An Electric Harley Should Be Here Before 2020

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Harley Davidson’s new CEO, Matt Levatich, tells the Wall St. Journal that an electric Harley isn’t coming “in the next couple years but it’s not past 2020 either, unless we run into some impossible barrier.”

Harley Davidson built 3 dozen LiveWire electric motorcycles last year and let almost 7,000 people test them during a nationwide tour. The response was overwhelmingly positive, which is a bit surprising since the LiveWire is mostly silent and the average Harley rider likes his bike LOUD!!!! You don’t see many “Loud pipes save lives” bumper stickers on cars owned by Honda Gold Wing riders.

What appeals to people about the LiveWire is the same thing that appeals to many electric car owners — torque. Gobs and gobs of pavement wrinkling torque. You think the regular Harley has torque? Hang on, brother. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

What’s holding up the electric Harley? After all, companies like Zero and Brammo have been selling electric motorcycles for years. The future for electric bikes is so bright, Polaris just bought out Brammo and is selling its electric bikes under the Victory label because forecasters say millions and millions of electric bikes will be sold in the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, Harley Davidson is content to stay on the sidelines. Levatich told Jalopnik recently that his company has such brand equity that it can afford to let others take the lead and catch up whenever it wants. “Will we get to that Nirvana that customers say they want? Probably not,” he said. “Will we get close enough? I believe we will.”

The issue is the same one keeping electric cars from going mainstream — range and cost. The LiveWire only had 50 miles of range and was projected to cost $50,000.

Harley is content to let battery technology come to it, rather than investing its resources to find the next great breakthrough. Light weight, fast charging, inexpensive batteries with high power density are coming. And when they get here, an electric Harley will hit the streets. The only question is, when will that happy day arrive?

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.