Harley-Davidson is generally a brand you either love or loathe. There’s very little crossover in customers between a rider who likes sports bikes, nakeds or adventure bike and those who would also consider purchasing a Harley Davidson. Even among cruiser fans, it’s generally a case of either you like HD or don’t. Critics of Harley-Davidson believe the brand makes bikes that are technological dinosaurs, are unreliable and overpriced. Fans of the Milwaukee manufacturer would reply that those things are neither true and come second to what their bikes represents anyway.
So when Harley-Davidson surprised the motorcycling community with Project Livewire, most people saw it as an attempt by HD to build a bridge to those critics. An electric motorcycle is completely out of HD’s comfort zone. The Project Livewire bike looks fantastic and speaking to most riders who would normally never consider buying a Harley-Davidson, this was a bike that could potentially change their mind.
Prepare to be disappointed. Harley-Davidson last week hosted the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council at the Harley-Davidson Museum. This is what Matt Levatich, President and CEO of HD had to say to those in attendance:
“Its range is 50 miles, but customers are looking for 100… If the electric bike were mass-produced today it would sell for about $50,000, about 50% more than customers would want to pay”
Just let those absurd figures sink in for a moment. Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle company with over $1 billion in cash holdings at the end of 2013 and $2.46 billion in total liquid assets (both cash and credit facilities) isn’t able to develop and electric motorcycle that comes close to matching the likes of Zero and Brammo – two tadpoles in an ocean compared to HD.
The Zero SR starts at $17,345. It has a range of 102 miles and is faster than any bike Harley-Davidson currently builds. The Brammo Empulse R has a range of 80 miles and currently costs $13,995 for the 2014 model. It also is faster than anything HD currently makes.
There is no reason that Harley-Davidson with their vast cash reserves and brand cache could not release Project Livewire next year at a cheaper cost than any existing electric motorcycle and with the range that’s required. Harley-Davidson’s economics of scale alone would slash the cost of an electric motorcycle. The figures Levatich is stating are embarrassing.
The trouble for Harley-Davidson is that they heavily rely on their brand image which translates into a price premium at the dealership. There’s nothing wrong with that because for them it works and their buyers desire that Harley-Davidson badge and what it represents. But if HD believes they can rely on that badge when it comes to tempting non HD fans across to an electric motorcycle, they might be in for a rude shock. Because if HD thinks that they can sell an electric motorcycle for over $33,000 (or $25,000 if you perhaps reinterpret what Levatich was trying to say), then Project Livewire is a doomed product.