February 22nd, 2018 by Nicolas Zart
It’s been a few years since Harley-Davidson (HD) dangled an electric motorcycle (e-motorcycle) project called LiveWire in front of our faces. Sadly, years later, there is still nothing to show for. It’s hard to figure out how serious HD is with its electric project. Is it seeing the writing on the wall while US sales continually dip? Or is it just a way to buy some time to find out where the industry is heading?
An Electric Harley For Real?
Either way, the problem with an electric Harley is… Well, where do we start with that one?
A Harley-Davidson is normally and typically fairly loud. Some of its riders love to amplify that noise and the association with some motorcycle gangs puts HD in a pickle when looking at the future. And anyway, how do you make a loud electric vehicle (EV)? And what is a noisy electric HD? What kind of “noise” are they thinking about?
Although an audio signature is nonsensical for most, it is a very real deal for many car lovers. We foresee a time when electric motors will sound different the way a Ferrari V12 sounds different than a three-piston engine. And HD knows it has to make the jump into this new electric drivetrain direction one way or the other. It displayed its LiveWire electric motorcycle project in June of 2014, but even then, HD wasn’t sure of the market segment for the e-motorcycle. According to Harley CEO Keith Wandell, the model will help reach a more diverse group of riders, aiming for the “18 to 35-year-olds, women, African-Americans and Hispanic riders.”
No matter how you look at it, the evolution of motorcycles will continue through the use of electric motors. As batteries improve and deliver more, they are helping the electric drivetrain outpace its antiquated gasoline cousin. Add to this the latest drop in US motorcycles sales and you can understand why everyone would want to have an electric motorcycle.
Although HD reminds us of the concept every few other months, it feels more like a way to feed its new demographic as it stays mindful of its more traditional hardcore clientele. HD says it feels its LiveWire project could tentatively begin production in 18 months. Considering what other e-motorcycles makers like Lightning Motorcycle and Alta Motors are doing, HD should see how much these e-bikes have challenged traditional gasoline motorcycles and even won in international races. Luckily for HD, motorcyclists quickly understand the difference between horsepower and torque. It’s easier to vaunt the merit of a torque-y electric motor to a motorcycle rider than a car driver, in general.
As we mentioned above, the US motorcycle retail sales demand dropped to 6.5% in the fourth quarter of 2017, 11% in the fourth quarter, and 8.5% for the year. However, e-motorcycle sales have increased steadily and this new 2016 report from market research firm TechNavio projects a 45% growth in this industry by 2020. Harley-Davidson Chief Financial Officer John Olin said the company is willing to put down as much as $25 million to $50 million per year on e-motorcycle technology. As to how HD feels it will reach its goal at this late stage to being the world leader in the e-motorcycle market depends on how serious and how much they want that market.
Harley-Davidson, Is The LiveWire Project A Boy Or A Girl?
HD needs to show something sooner than later. The production news came on the heels of a few job cuts and a plant closure, according to Bloomberg, but according to Matt Levatich, president and chief executive officer of Harley-Davidson on Bloomberg: “You’ve heard us talk about Project LiveWire. It’s an active project we’re preparing to bring to market within 18 months.”
The original idea started with the now-defunct Mission Motors that worked on the LiveWire motor controller.We know that the LiveWire will have a cast aluminum frame and swingarm, LED headlight, TFT dashboard, a three-phase AC motor/bevel gear/belt drive using an estimated 7 kWh battery pack putting out 74 hp and 52 ft. lb. of torque. It will be electronically limited to 95 mph and weigh 460 lbs. Finally, the 0-60 mph should be reached in under 4 seconds with 50 miles of range, according to HD. Although this is not bad, Zero’s SR manages an even better 0 to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds with a much better range of about 125 miles. And to put things into a gas perspective, a Ducati Monster 1200 motorcycle can hit that in just under 3 seconds.
Will we ever see the HD electric LiveWire? Stranger things have happened. HD knows gasoline technology is on its last leg. We can make an easy prediction. How long do you think it will take for the HD to devise its own “audio signature” for the electric LiveWire?