Harley-Davidson Inc. said Thursday it will begin selling motorcycles next year in India, the world's second-largest motorcycle market, where the company hopes its iconic, heavyweight bikes will find a niche among the country's rising middle class.
The Milwaukee-based company said it has established a subsidiary near Delhi and has begun scouting the country for dealers.
"Given the rapid development of India's economy and physical infrastructure, this is exactly the right time to bring the world's greatest motorcycles to one of the world's largest motorcycling nations," said Mark Levatich, Harley's chief operating officer, in a statement.
India is the world's largest market for motorcycles behind China, but it is overwhelmingly dominated by smaller, inexpensive bikes used primarily for transportation, said Dilip Chenoy, director general of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers.
Still, Harley said the country's growing economy, rising middle class and expanded highway construction has created a market for leisure motorcycle riders.
"Motorbikes, scooters in India are family commuting bikes," Chenoy said. "They tend to be more robustly built and the focus is on fuel economy, but there is an increasing market for leisure and high-end bikes which is beginning to happen here in India."
The move marks Harley's latest push into developing markets overseas, where it hopes rising incomes and the company's strong brand identity will spur sales and help offset flagging business at home.
International sales have made up a growing part of Harley's business. In 2008, motorcycle shipments in the U.S. fell 15 percent to 206,000 units while international shipments climbed 9 percent to 97,107.