Harley-Davidson is readying a massive product overhaul that will include the most radical machines in its history.
The American motorcycle brand has promised to develop 100 new motorcycles over the next decade, including a range of electric bikes.
Speaking to Drive while in Sydney to celebrate the brand’s 100th birthday in Australia, Bill Davidson, the vice president of the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee and great grandson of company founder William A Davidson, confirmed the company’s electric bike project is part of the plan.
“We’re excited about our future,” he said.
“We actually showed a prototype of the electric Livewire [a few years ago] and that project is alive and well. We don’t know yet when we’re going to introduce it but it is progressing well and we will eventually introduce it.”
While Davidson conceded that an electric Harley-Davidson would naturally lose one of the key signatures of its traditional motorcycles, the lumpy loud exhaust note, he admitted the company is working on ways to ensure it appeals to a new-generation with a sound he described like that of a jet fighter.
“It is an amazing motorcycle. While it doesn’t have a 45-degree, pushrod twin-cylinder engine it has the performance expected from a Harley Davidson even it won’t sound the same,” he said.
“I can tell you the philosophy we have applied to our V-twins is the same we are applying to the electric motorcycle in terms of sound, performance and feel, which are just as important with the electric bike as they are with our more traditional bikes.
“Our typical sound is unique; it is that potato-potato-potato… and we know that because of our uniqueness with the V-twins we want to make something equally as unique with the electric [bike].
“And so we’ve actually created a unique sound through various technologies. We have studied our competitors and we understand what they are up to and we did not want a normal-sounding electric motorcycle. We wanted something that plays into that look and sound formula. It is something really cool. I often refer to it as sounding like a jet fighter.”
The Project Livewire electric bike has so far only been displayed as a single model, featuring a 7kWh battery back that powers a liquid cooled electric motor which generates 55kW of power and 70Nm of torque – on-par with Harley’s own 883 Sportster range. It can be recharged within a couple of hours and provides a range of around 85km at present.
While it is logical that Harley would develop a range of electric motorcycles rather than just one, Davidson said “that’s information I can’t really talk about at this stage”.
Harley’s move to electric-powered motorcycles is further evidence that the brand has moved well beyond its traditional customer base.
However, Davidson said that while it is preparing to shift into the future he is adamant that semi-autonomous technologies being developed for the car industry won’t filter into motorcycles.
In fact, he believes that motorcycle riding will become more appealing to driving enthusiasts in the future as more functions become automated.
“I think the more automatic cars become that motorcycling will become more appealing. I see it as a huge opportunity,” he said.
“Society has become driven by so many factors and we are all now in touch 24/7 as we’re surrounded by electronics, and I think riding a motorcycle lets you break free of that and enjoy nature and have fun.”