I’m not from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the California Air Resources Board (CARB). I know very little about the Federal Clean Air Act emission standards. But, I do know enough about marketing to be suspicious when I see “spin” coming from Harley about noise abatement and that “good” mufflers absorb and attenuate noise levels from the motor. Now I’m being told how I should drive while in my neighborhood or further risk increased regulatory measures to control motorcycle noise.
This all started a while ago, but I started to be suspicious a couple years ago when Harley discontinued manufacturing ‘Screamin’ Eagle’, non street-legal exhaust pipes and then started the subtle campaign against loud exhaust pipes. The first effort was directed at/through dealers, with posters and literature that attempted to educate dealers and riders about the negative consequences of loud pipes.
For me the Harley riding experience is the sum total of the Harley `Look,’ ‘Sound’ and ‘Feel.’ And one of the biggest parts of the riding experience is the classic sound of the bike. Harley’s challenges related to noise and emissions regulations may seem inconsequential to you as a rider, but more stringent European (EEC) noise limits and the development of future motorcycles need to meet lower future regulations and the end result of this debate, however, will directly affect how you shop or what you buy. Whatever technology manufacturers use to reduce noise emissions, it is likely to affect the power and price of equipment you will purchase in the coming years. The cost of compliance is high and in order to comply, all riders may have to sacrifice something in power and should be aware that the new regulations will inevitably lead to tradeoffs.
The primary business of the Harley Motorcycles segment is to design, produce and sell premium heavyweight motorcycles. Most all of the recent 96/96B motor displacement and transmission redesigns have been to maintain regulatory compliance in ALL markets. That’s a big deal as approximately a third of all new motorcycle sales are outside the U.S., with Japan, Germany, and Canada, in that order, representing the Company’s largest export markets and account for approximately 51% of export sales.
The U.S. allows higher noise levels for motorcycles than in other regions and countries. As a result, the ever so subtle marketing campaign Harley initiated about riders being “courteous” in neighborhoods and down playing the significance of 3rd party exhaust pipes. In fact they are discouraging 3rd party exhaust pipes. Are they doing this because they care about your neighborhood? No! They know government regulations have a materially adverse impact on their capital expenditures, earnings, or competitive position. Harley will have to make the lowest common denominator bike. Meaning they will have to comply with the most stringent noise emissions and sale that across the U.S. For example, last year Denver, CO passed legislation using label match-up enforcement. The police can ticket a motorcyclist if a bike made after 1982 has a muffler lacking a mandatory factory U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noise certification stamp.
Do you think Harley is really monitoring the growth of anti-noise ordinances that target motorcyclists or is this another way of gaining market segment share in the $2.8 Billion after market muffler, accessories and riding apparel market? The day is coming my friends where an enjoyable ride will sound like an idling Toyota Prius and people wondering if it’s running.
Exhaust photo courtesy of West Coast Choppers