STURGIS, S.D. - It was a very unusual product introduction.
Many of those attending the press conference, including this reporter, thundered into town astride Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
We came for the unveiling of the special-edition Ford F-150 pickup that kicks off a five-year liaison between Harley and Ford.
What will make this relationship work are the common denominators: two companies with strong American brands, both of which celebrate centennials in 2003, and each with descendants of the founders still involved.
But beyond those obvious points is a less apparent one: an intense mutual respect for each other's hardware.
Several Harley officials said they already own high-performance Ford trucks. And many Ford officials are avid bikers. Vice Chairman Pete Pestillo and public affairs Vice President Vaughn Koshkarian, both longtime Harley riders, were among our group motoring through the Black Hills.
The location was interesting. Sturgis, which has a 51-week population of 7,000, is an easy ride from Mount Rushmore and the Little Bighorn. For one week each year, it hosts the Black Hills Motor Classic Rally & Races and is besieged by 350,000 bikers from around the world. They call the event simply 'Sturgis.'
Harley-Davidson owners are fiercely loyal, and the company's owner relations are legendary. The Harley Owners Group, which arranges events, tours and various promotions, probably will help Ford with its owner relations.
But there is more. 'One of the things we're learning from them is the art of mass customization,' Pestillo said. It makes sense. Harley produces about 170,000 bikes a year in 24 models, but very few are identical. Bikers like individuality. The company also has a 600-page catalog from which Harley owners can customize their bikes with performance, appearance and comfort accessories. It gives the manufacturer a good share of the motorcycle aftermarket.
At the press conference, a crowd of bikers watched from the outskirts as Harley Chairman Jeffrey Bleustein gave Pestillo a leather jacket. Gurminder Bedi, vice president of Ford's Truck Vehicle Center, said a few words. So did William G. Davidson, Harley vice president of styling and grandson of one of the founders. Known as 'Willie G.,' he is a spiritual leader to Harley owners.
After the truck was unveiled, Willie G. invited reporters to take a look. It was an open invitation. A throng of burly, tattooed bikers pushed their way to the front. They wanted to see the truck. They wanted to talk to Willie G. And they wanted to tell the Ford people exactly how they wanted their trucks built.
It's going to be an interesting relationship.