Harley-Davidson unveils electric motorcycle

The bike maker says it plans to lead the way in this still-new technology. But this is a test drive; the motorcycles aren't ready for the market yet.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 19, 2014 1:30PM

Employee Ben Lund demonstrates Harley's new electric motorcycle at Harley's research facility in Wauwatosa, Wis. © M.L. Johnson/AP PhotoBy The Associated Press


Harley-Davidson (HOG) will unveil its first electric motorcycle next week, and President Matt Levatich said he expects the company known for its big touring bikes and iconic brand to become a leader in developing technology and standards for electric vehicles.


Harley will show handmade demonstration models Monday at an invitation-only event in New York. The company will then take about two dozen bikes on a 30-city tour for riders to test drive and provide feedback. Harley will use the information it gathers to refine motorcycle, which might not hit the market for several more years.


The venture is a risk for Harley because there's currently almost no market for full-size electric motorcycles. The millions of two-wheeled electric vehicles sold each year are almost exclusively scooters and low-powered bikes that appeal to Chinese commuters. But one analyst said investment by a major manufacturer could help create demand, and Levatich emphasized in an interview with The Associated Press that Harley is interested in the long-term potential, regardless of immediate demand.

(Article continues after video.)


"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."


At the same time, Levatich and others involved in creating the sleek, futuristic LiveWire predicted it would sell based on performance, not environmental awareness. With no need to shift gears, the slim, sporty bike can go from 0 to 60 mph in about 4 seconds. The engine is silent, but the meshing of gears emits a hum like a jet airplane taking off.


"Some people may get on it thinking, 'golf cart,'" lead engineer Jeff Richlen said. "And they get off thinking, 'rocket ship.'"


Not an easy sell

One hurdle the company has yet to address is the limited range offered by electric motorcycles. The batteries typically must be recharged after about 130 miles, and that can take 30 minutes to an hour.


San Jose State University police Capt. Alan Cavallo helped his department buy two bikes from Zero Motorcycles, the current top-selling brand, and said officers have been "super happy" with the quiet, environmentally friendly bikes made nearby in Scotts Valley, California. But he said American riders who like to hit the highway would likely lose patience with the technology.


"That's the deal with the cars; you can't jump in a Tesla and drive to LA, it won't make it," Cavallo said, adding later, "People want the convenience of 'I pull into a gas station, I pour some gas in my tank and I go.'"


Zero Motorcycles introduced its first full-size motorcycle in 2010 and expects to sell about 2,400 bikes this year, said Scot Harden, the company's vice president of global marketing. That would give it about half of the global market for full-size, high-powered electric motorcycles.


In comparison, Harley-Davidson alone sold more than 260,000 conventional motorcycles last year.


Making a market

Outsiders focused on electric vehicle development predicted Harley would help boost sales for all electric motorcycle makers by creating greater awareness of and demand for electric bikes. Yamaha also has shown an electric motorcycle.


"It's the old 'a rising tide raises all boats,'" said Gary Gauthier, business and technology adviser for NextEnergy, a Detroit-based nonprofit focused on energy development.


John Gartner, a research director for the consulting firm Navigant Research, noted the major automakers helped drive sales for hybrid and electric cars.


"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.


Levatich said true growth will require common standards for rapid charging and other features, as well as places for people to plug in. Harley expects to play a key role in developing electric vehicle standards, and its dealership network could provide charging stations to serve all drivers, he said.


"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."


Jun 19, 2014 4:27PM

I'll take one.

It goes farther than the V-Rod I currently own.

The only qualifier is they don't try to sell it for $30k or higher.

IMHO that is why full electric car sales aren't blowing through the roof. I personally would buy two electric cars for the wife and I to drive daily but the price is inhibitive.

Jun 19, 2014 2:31PM
Not sure about that idea- Harley riders are a unique bunch who like the traditional Harley look and sound.  If Telsa offered an electric bike it would be a big hit, but Harley guys might reject it without ever trying one.
Jun 20, 2014 2:49AM
Oh best reward, no more money going to the oil companies, or the Middle East.
Jun 19, 2014 4:38PM
Just can't imagine any biker gang member riding one of those can you. 
Jun 20, 2014 2:48AM
Like the Tesla think of no gas money, no oil changes, no water to check, no anti freeze to worry about, no alternator, no transmission fluid changes. Quite frankly if you ride a motorcycle 100 miles without stopping, you are ready to take a break for 15-30 minutes. Oh. and no vibration, or engine noise.
Jun 19, 2014 3:54PM
I wonder if it will break down as much as the gasoline type?
Jun 19, 2014 2:49PM
In the video Harley's mouthpiece states that a good electric bike has yet to be built. Yet another arrogant Harley inspired refusal to acknowledge that someone else might already be making and selling a better product. What a tool!
Jun 19, 2014 6:54PM
I like the sound of a gas engine ,would never buy electric.
Jun 19, 2014 5:01PM
perfect bike for those who want to commute to work, if reasonably priced.  I would buy one.  My sportster gets the same 130 mile range on a tank of gas.  I much rather have electric than gasoline. 
Jun 19, 2014 5:41PM
will the bike come equipped still with its own shake rattle n roll hehe
Jun 20, 2014 12:11AM
Jun 19, 2014 11:46PM
Refresh my memory, who put the Wankel or rotary engine in a motorcycle?  It looked like it had a small garbage can for a motor, sounded like crap, sold for two or three years, I think maybe Suzuki. Only saw one on the road and I don't think sales went too well.
Jun 19, 2014 10:26PM
Jun 19, 2014 8:51PM
I think the big problem is how is Harley Davidson going to make extension cords long enough to reach the liquor store.
Jun 20, 2014 5:45AM
It's a good idea to look ahead. I commend them for it.
Jun 19, 2014 7:53PM
looking at how zero motorcycles cost as much as a full liter bike but at 1/3 the power ill stick with my 600 good mileage and good performance
Jun 20, 2014 5:01AM

How about this concept, drop a V-Rod motor in the frame and create a line of naked V Rods , come to the ADK's and I will test the bike on our pot hole filled roads.


Great looking bike, HD needs to stay ahead of the curve, some of us HD riders aren't purist

Jun 20, 2014 8:45AM
The amazing part is that people buy Harleys.  What a pos.
Jun 19, 2014 10:05PM
Please no! I have been riding Harleys for about 40 years or so. Give me the traditional sound any day.
Jun 20, 2014 8:55AM
I would buy one for running around town. If you need the roar of an engine just yell as you drive down the road. Turn the radio up...Noise is so comforting to people relaxing in their yards.. 
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