MILWAUKEE – Harley-Davidson president and CEO Matt Levatich has stepped down from the company, ending his career of 26 years at the world’s largest manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles.
The board of directors has appointed board member Jochen Zeitz as acting president and CEO, the company said in a news release Friday.
Levatich leaves the Milwaukee-based motorcycle maker as its shares have fallen 46% since he took charge of the company.
Meanwhile, its bike sales in the U.S. in 2019 were the lowest in at least 16 years.
Analysts have grown increasingly concerned over the U.S. sales slump during one of the strongest economies in decades. Harley and other heavyweight motorcycle manufacturers have been caught between two customer demographic trends: Young people aren’t widely embracing the big cruiser and touring bikes and longtime riders aging out of the sport.
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Harley has pushed back with smaller and more versatile motorcycles aimed at attracting new customers, with several models coming out this year. It also has placed an increased emphasis on international sales.
As part of the leadership change, Zeitz also was named chairman of the board and will remain chairman once a new CEO is appointed. Current chairman, Michael Cave, is now presiding director.
“The Board and Matt mutually agreed that now is the time for new leadership at Harley-Davidson,” Zeitz said in a statement. “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.”
Levatich had been president and CEO since May 2015 and was president and chief operating officer for six years before that. Over 26 years at the company he held positions of increasing responsibility in the United States and Europe including general manager of the parts and accessories division and custom vehicle operations.
In a statement, Levatich referred to his time as CEO as “one of the most challenging periods” in the company’s history.
“I am confident that the progress we have made on the More Roads plan will position Harley-Davidson for long-term success,” Levatich said in the statement.