The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

June 22, 2014

Harley-Davidson to launch electric motorcycle prototype

A prototype for what could become the first Harley-Davidson electric motorcycle is being launched next week for Harley enthusiasts to test ride and give the company their feedback.

It’s a process that will take months, or even years, and there’s no guarantee Harley-Davidson will ever build an electric bike for mass production. Still, Project Live Wire is a big step forward for the company and the motorcycle industry that, for the most part, has been tied to the internal combustion engine for more than a century.

While the bikes that will be introduced next week, starting in New York and Milwaukee, are not for sale, they will log thousands of hours of road time in demo rides across the country and overseas.

“Customers will tell us what they think it will take to make a great electric motorcycle. I am sure we will discover things that we cannot anticipate right now,” said Mark-Hans Richer, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the world’s largest manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles.

“It’s an opportunity to learn, and we will see where it goes,” Richer added.

Harley hasn’t revealed the technical specifications of the prototype bikes, but for sure they won’t have the syncopated “potato, potato, potato” rumble that resonates from the company’s V-Twin engines.

For the electric motor sound, “Think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier. Project Live Wire’s unique sound was designed to differentiate it from internal combustion and other electric motorcycles on the market,” Richer said.

“When it comes to emotion evoked from sound, it can be distinctive, cool and fun. And we think we got that in the Live Wire,” he added.

The demo motorcycles will be at the June 26 “Bike Night” at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. Not everyone will get to ride them, and individual rides at any of the demo locations will probably be limited to less than 10 minutes.

“It’s going to be a challenge because we believe there will be more people wanting to ride than we will be able to process in a particular day,” Richer said.

A 2014 U.S. tour, kicking off with a journey down Route 66, will include stops at more than 30 Harley dealerships now through the end of the year. In 2015, the tour will continue in the U.S. and expand into Canada and Europe.

Richer says it’s impossible to say when the company would decide whether to move forward with an electric motorcycle in its lineup.

Electric motorcycles currently available can’t travel long distances between battery charges, which could be an issue for Harley riders who enjoy touring.

“If we get a lot of feedback from customers who said the only way they would like one of these bikes is if they could ride to Sturgis (S.D.) on a single charge, that would be a little hard to pull off,” Richer said.

Harley will interview thousands of people who test ride the bikes, using a standard set of questions to gather rider feedback.

“The beauty of this is it’s something we have never done before, and the challenge of this is it’s something we have never done before,” Richer said.

The Project Live Wire bike was designed at the Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center, a steel-and-glass building in Wauwatosa, Wis., that has motorized window shades to keep prying eyes from getting a glimpse of bikes before they’re released to the public.

Some projects there are completed in as few as 12 months, while designing an all-new motorcycle model could take three years. Under CEO Keith Wandell’s leadership, the company has greatly reduced the time it takes to get a new bike from the drawing board to the marketplace.

“This was sort of a ’skunk works’ initiative done entirely in the basement of the product development center. I wouldn’t call it formal development at all,” Richer said.

Some electric bikes, such as sport bikes from a manufacturer named Zero Motorcycles, are fast and have strong acceleration.

Harley hasn’t yet revealed details about the performance of its bike but says it will be impressive.

The market for electric motorcycles, especially in the U.S., is small but could easily grow if manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson, Honda and others come out with attractive, powerful yet affordable bikes.

“It’s just going to add credibility to what we have been doing,” said Scot Harden, vice president of global marketing for Zero Motorcycles, based in Scotts Valley, Calif.

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