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On Electric Harleys and New Generations

It's not about yet one more electric motorcycle making its debut and hoping for the best, but about the fact that one of the world's biggest motorbike manufacturers officialized its intentions of adding an e-bike to its line-up.
Of course, somewhat similar attempts have been made in the industry, and H-D is nowhere near the pioneer status. However, the Bar and Shield gets the bonus points for boldness, as they're not going to introduce that motorcycle as a side dish like the C evolution is for BMW. Of course, BMW is not ashamed with that scooter, but you get my point, hopefully.

Instead of making electric machinery looking more or less like the retarded third cousin from a small village in the middle of nowhere, Harley-Davidson may be championing in the "electric direction" and for quite good reasons.Will it be the LiveWire?
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind after learning about Harley's intentions is whether the LiveWire will be the one e-bike in discussion. Milwaukee's recent statements are laconic, to say the least, and they did not mention anything firm about the LiveWire.

Given the timeframe Harley-Davidson reserved to bring the electric project to commercial fruition, we could very well get to see another bike. The lead time for coming up with a new motorcycle is anywhere between 3 to 6 years, depending on the complexity of the project, so H-D has the time to come up with a new machine. If they wanted.

My guess is that they will capitalize on the LiveWire, upgrading it as time goes by and delivering the most advanced product they can come up with, in terms of looks, technology, and vibe.

Even though the LiveWire was a fully functional machine, it was only a prototype. LiveWire, as we saw it, was never intended to reach production phase at this stage. It was, instead, one of the best instruments ever imaginable for gauging how people would react when confronted with the unthinkable: an electric Harley!

Even though the MoCo has not revealed comprehensive data gathered in their rather lengthy LiveWire tours, we can safely assume they liked what they got after analyzing all the input from those who got close to the electric machine.

Harley officials even said that the bike was in no way ready for a market debut, despite the fact that it appeared so to many. The MoCo admitted that performance needed to double while the price would need to be halved in order to have a viable product...but that was not going to happen at that moment.

The LiveWire was put together using a Mission Motors drivetrain and its battery had just about enough energy for a 20-mile (32 km) test ride per charge. Mission is now dead and buried, and we still wonder why Harley-Davidson didn't take the same bold step Polaris did when they acquired the motorcycle division of Brammo.

Milwaukee could have gotten their hands on pretty much anything that was of interest at Mission quite cheaply. Such moves are sure shots for those who know where to look and what to look for. Hero buying "interesting" intellectual property from Erik Buell Racing is only the most recent example that comes to mind.

However, knowing that Harley is now fully committed to manufacturing a production electric bike means that they are either teaming up with battery and drivetrain producers or plan to engineer some on their own. With Harley's deep pockets anything is possible, even though we guess that on the battery side, MoCo's endeavor would yield better results if buying the battery packs they need from someone who already knows how to do this. Zero Motorcycles and their "card deck" cells makes decent sense.And what about the Harley fans?
The second big question involves Harley's traditional image and their loyal customers. It's impossible to picture H-D's regular devotee leaving his Road Glide behind and hopping aboard a LiveWire. Or any other machine that uses batteries and a motor instead of a thundering v-twin, for that matter.

Even so, times are changing, even for Harley-Davidson, and we are the ones to witness one of the biggest changes in the motorcycling history. Perhaps this kind of future was unthinkable some 20 years ago but now is seems to come crashing down upon the entire industry.

As much as people love everything H-D (and all the great companies) stood and stands for, the passing of time is implacable. Harley's traditional customers ARE getting old. Money is harder to come by, and the new generations are no longer THAT willing to get into big debts to own a $30K bike.

Even more the number of those who dream about H-D's huge tourers appears to dwindle by the year, as it's also people above 50 who get them. Instead, young customers discover the joy motorcycles such as the Ducati Scrambler can bring in their lives.

There are few young riders willing to go on transcontinental journeys during their vacation, so a motorcycle with a smaller displacement and an engine powerful enough to carry a rider, a passenger and a backpack for a 3-day trip to the seaside or a cabin in the mountains is way more appealing.

Lower purchase costs, less maintenance, slightly better fuel economy, and all-rounder capabilities appear to be more important these days than the entire marketing promoting the old-school ways of motorcycling. Practicality seems to get ahead of heritage, and Harley is beginning to understand this... and make amends.

After the electric H-D debuts, we might expect that the Harley loyalists will shun it and oppose it. Still, if Milwaukee manages to deliver an electric machine that embeds the modern technology AND remain a Harley, the LiveWire, or whatever will be its name will be a less bitter pill to swallow.In five years, electric bikes are expected to go a long way, and Harley looks like the won't be missing out
Finally, analyzing how things move these days in the EV industry, we reckon that a lot can happen over five years. There already are battery prototypes that recharge in dozens of seconds or less, and the 150 kW charging standard for cars will be implemented next year, with studies being carried out for 350 kW.

This means that it is exceptionally difficult to anticipate where we will be when the Harley electric bike is launched. Predictions, albeit inaccurate, indicate that the battery technology might become significantly better than it is now, with the range anxiety and time spent recharging reduced dramatically.

We can almost bet on the fact that this is one of the main things Harley is also taking into consideration when developing the new electric machine. If anything, one of the crucial aspects of their launch is that the new bike must not miss out on anything.

It already has a very hard mission, that of changing the perception about Harley-Davidson as a brand, and any detail that is less that stellar can represent a potential economic hazard. Putting together the new opening towards the new two-wheeler paradigm and the H-D mojo will not be an easy task for Milwaukee, but it is doable.

Nobody expects that electric bikes become dominant in five or ten years, at least not unless their prices drop dramatically, or a "magic" energy source is discovered, but one thing is certain.

Harley, probably the world's most conservative motorcycle maker taking this step will send shockwaves in the industry and will make others move. Nobody wants to miss out when things in the electric motorcycle industry start rolling faster for real.

 
 
 
 
 

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