Did Harley Davidson Just Change the Industry by Going Electric with Project Livewire??

Harley Davidson has long been the standard by which all motorcycles are judged, and for 108 years, they've delivered a consistent product. Their gas powered, Harley roar has become iconic, dominating the roads as the highways’ booming pugilists, swarming gangs thundering around and through the gridlocked traffic.


But earlier this year, Harley decided to tinker with their legendary bike formula by introducing a new product into the mix: electric motorcycles.

The Harley Fan Base

“There was a recognition that it was a great company, 108 years old,” says CEO Keith Wandell—the head of Harley since 2009— in an interview with Time. “A lot of great things had happened, but I think what was apparent was that we’d become stuck in time. We had become sort of resistant to change and doing things differently.”

For many long-time Harley devotees, it’s unclear if this electric transition will be welcomed, especially when it comes to the new sound. With the debut of the first electric Harley, the Livewire, riders were introduced to the new high-pitched, jetlike whine. Obviously, this is a far cry from the iconic roar.

But still, Harley marketing chief Mark-Hans Richer believes that they have a worthwhile product that riders will love. He says, “It’s different, right? It’s hard to ignore that. If it ends in the same place of, ‘Wow I really feel cool on this, and other people turn their heads when I go by and love the sound, and it makes a statement, and it’s got character and attitude,’ then that’s where it wants to be. That’s where it needs to be.”

“It can be a totally different sound as long as it delivers those same emotional characteristics.”

Project LiveWire- The First Official Electric Harley

Generating 75 horsepower and hitting a 4 second zero to 60 time, the Livewire has proven that Harley does have a good feel for what it is doing with its electric engineering formula. Some of the additional numbers, however, aren’t quite as impressive. According to reports, the Livewire only hits a top speed of 92 miles per hour and has a limited driving range of 55 miles with a re-charging time of 3.5 hours!

Confident in their product but wanting rider feedback to improve it further, Harley held an open-ride session back in late July to gauge popular opinion. The Verge sent their very own classic Harley enthusiast, Christiaan Felber, to the event to test the product. He walked away with a conflicted opinion, though.

“I want to ride it more. I want to open it up. It’s just so easy to ride. You’re not thinking about clutch. You’re not thinking about shifting. It’s so fun,” Felber said right after the test run.

A few minutes later, after some contemplation, he also added, “It’s like the difference between a record and an MP3.” Records may not be perfect, but that doesn’t make them worse. Actually, that’s part of the appeal. “The sound of it, the tone, it’s not what you think of a motorcycle.”

Regardless, it appears that this is a change that Harley Davidson is fully committed to. It’s part of their plan to broaden their fan base and prepare for the future, both important aspects for a century old company looking to avoid becoming a relic.

By: Tim Snyder
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