This article was updated on Dec. 14, 2016, and originally published November 21, 2015.

Everyone knows Consumer Reports.

For decades, potential buyers of new and used automobiles have turned to Consumer Reports for unbiased advice on the cars they might buy. But did you know that CR also rates motorcycles?

It's true. And it could be bad news for Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG).


Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight Sportster. Image source: Harley-Davidson.

What's Consumer Reports been up to lately?

In a pilot project, CR began rating motorcycle brands for both reliability and consumer satisfaction (i.e., whether they'd buy one again) in 2013. When that happened, we were somewhat surprised to see that Harley-Davidson was rated not the least reliable motorcycle manufacturer in the world, exactly -- but the second least.

Today, we're going to flip the page and take a look at what Consumer Reports has been saying about Harley (and its rivals) in the consumer satisfaction department. CR has not yet published new data for 2016, but here's how the "top five" rankings for 2015 shook out.


Data source: Consumer Reports.

As you can see, Harley-Davidson comes in No. 2 in this race. Harley holds a slight lead over Honda (NYSE:HMC) and has a bigger buffer between it and BMW and Can-Am (a division of Bombardier). But Harley still lags Victory motorcycles by a pretty significant margin.

Victory, incidentally, is a brand owned by ATV and snowmobile specialist Polaris Industries (NYSE:PII). And out of all the motorcycle brands surveyed by CR, it comes out tops, winning the magazine's top marks in the categories of "owner satisfaction," "styling," "acceleration," "handling," "comfort," and "fun." In fact, the only survey category where this Polaris subsidiary failed to win CR's top rating was "cost of maintenance and repair."

In fairness to Polaris, no one else got a perfect score in this category, either. (Indeed, Honda was the only other brand in the top five to even score as well as Polaris.) And in criticism to Harley, it was given CR's lowest mark possible on cost.

What it means to investors

Now it bears mentioning: Consumer Reports' inaugural report on reliability focused on objective statistics such as the frequency at which various bikes required a major repair or suffered a serious problem. 2015's satisfaction survey, though, was a bit more subjective.

What was measured there were motorcycle buyers' "feelings" -- how they rated individual brands in the categories mentioned, and whether they told CR that they "would definitely purchase the same motorcycle if they had it to do all over again." But even so, the results are telling, and they're not great news for Harley-Davidson.

After placing second to last in the reliability rankings in 2014, Harley has lost pole position in customer satisfaction to its rivals at Polaris. Its overall satisfaction score has dropped by three percentage points, from 75 to 72. The news is arguably even worse for its rivals at Honda, which lost two "satisfaction" points, falling to 70, and BMW -- down a remarkable six points to 68.

Top of the heap

Victory, in contrast, which was not rated in CR's inaugural report in 2014, has jumped right into the game and leapfrogged the competition, scoring an industry-high 80 points for customer satisfaction. Assuming consumers match actions to survey results, and put their money where their mouth is, so to speak -- this can only mean good things for Polaris stock.

Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. You can find him on our virtual stockpicking service, Motley Fool CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 345 out of more than 75,000 rated members.

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