Harley-Davidson eyes Asian riders to rev up growth

October 13, 2016 3:09 AM EDT

The logo of Harley Davidson company is pictured on a motorcycle in Paris, France, May 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

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By Aradhana Aravindan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - U.S. motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson Inc (NYSE: HOG) plans to boost its focus on Asia to accelerate growth by entering new countries and expanding its dealerships, its chief executive said, as it seeks to become less dependent on its home market.

Harley is optimistic about its growth from existing Asian markets including China, India and Vietnam, and was studying entering new countries like Cambodia, CEO Matthew Levatich said.

"There is really an incredible amount of potential for us in the region," he said in an interview at the company's regional headquarters in Singapore.

Levatich did not provide a specific outlook figure for Asia-Pacific, but said the "vast majority" of its new international dealerships would be in the region. Asia-Pacific contributed about 12 percent to Harley's retail unit sales in 2015.

"I think (Asia-Pacific) is going to become a more and more significant part of our business," he said.

"There are so many untapped markets, there is incredible passion for the brand, the growing middle-class and disposable income and time people have for more leisure-oriented pursuits - that's only increasing."

Harley is facing slowing demand for motorcycles in its biggest market, the United States, and cut its outlook in July.

But in Asia's emerging economies, Harley hopes to attract riders who want to buy two-wheelers not just for commuting but also as an aspiration.

Asia is home to some of the world's largest two-wheeler markets, although its roads are dominated by lower-end commuter bikes rather than the luxury models Harley makes.

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company has set out a plan to grow its international dealer network by 150 to 200 new dealerships through 2020.

Harley had previously said retail sales for its bikes in Asia were hurt after it exited Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy where bikes are hugely popular, at the end of last year.

Levatich said Harley was rebuilding its distribution network and would re-enter the country of about 250 million people by year-end.

It competes with the likes of Polaris Industries (NYSE: PII), Italy's Ducati and Germany's BMW as well as the high-end ranges from Japanese rivals Honda <7267.T>, Yamaha Corp <7951.T> and Suzuki Motor Corp <7269.T>.

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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