Analysis: Harley-Davidson LiveWire to halo a whole line of electric motorcycles including commuters and an off-roader
The Harley-Davidson release yesterday blew the doors off what we consider to be the world's foremost cruiser maker. The big story for us, naturally, was the 250-500cc platform that will bring bikes to India, most likely made at the Harley-Davidson India plant in Bawal, Haryana - dates unknown. The focus for most of the world was on bikes from the other platform, the 500-1,250cc platform from which, starting in 2020 we will get a range of new Harleys that break new ground. The star for us was the Streetfighter 975 which looks smashing. The traditional one was the Custom 1250 which looks butch. And of course, the big surprise was the industrial-looking Pan America adventure tourer. But we believe the electric range of motorcycles got the short shrift. So this story is about the Harley-Davidson LiveWire and its forthcoming electric siblings - as promised in yesterday's announcement.
When Harley-Davidson first unveiled the Project LiveWire electric motorcycle in 2014, it had received a polarised response. The Harley traditionalists as it were, read leisure motorcyclists from its home in the US, had not been particularly enthused by the idea of a sleek electric motorcycle bearing the Bar and Shield logo.
Image credit: electrek.co
Four years hence, and Harley-Davidson has just announced that the LiveWire will be launched in 2019. That isn't even the new news - what will follow is a whole suite of electric motorcycles including two middleweight electrics in 2021 and 2022. In all, The Project LiveWire will kickstart (sic) the development of at least five such products which will later include an electric scooter, an off-roader or tracker, and an electric-assist bicycle.
The Harley-Davidson LiveWire arrives next year. Whether it comes to India or not, that's a special motorcycle. When we rode it briefly on the roads around the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia, we were impressed by the automatic motorcycle's turn of speed and how nice it felt to ride. In production form, expect to see the jet engine noises - from the water-cooling system - and the sharp styling lines to be present and correct.
But the more important thing is that the LiveWire represents the first of the line. While Harley hasn't commented - yesterday was the first time they've revealed future products - we believe the LiveWire will be Harleys top-most electric motorcycle for a while.
Because Harley did reveal a handful of sketches - what no prototype? And Harley-Davidson is clearly taking a sharp turn from their usual direction and in some ways, it's a more drastic change than even the Pan America or the Streetfighter represent.
Because the small electric bikes are all small street bikes, one of them clearly heavily designed for functions and utility rather than riding excitement and leisure. But we believe that the roots of this new line of electric Harleys originate in the LiveWire world trip that Harley-Davidson embarked on shortly after revealing their dramatic electric motorcycle.
What Harley learned from the LiveWire road tip
You see, I believe that the Harley-Davidson problem is that the brand is almost too clearly established. Especially in the minds of the people who have had them in the family forever, like the faithful as they're called - mostly American customers. And the LiveWire World Tour was more than an exposition of technology and possibility.
I believe that the World Tour was Harley watching people's reaction to them doing something completely out of their usual brand's normal. And perhaps, the tradition-oriented markets reacted only partially positively.
But I believe that the rest of the world reacted well enough to give Harley-Davidson the confidence to break almost every rule in the book that they wrote. It told them that going outside the comfort zone was okay in places where Harley-Davidson's image was slightly more blurred. Or where the weight of affordability and the pressure of aspiration opened a window to new kinds of Harley-Davidsons.
Just look at what all rules are lying smashed on the ground. The new 500-1250cc engine series is clearly, unabashedly liquid-cooled. There's no chrome on any of these bikes. A 500cc Harley was a big decision when the Street 750/500 came out, today we are not surprised by the idea. More to the fore, which Indian customer would say no to a well-made, well-priced 250-500cc class Harley if the feel was correct? And to the point of this story, the answer to the proposition of a street-commuting electric Harley wouldn't automatically be a resounding no.
It might not work in the United States. But the growth markets are on our side of the world with a few exceptions. And Asian customers and Indian customers have shown themselves to be specific about what they want, but flexible about how they're willing to receive it.
The big news yesterday was the reveal of the three bikes coming in 2020. It represents a massive change of pace for the American cruiser major. But I believe the real explosion and shockwaves will come from the Indian 250-500 class motorcycles. And from the electric Harley-Davidsons that will precede it.