Can an Electric Motorcycle Save Harley-Davidson?

We'll see when it debuts in 2019

By The Editors
February 2, 2018 9:00 am

UPDATE 8/3/18:

This summer has not been kind to Harley diehards, but the company isn’t going away quietly. Instead, they’re going full-speed ahead quietly — announcing today that their first electric motorcycle will officially launch in 2019.

It’ll be called LiveWire, fulfilling the promise of their 2014 Avengers-starring concept bike, and is described as “the first in a broad, no-clutch ‘twist and go’ portfolio of electric two-wheelers” in a press release. They included this image with the caveat that it’s a prototype that may change:

The announcement also includes news of “a broader range of electric models” launching in 2022, as well as the company’s first Adventure Touring motorcycle called the Pan America 1250, the 1250cc Custom and the 975cc Streetfighter, all due in 2020.

With production of the LiveWire slated for 2021, then 2020 and now 2019, Harley seems to be catching up with the times — and betting big on electric.

Let’s hope it lives up to the hype, and the legacy.

It’s been a rocky past year for Harley-Davidson.

The Milwaukee-based company released its full 2017 year report this week, revealing a worldwide drop of 6.7 percent, and, perhaps more concerning, an 8.5 percent drop in the U.S.

In addition to job cuts and a plant closure in Kansas City, Missouri, the company is also dealing with an aging demographic and the fact it’s losing new customers to flashy upstart motorcycle makers (see: Zero Motorcycles).

But there is hope yet, and it rests in the ability of company to compete in the fast-growing EV market. The bad news was accompanied by some good news: Harley-Davidson’s first electric motorcycle is set to launch within 18 months, much sooner than the 2021 release date primarily floated around.

We first heard the company’s plan to go electric back in 2014 with Project Livewire, a popular campaign that gave riders a chance to test drive a Harley-Davidson’s first electric motorbike prototype. The bike even made a cameo in in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Harley President and CEO Matt Levatich outlined the vision. “The EV motorcycle market is in its infancy today, but we believe premium Harley-Davidson electric motorcycles will help drive excitement and participation in the sport globally,” Levatich stated. “As we expand our EV capabilities and commitment, we get even more excited about the role electric motorcycles will play in growing our business.”

No word yet on what exactly the final specs will look like, but one thing is for sure: it won’t be anything like the loud, in-your-face outlaw bike the company built its legacy on.

Either way, the move ultimately signals a brave new world for motorcycle makers. And while it’s anyone’s guess what the rapidly changing EV market will look like in two years, we know it’s the future. But will it be enough to save America’s most iconic motorcycle companies? Only time will tell.

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