Harley-Davidson’s fourth-quarter earnings report was a good news, bad news situation. The bad news, according to the Milwaukee Business Journal, is that 2017 sales were down 6.7 percent worldwide, and 8.5 percent in the U.S., which has typically been H-D’s stronghold. The motorcycle company will also be closing its Kansas City, Missouri plant and rolling operations into its York, Pennsylvania plant. Sales drops and layoffs have sadly become a trend for H-D.
But there is a silver, or rather an electric lining to the story. Harley-Davidson also announced that it is just 18 months away from releasing its first production electric motorcycle. This is much sooner than the 2021 and “eventually” release dates previously announced.
“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,” Matt Levatich, Harley-Davidson’s president and CEO told the Milwaukee Business Journal. “As we expand our EV capabilities and commitment, we get even more excited about the role electric motorcycles will play in growing our business.”
Harley-Davidson first revealed its interest in electric motorcycles in 2014 with the LiveWire concept, a cool looking bike that made around 74-horsepower and 56 pound-feet of torque, a zero to 60 time around 4 seconds, and a range of 50 miles. Certainly, more range would be required in a production version. The Energica Ego we tested runs between 90 and 120 miles depending on how aggressively you ride it. But battery technology has advanced since then, making similar numbers fairly easy to hit.
It may seem strange for H-D, a brand that practically invented the “loud pipes save lives” crowd, to be looking at a quiet electric future, but in many ways it makes sense. Harley-Davidson’s sales are declining because its traditional customers are aging out of riding, and younger riders aren’t as interested in riding eternal, shiny and chrome. Amid criticism that H-D is stuck in the past, it may be bypassing the present entirely to focus on the future of motorcycles. Companies like Energica and Zero have made good progress on electric bikes, but are tiny compared to the H-D juggernaut, which can put both its huge manufacturing and marketing departments behind making an electric Harley the motorcycle of choice for a new generation of riders.