Upping the Ante in the Electric Motorcycle World

In 2016 we might witness a first bold move in the electric area of the motorcycle industry. Namely, Polaris could take a firm step in the segment with one of the brands under its umbrella, Victory Motorcycles. If you’ve been following us lately, you probably found out that Polaris bought the motorcycle manufacturing division of well-known Brammo, and we know that Polaris is not simply buying stuff just for the corporate portfolio.
With a real knack for making good things happen, especially with companies which aren’t doing too well on their own and whose potential needs that extra dime to be transformed in a successful business model, Polaris has managed to recover Indian from drifting into oblivion once more. Victory was the original anti-Harley weapon, and it was joined by the heavyweight player Indian. The two are still not strong enough to give Harley a run for their money, but the battle might just move to other grounds. Electrifying, isn’t it?

As we mentioned already, Polaris only got hold of Brammo’s motorcycle division, and this means the latter will be able to focus on its initial game: drivetrain development. At the same time, the move took a weight which was only getting heavier off Brammo’s shoulders. While they are good at making drivetrains, it appears that manufacturing AND selling bikes was never one of their strong assets… to say the least.

Now, free from the pressure the whole bike-selling thing was putting on them, Brammo can concentrate on delivering new, better, more efficient electric mobility technologies. Meanwhile, Polaris, who has a ton of money to spend on growing their business, is most likely thinking about a way to put the Brammo chunk they got to good use.

The first signs that Polaris has not been idling came in the form of the “Charger” name they came up with at the USPTO. The patent aims at “Electric motorcycles and structural parts therefor,” which might very well mean anything, especially in the absence of a trademark, symbol, or generic design.

Of course, people’s opinions are now split in half. Some believe that Polaris will try to retrofit and adapt a Brammo powertrain and battery pack into an existing Victory chassis and roll out the first production electric cruiser. The other point of view indicates that such a move is unlikely if not even outright impossible, because of the structural discrepancies between the two types of bikes.

Nobody (except Brammo and Victory) knows at this moment which powertrain will be used for the Charger, but I can presume the one bringing the Empulse to life has good chances of becoming Victory gear. These chaps also believe that the electric Victory would rather resemble the original Brammo bike it will be derived from. However, in the absence of any credible rumors, anything goes. Or does it?

Cruiser versus sport

If we take some time to analyze these two possibilities, each one has its pros and cons. For starters, if Victory dishes a bike resembling more to a traditional Brammo, this could fail to attract more customers on the electric side of the two-wheeled fun. That is, merely changing the badge of the bike is definitely not enough to raise interest, even though adding the “Victory seal of approval” could perhaps be translated into better quality control and a more careful approach to certain aspects of bike-making.

Still, such a Victory Charger would fail at conveying the image and design language Victory uses and with which those not choosing Harley identify. As a pro for such a choice, I have to admit that only a minor makeover of an existing Brammo machine could mean an easy way to add an electric option in Victory’s roster and minimal expenses.

However, if Victory decides to up the game and make efforts to deliver a NEW bike, we’re most likely in for a new stage of evolution in the business. If Polaris wants to launch their electric Victory this year, time is very short, and there’s no way they can build and test a bike from scratch. Unless… they knew about the Brammo deal and have prepared things in secret, way ahead of the official move/ announcement.

Such secrecy is not uncommon when the stakes are really high, and being able to claim selling the world’s first mass-produced electric cruiser (ahead of Harley) is really a big stake. Frankly, I would not be surprised at all if Victory rolled such a cruiser out of their factory’s doors in a month’s time or so.

With the Americans buying mostly cruisers, seeing Victory making such a move is rather normal and smart. Harley-Davidson is still holding the leading position in the US market and their bikes account for around 50% of the total number of new motorcycles sold each year, give or take, and the very structural particularities of these bikes allow for installing bigger batteries, while of course keeping an eye on the weight/ balance/ range equation.
The first who will bring a mass-production electric cruiser to the market will not only benefit from the pioneer accolades but will also draw in the early bird and adopters who are looking for a classic bike in electric trim.

Even more, there has been absolutely nothing new happening in electric bike design for quite a lot of time. We basically deal with scooters and maxi scooters and designs that can be referred to as sport bikes, tertium non datur. A production electric cruiser will indeed be a first, and if the bike packs decent tech specs and not the (so far) ridiculous figures H-D’s LiveWire comes with, this will be a hit. Obviously, if the price is right, too.

With the 2014 model Empulse R retailing for $19,000 (€16,670), the price for the Victory could definitely go lower. That is, because there are only small costs for adapting the gearbox and making it go “cruiser,” and the frame the bike will use is most likely an existing design, which also means it was already tested in much harsher conditions. That’s right, the vibrations of a big-bore v-twin mill. As for other parts, the components of a sport bike (the Empulse IS a sport bike) are more expensive than what goes into a cruiser, so here’s another sector where Victory could cut the price a bit.

Harley is having a bit of troubles with Mission Motors, which is the drivetrain supplier for the LiveWire. Mission is not exactly passing through its best times now, and as we said before, seeing Milwaukee buying it would only get a told “you” from me.

If you ask me, I’d say that Victory and Polaris have the upper hand in this, and much better chances to deliver a debut mass-produced electric cruiser ahead of Harley. But will it be so? Let’s hope this year brings an answer.

PS: Dodge may have a saying in the use of the Charger name…
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