Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Are tariffs entirely to blame, though?

Vroom vroom. That’s the sound of Harley-Davidson revving its motors up to shift even more of its production overseas. The company’s public explanation? It wanted to avoid tariffs the European Union is planning to impose on American motorcycles in retaliation for the Trump administration’s aggressive trade policies.

President Trump, a man who once sold steaks (“the best tasting, most flavorful beef you’ve ever had”) through the Sharper Image, was mad. It got, like, four tweets out of him on Tuesday morning, which is no small feat!  

But his anger is understandable. This is a company of which he has made an example – a good example! Precisely the kind of American-made company he wanted to go to bat for. In February 2017, in fact, he hosted Harley executives and workers at the White House to talk about his plans for tax, trade, and regulatory reform, all of which were ostensibly meant to improve the domestic hiring climate for the company. An American company, employing Americans. He even brought Harleys up in his first address to Congress.

And what has the company done since then? It used the enormous tax cut that the president and congressional Republicans passed this year to pay its shareholders, close a factory in Kansas City and open another one in … Bangkok. To serve its international customers, it said! Nothing to do with the Kansas City layoffs.

Now, it’s putting more of its production outside of the United States, and pointing to tariffs the EU is putting up after President Trump erected tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

It’s a little disingenuous. First of all, this isn’t the first time the company has offshored jobs. There’s history here. And what’s more, as some online have pointed out, it’s just as likely the company has been planning this for a while and blaming the tariffs is a convenient excuse:

For what it’s worth: Some of Harley’s workers in Wisconsin, whose jobs could be at risk because of this, aren’t blaming Trump for their troubles.

“He wouldn’t do it unless it needed to be done, he’s a very smart businessman,” said one.

“I think Harley is just using it as an excuse” to move more production overseas, said another. “They will just blame it on Trump.”