Harley-Davidson Goes Electric: Behind the Scenes of LiveWire’s R&D

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“different considerations, like high voltage, lithium batteries; electric motors; and power electronics.” Working with those components required “new tools, dynamometers, battery simulators, procedures for testing, battery safety,” and other changes.

Although some maintain that LiveWire caters to a younger set of riders who are indifferent to the classic rumble, Stanley says the plan was to create a unique motorcycle “separate from a specific demographic.” (For what it’s worth, this writer owns a 2015 Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 and enjoys the engine’s rumble, but the LiveWire’s sound is intriguing.)

Virgil “Wolf” Schulenburg, who has been a Harley dealer in the Madison, WI, area for more than four decades, says he’s talked to older riders who own heavyweight touring bikes, yet say they are interested in buying a LiveWire.

However, he says he believes the main target demographic for the electric bikes is between the ages of 18 and 35.

“Personally, I’m pumped about the LiveWire,” he says, standing in his dealership showroom east of Madison. “I love the classic rumble, but these new bikes are really cool.”

The big question, of course, is whether enough consumers will agree. LiveWire still may have a significant hurdle to leap to gain acceptance among older (and not-so-old) riders who love the signature sound of Harley-Davidson’s traditional engines.

Robin Diedrich, a senior equity analyst with Edward Jones, says in an e-mail message that she views Harley-Davidson’s investments in the electric motorcycle market as part of its strategy to grow its customer base in younger demographics, particularly in certain international markets.

“We believe Harley will need to balance its strong lifestyle brand that has made it the leading heavyweight motorcycle company with the need to expand its brand to appeal to a wider array of consumers that are interested in bikes that are easier to ride, lower cost, and protect the environment,” she says.

She continues: “The additional challenges for Harley and all other makers of electric vehicles includes increasing the driving range with longer battery life and providing the customer with a good driving experience—all at a reasonable cost. While electric bikes will continue to be an investment for Harley for some time, we share the vision that the electric motorcycle market will grow, particularly in markets such as China, and that Harley has a long-term opportunity in front of it.”

Schulenburg says Harley-Davidson is “going full-on into electric bikes,” noting that it just announced its acquisition of California-based StaCyc, which designs and sells electric-powered, two-wheeled bikes designed for children. The bikes, which come with 12-inch wheels or 16-inch wheels, cost between $649 and $699.

For Harley-Davidson, Stanley says the “LiveWire is the first chapter that brings electric propulsion, evocative design, and connectivity to today’s rider.”

The company’s planned lineup of electric motorcycles “will feature a spectrum of models and price points,” from a few thousand dollars to the nearly $30,000 starting price of LiveWire, Stanley says. That portfolio includes an off-road motorcycle that looks like a cross between an electrified dirt bike and a mountain bike. Another can only be described as an electric scooter, which Harley-Davidson says won’t require a license to operate.

The goal with the new products is to “keep our current riders engaged while introducing Harley-Davidson to the next generation of riders,” Stanley says.

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