Via Financial Times

The chief executive of Harley-Davidson has stepped down as part of a leadership shake-up at the American motorcycle manufacturer, which has struggled to reverse a decline in sales.

The Milwaukee-based company said on Friday it had appointed board member Jochen Zeitz as acting president and chief executive, replacing Matthew Levatich, who has led the company since 2015. Mr Levatich has also left his position on the board. 

Mr Zeitz also replaced Michael Cave as chairman and will retain the position once Harley-Davidson appoints a new chief executive. The company said it will an external search firm. 

Mr Zeitz, the former chief executive of sportswear company Puma, said in a statement that the board and Mr Levatich “mutually agreed that now is the time for new leadership at Harley-Davidson”. 

During the 55-year-old Mr Levatich’s tenure as chief executive, Harley-Davidson sought to revamp its model line-up and develop a new generation of riders to increase sales. It launched its first electric bike, the LiveWire, last year in a bid to attract new, younger customers. However, sales continued to decline last year. 

“Matt was instrumental in defining the ‘More Roads to Harley-Davidson’ accelerated plan for growth, and we will look to new leadership to recharge our business,” Mr Zeitz added. 

“He has worked tirelessly to navigate the company through a period of significant industry change while ensuring the preservation of one of the most iconic brands in the world.” 

Mr Levatich, a 26-year veteran at Harley-Davidson, will remain with the company until the end of March to assist with the transition. 

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Shares in Harley-Davidson rose 5 per cent in after-hours trading. 

The company has grappled with declining motorcycle demand in its home market, as well as competitive pressure from rivals such as Polaris, owner of the Indian brand. Harley-Davidson’s global retail sales fell 4.3 per cent to 218,273 units in 2019. Sales in the US were down 5.2 per cent.

Harley-Davidson also found itself in the middle of a tariff fight between the US and European Union, which targeted the company’s bikes in a set of retaliatory levies in 2018. Harley-Davidson shifted some motorcycle production to plants located outside the US, drawing the ire of Donald Trump.