Trump's attack, the latest in a series of criticisms of USA companies, was an about-face for the president, who hosted company officials and gleaming Harley-Davidson bikes on the White House lawn shortly after his inauguration.
The president on Tuesday tweeted that if Harley goes through with its plans to move some production overseas, "it will be the beginning of the end - they surrendered, they quit!"
Harley-Davidson Inc. sold nearly 40,000 motorcycles in Europe previous year, generating revenue second only to the USA, according to the Milwaukee company. He later added, "The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!"
Trump later tweeted that he would retaliate against the EU's retaliatory tariffs by raising tariffs on European cars.
As a manufacturer of big motorcycles, Harley-Davidson is one of a handful of brands that are recognizable symbols of America's self-image. But company spokesman Michael Pflughoeft said it was assessing the potential impact of the production shift on its USA facilities. Since it doesn't want that, it made a decision to move production of motorcycles for European Union destinations from the USA to its worldwide facilities. Harley-Davidson announced in January plans to shutter a Kansas City, Missouri, assembly plant, citing market conditions, about a month before Trump said he'd move forward on threats to implement tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel. "These sweeping tariffs are not examples of that by a long shot".
In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing published today, Harley Davidson said that the retaliatory tariffs imposed by the European Union would have "an immediate and lasting detrimental impact to its business in the region", while noting that the company itself will bear the impact. Harley-Davidson's preference is to manufacture within the USA, but believed shifting some production "was its only sustainable choice to continue serving the EU", Wedbush's Hardiman wrote.
In fact, Trump has tried to threaten numerous countries with tariffs if they don't reduce tariffs and other trade barriers, but so far most of those discussions have ended in acrimony and frustration. In the near term, Harley-Davidson will instead absorb most of the cost of moving the production of motorcycles overseas. It has three assembly plants outside the USA - one each in Brazil, India and Thailand.
Harley said ramping-up production at its overseas global plants will require incremental investments and could take at least nine to 18 months.
"I expect many other companies will be forced reluctantly to move production as Harley has done in order to maintain their viability", Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Business Insider. "So thank you, Harley-Davidson, for building things in America", he said.
Asked about the Harley decision Monday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker addressed the issue of tariffs in general but not specifically the situation faced by the company.
"Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag", he said on Twitter.
European Union trade chief Malmström, however, argued Trump had been warned that his protectionist policies would backfire: "It was clear to the American administration all along that if they were to impose tariffs on aluminum and steel, we would consider them as illegal ... and there would be consequences".
But Trump's policies seem to have put Harley-Davidson in a particularly tough spot, for seven reasons. Trump said in a post on Twitter on Monday night.
New Delhi is both aghast and mystified about the US President's priorities, and how poorly he is briefed on the matter, as it struggles to get the word across that the trade scrap, much less Harley Davidson's woes, is hardly worth the time in an engagement with hundreds of billions on the line in the coming decade.
Trump ridiculed the company for building motorcycles overseas.