Harley-Davidson motorcycles go electric

Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle company known for its big, noisy touring bikes is going electric, unveiling a full-sized bike that will jostle for road space with e-bikes and electric scooters.

Motorcycle company to unveil the LiveWire electric bike

Harley-Davidson's new LiveWire electric motorcycle is shown at the company's research facility in Wauwatosa, Wis. It will be formally unveiled Monday. (M.L. Johnson/Associated Press)

Would it be a Harley-Davidson if it doesn’t sound like one?

The motorcycle company known for its big, noisy touring bikes is going electric, unveiling a full-size bike that will jostle for road space with e-bikes and electric scooters.

It could take several years for the bikes to reach the market, but Harley-Davidson plans to show handmade demonstration models Monday in New York, with a view to refining the product after consumer reviews come back.

Harley-Davidson president Matt Levatich said he expects the company to become a leader in developing technology and standards for electric vehicles.
The electric motor powers the LiveWire from 0 to 100 km/h in about four seconds, Harley-Davidson says. (M.L. Johnson/Associated Press)

"We think that the trends in both EV technology and customer openness to EV products, both automotive and motorcycles, is only going to increase, and when you think about sustainability and environmental trends, we just see that being an increasing part of the lifestyle and the requirements of riders," Levatich said.

"So, nobody can predict right now how big that industry will be or how significant it will be."

The LiveWire is a full-sized bike, unlike most electric bikes on the market. Slim and sporty, it can go from 0 to 100 km/h in about four seconds. The engine is silent, but the meshing of gears emits a hum like a jet airplane taking off.

The big hurdle for an electric touring bike is the same one all-electric cars like the Tesla face – limited range.

Batteries must be recharged after about 200 kilometres and recharging can take 30 minutes to an hour. There is currently no infrastructure to allow people to recharge en route.

But having Harley, which sold 260,000 bikes last year, begin to mass-market electric bikes could boost the demand for recharging stations and help develop common standards for rapid charging.

"We've been very silent up to this point about our investment in EV technology," Levatich said. "But now that we're public, and we're in this space, we expect to be involved and a part of leading the development of the standards, and the technology and the infrastructure necessary to further the acceptance and the utility of electric vehicles."

So far, its competition for producing a full-size electric bike is Zero Motorcycles of Santa Cruz, Calif., which introduced its first full-size motorcycle in 2010 and expects to sell about 2,400 bikes this year.

Yamaha also has a department for developing electric motorbikes.

John Gartner, a research director for the consulting firm Navigant Research, noted that the entry of major automakers  into the market for hybrid and electric cars helped expand the sector.

"Their marketing budgets are much larger and they have dealerships set up everywhere, and so it's much easier for companies like Ford, BMW and Honda to advertise about their electric vehicles," Gartner said.

With files from The Associated Press


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