Despite a long and storied history, Harley-Davidson is probably not the first name that leaps to mind when considering technological advancement in motorcycles. With a strong commitment to the traditional, even its advances have sometimes snuck in hidden behind obfuscation. Take the Softtail – entirely designed so that the bike has decent suspension, but still looks like a hardtail. So when, back in 2014, Harley-Davidson demoed Project Livewire – its first electric motorcycle, it came as a surprise to many.
But even a cursory glance at Harley-Davidson’s history shows close attention to technology – it’s first motorcycle utilized an advanced (for the time) frame technology, and by 1921 it was the maker of the first motorcycle to win a race at an average speed of over 100mph. So despite the pejorative nicknames that persist following its issues with production quality in the early 1970s, the maker has a strong following. With its engine format protected – and the distinctive sounds of the Harley a character of city streets throughout the world — it seems surprising that Harley would take that step in the direction of electrification, stepping so far from their roots.
However, in an interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal (subscription required), Sean Cummings, Harley-Davidson’s Senior Vice President, laid out the firm’s planned timeline for bringing an electric motorcycle into production. Despite LiveWire’s retirement after its 2015 tour, it seems that the end is not-nigh for Harley-Davidson’s electric bike project.
Although popular – the Livewire bikes were never intended to reach production. And with a range of only 50 miles – and just 33 miles in sports mode – coupled to a 3.5 hour recharge time – it is likely that they would have struggled in the marketplace, despite the styling being positively received. However, with Zero Motorcycles now selling supermoto style bikes with a highway range of 80 miles – and over 160 miles of in-town range, the challenge of getting the battery pack and motor crammed into a Harley-Davidson frame has become more pressing.
Considering the growing competency of Asian cruiser manufacturers, and with any e-Harley lacking the distinctive ‘Potato-Potato’ sound, it is vital that it builds an effective – and desirable – product line to establish a place in the market. Without it, Harley-Davidson risks losing future customers to other manufacturers, since their trademark engine – a significant reason for many buyers selecting a Harley-Davidson over a number of other otherwise solid cruisers from other manufacturers – won’t be featuring in any e-bike.
With the timeline stretching out for 5 years – the predicted launch date is not until 2021, Harley-Davidson may have their work cut out. Whilst Zero have shown no interest in building cruisers, many small Asian companies, with no name to care about, have been throwing a myriad of small, poor quality chopper and cruiser clones out there. At the same time, kin of those companies are shipping a wide variety of e-bikes, with small packs and cheap motors – at the moment they’re no competition, but with just incremental improvement (and given no attachment to current brandnames) — competition may suddenly appear fully formed from one of these companies and steal Harley’s thunder.
Worse still for Harley, Brutus Motorcycles have been pushing their stunning V9 – a bike with a reported 130 miles+ range – a solidly engineered electric cruiser that hits that same market that Harley-Davidson may be aiming for.
So although Cummings may want to wait 5 years, with encroachment from other manufacturers, Harley-Davidson may end up needing to up that schedule if they don’t want to end up an also-ran in the electric marketplace. As many longstanding western manufacturers have demonstrated – a great lineage is no guarantee of future success.
Do you want an electric Harley-Davidson? Are you willing to wait five years? Or would you trade your allegiance for another manufacturer? Let us know in the Comments below.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.