The secret to our transformation: Harley-Davidson CEO

Harley Davidson

Harley-Davison, an iconic American brand long associated with the open road, wants to extend its appeal to the city.

Last month, the Milwaukee-based manufacturer announced the production of a "Street" line of motorcycles to target cosmopolitan riders around the world.

President and CEO Keith Wandell told CNBC on Wednesday that the new focus is part of a transformation at the 110-year-old company that's happening on assembly lines and drawing boards.

The Street 750 and 500 bikes, slated for release early in the spring, are designed for negotiating city grids rather than touring, Wandell told CNBC.

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Investors have enjoyed the ride so far, with Harley-Davidson's stock rising 42 percent the past year.

"These are bikes that are designed for the new urban generation," Wandell said. "They're agile and nimble. ... They fill a need that our dealers have had for some time."

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Wandell said Harley plans to continue to making bikes sold in the U.S. at its Kansas City, Mo., plant and is setting up a global supply chain based in India for international production.

The push for global sales mirrors the inroads the company aims to make beyond its traditional consumer-middle-aged white men-and into black and Hispanic markets, he said.

"Our strategy and focus have been to extend the brand outside of what's typically been our core riders over time," Wandell said.

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He largely agreed with analysts' problems with his company: It has an aging consumer base, sells an expensive product and contends with strong competition.

"Those things are true, if you step back and look at it," Wandell said. "But what we've done is transformed the company. We've transformed the way we design and develop projects. ... We think we have a great future."

-By CNBC's Jeff Morganteen. Follow him on Twitter at @jmorganteen and get the latest stories from "Squawk on the Street"


image: © Matthias Schack

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