There was a lot of excitement among competitors at the Baja 500 race over the news that Harley-Davidson will be unveiling their first electric motorcycle. It’s not like they need the business. A rare American product amidst a sea of Japanese competition, Harley-Davidson sold more than 260,000 conventional motorcycles in 2013.
Led by a visionary young President, Matt Levatich, the mid-western company, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, famous all over the world for its big macho touring bikes and its elitist iconic brand of advertising, aims to expand its public perception as it plans on becoming number one in the brave new world of electric vehicles.
On Monday, June 22, 2014, Harley staged a show featuring a number of handmade demonstration models at an industry-only, invitation-only event at Madison Square Garden in New York. Subsequently, Harley are publicizing a 30-city tour in which motorcycle veterans test drive the bikes and provide feedback. According to Letavitch, Harley will then utilize the intelligence gathered to further improve the various bikes. Clearly then, these vehicles may not be ready for the stores for several years yet.
Still, as my friend, professional Class 40 rider, José Manuel Ochoa, put it, H.D. are taking a major risk with their so far faithful clientele. The fact is that there is currently no market whatsoever for full-size electric motorcycles. Yet there are tens of millions of two-wheeled vehicles sold each year in China and potentially hundreds of mullions more in India, Indonesia and the Philippines. These are usually the kind of scooters and low-powered bikes that appeal to commuters. Giving these potential customers the chance to have quite a bit more power between their legs will, Letavitch feels, appeal to a whole new potential clientele.
The down side is that, as Ochoa put it, Harleys will no longer have any of the sense of myth and mystification they have worked for years to build. It’s definitely a throw of the dice by Levatich and his board of directors, but one they believe is well worth the risk. “We are interested in long-term potential, regardless of immediate demand,” Letavich told the Associated Press. “We think that the trends in both EV technology and customer openness to EV products is only going to increase, and when you think about sustainability and environmental trends, we just see that being an increasing part of the lifestyle and the requirements of riders.”
Above all, the main vehicle on show at the MSG will be the futuristic Harley Davidson LiveWire. As there’s no necessity to shift gears, the light, snazzy bike goes from 0 to 60 mph in about 4 seconds. The engine is silent, yet its gears roar like a jet airplane when engaged.
At the same time, its batteries need only be recharged after about 130 miles, a task which currently takes a troublesome 30 minutes to an hour. This is a problem they are working hard to overcome. It clarifies the single biggest issue which makes electric vehicles still own a negative public perception. The fact is that folks want the convenience of pulling into a gas station, quickly fueling up and leaving. The technology is simply not ready for that yet.