “And I think you’re going to even expand — I know your business is now doing very well, and there’s a lot of spirit right now in the country that you weren’t having so much in the last number of months that you have right now. You see what’s happening.”
Harley-Davidson has been assembling some motorcycles outside the United States for more than 20 years, but it builds the motorcycles it sells in the United States inside the United States.
The company announced in January that its worldwide retail motorcycle sales had fallen 6.7 percent in 2017, compared with 2016. U.S. retail sales had fallen 8.5 percent, and sales overseas were down 3.9 percent.
Spokesmen for Harley-Davidson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.