Harley-Davidson CEO Talks LiveWire: Range Too Low, Cost Too High, Needs Next-Gen Battery

3 years ago by Ted Dillard 35

HD LiveWire

HD Project LiveWire

Finally, this is all starting to make sense.  With what seemed like a project designed to fail, Harley toured is still touring its concept bike LiveWire around the US and the world, ostensibly looking for feedback from its loyal fan base as well as those HD would like to become its loyal fan base – the younger market.

Read all about it in our previous review: Harley-Davidson LiveWire Review: The Jury Is In, but the bottom line is, in our humble opinions, Harley fielded an electric concept bike that fell woefully short of the performance levels of what anyone can buy “off the shelf” from Brammo and Zero.  Mediocre top speed and acceleration, and downright anemic range, coupled with styling that is just about as far from Harley Davidson standards of taste as anyone could imagine seemed to doom the concept bike to be a non-starter.  They said they were looking for feedback, but, as is common when you’re framing a question, you’re often framing the answer as well.

Matt Levatich, CEO Harley Davidson

Matt Levatich, CEO Harley Davidson

At the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council’s annual conference, via a story on the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, we got some answers that make some sense from the Harley Davidson CEO, Matt Levatich as he spoke about Harley’s green commitment, and almost parenthetically about the LiveWire strategy:

“The LiveWire will be ready for the marketplace when next-generation battery technologies are ready, and Levatich says Harley wanted to be part of that conversation.”

And, in particular:

“Battery researchers at Samsung and Johnson Controls working on advanced lithium energy storage chemistries wouldn’t have taken Harley’s views seriously if the company had not designed the LiveWire, he said.”

As far as the bike design and customer response goes:

“The cycle delivers power and nimbleness in a quiet-riding package. Its range is 50 miles, but customers are looking for 100, Levatich said. If the electric bike were mass-produced today it would sell for 50% more than customers would want to pay, he said. “Harley hasn’t said when LiveWire will go on sale. When it does, the product will be more of an urban motorcycle than the big open road bikes that take riders to the annual rally in Sturgis, S.D., he said.”

Interesting.  Not to pick nits, but suppose the Livewire ran a pack that was on par with the Zero or Brammo, with a 100 mile range.  It seems to us that the folks at Samsung and Johnson would have a bit higher bar to reach, and would have had some motivation to leapfrog the current market.  And $50,000 for a bike that’s about half what a Zero SR is today at $26,000 with the Power Tank and Quick Charge options? Seriously?  Half the bike for twice the money?  We’re not sure even Harley Davidson could pull that off.

Well, we didn’t say it made complete sense.  but it’s a start.

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35 responses to "Harley-Davidson CEO Talks LiveWire: Range Too Low, Cost Too High, Needs Next-Gen Battery"

  1. Aaron says:

    Apostrophe abuse!

    1. sven says:

      “With what seemed like a project designed to fail, Harley toured is still touring it’s concept bike LiveWire around the US and the world, ostensibly looking for feedback from it’s loyal fan base as well as those HD would like to become it’s loyal fan base – the younger market.” (Incorrect use of it’s)

      “Well, we didn’t say it made complete sense. but it’s a start.” (Correct use of it’s)

      In the first quote, it should be its, not it’s.

      it’s = it is

      its = possesive form of it (Harley’s bike = its bike)

      1. Ted Dillard says:

        busted. 🙂

        1. sven says:

          Actually, there were three incorrect “it’s” in the same sentence. You missed correcting the “it’s loyal fan base” used twice in the rest of the sentence. Feel free to delete both my comments after you make any correction, since they don’t add to the conversation.

          I loved reading your primer on electric motors and controllers this past weekend. InsideEVs should have more of these technical articles! Keep up the good work! 😀

          1. Ted Dillard says:

            I’m nothing if not consistent. (Consistently wrong, too. 🙂 )

            Thanks, glad you enjoyed them! (And correct grammar is always part of the conversation!)

  2. kdawg says:

    I wonder if they looked at an EREV Harley. Not sure if there would be room for an engine & a battery, but just a thought.

  3. John Hansen says:

    Yikes, why the hate and lopsided reporting? Yes, the $50k comment was dumb, because they were no doubt talking about the price for hand-built prototype bikes, but the Livewire has good performance, looks absolutely fantastic, rides well, and apparently has nearly flawless fit and finish.

    Bashing Harley Davidson for doing a good thing is just stupid. The author should direct some of his zealous angst at any of the myriad of other motorcycle manufacturers who haven’t even started exploring electric bikes yet. Get a grip, Ted.

    1. Mike says:

      Harley bashed themselves by being completely in the dark about their competition.

      1. John Hansen says:

        How is Harley doing in the electric motorcycle market compared to Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, etc? Can you walk into a dealership and buy an electric motorcycle from any of those companies? Have any of them even made prototypes and toured the country with them?

        If not, then how about redirecting some of your angst against the companies that are doing absolutely nothing, vs the company that is spending a good chunk of change building prototypes and getting ready for the future? Yeah, Harley isn’t a nimble start-up that is willing to risk going broke on a new product, but they’re doing more than all the rest of the established motorcycle manufacturers.

        Give credit where credit is due. Attitudes like yours and the author’s are probably why we EV enthusiasts have a reputation for being annoying entitled pricks.

        1. kdawg says:

          Honda had an electric concept RC-E in 2012. Their Mugen partner/division also does electric racing.

          Suzuki had an electric concept in 2013, the EXTRIGGER.

          Kawasaki had the ZX-1EV.

          1. John Hansen says:

            Kdawg, I didn’t ask which had made concepts. I asked “Have any of them even made prototypes and toured the country with them?”

            The answer is none of them. A concept is nothing, it’s basically a design exercise to keep designers amused. That’s a world apart from making a bunch of production quality prototypes and touring the country giving test rides.

            1. kdawg says:

              Here’s the Honda RC-E racing at Isle of Man TT

              And the Suzuki Extrigger in action

        2. Ted Dillard says:

          As far as what a few insiders have told me, the general feeling is that virtually all of the “big players” have concept electric bikes waiting in the wings. They simply need to be convinced the market is ready.

          And yes, as I’ve said in several places, several times, the one thing Harley accomplished is to put butts in seats, more than any other company, period. So good on them for that.

          Unfortunately, a lot of people got their preconceptions validated by this not-cutting-edge effort. This is from my own personal experience and supported by many, many comments and responses I’ve read. I don’t think that’s doing the market any favors, but call me “angstous”. 😮

    2. Ted Dillard says:

      Nowhere did he say that $50K price was for the handbuilt bike. The quote was, “If the electric bike were mass-produced today it would sell for about $50,000”.

      As far as my “angst”, I have none. The facts are that there are two commercially available products that far, far surpass the specs on this “concept” bike, and by the time it could reasonably reach production (at least 2015, if not 2016) there will be more. I’ve ridden both the LiveWire as well as the Zero SR and the Energica EGO, for the record, so this isn’t “keyboard smarts” talking.

      Just callin’ it as I see it, and more than happy to see some facts that contradict me. If you’re looking for blind stamps of approval for anybody making (or claiming to make) electric vehicles, you’re not going to find it from me.

      1. John Hansen says:

        Well Ted, here’s the thing. In the lead we have two start-up companies that make small numbers of bikes (that are pretty good).

        Next we have Harley, which is an established maker, who has created a very nice polished prototype, made tens (30 maybe?) of them, toured the country with them, and actually gotten butts in the seats. Notably, they got a lot of very good reactions.

        At the end, we have all the rest of the manufacturers who have gone so far as to make one-off concept bikes (many of which are static), which are about as useful as the nuclear car prototypes from the 1950s.

        It’s quite clear that getting butts in the seat is more relevant than making one-off concept bikes, right? So that puts Harley in the lead among established makers, even if a couple start-ups are out in front.

        So again I ask… why this angstful attack on the only established bike maker who is making an effort?

        1. Ted Dillard says:

          Well, John, no, here’s the thing. For every one of those butts, there’s a guy that’s thinking that everything they believed about electric motorcycles is proven by this bike. Low range. Expensive. Lame performance by gas bike standards.

          …when this is actually where electric motorcycles are at today: http://insideevs.com/energica-ego-bear-mountain-ride-review/
          That’s a 150mph, 0-60 in 3 sec, 100 mile range superbike that sells for under $50,000. I can name a half-dozen bikes that are in the same class, and have been around for 3-5 years now.

          To put it in slightly different terms. 3 years ago I built a bike in my garage that is remarkably close to the LiveWire in every aspect, and where it’s not, it surpasses it. That bike cost me about $2500 to build. I could name about 6 guys who’ve done a lot better than I.

          I’m currently planning a new build much like the Energica – a Honda CB600RR chassis with a 100kw motor, 11 kWh pack that will weigh about 450lb and cost me about $20,000 to build. Me, without so much as a welder or a Bridgeport. It will have a 150+ mph top speed, (as long as my wife doesn’t find that out), 0-60 acceleration in under 3 sec, and a range of about 100 miles. Not because I have any particular degree of talent, but because that’s simply where the technology is today.

          LiveWire, as a motorcycle, is a joke. And for all the buzz they’ve created for the EV world, they’ve just perpetuated misconceptions.

          The fact that this joke came from one of the largest and most established motorcycle companies in the world, and the drivetrain wasn’t even developed in-house but sourced to Mission Motors makes it even more lame. Don’t even get me going on the expense they’ve gone to touring this thing all over the country when they could have taken a fraction of that and built 40 truly remarkable machines. But building remarkable machines isn’t really what Harley does.


          (By the way. If you think rough sandcasting, nasty-rough machining, plastic fake “motor” covers, and trim as basic as mirrors that don’t work is “good production”, I don’t know what to say, other than you probably haven’t actually seen the bike. If you have, you don’t know what you’re looking at. Mind you, this $50,000 bike doesn’t even have an onboard charger. Also, please do us a favor and look up the meaning of the word “angst”. Do that, and I’ll promise to use apostrophes correctly.) 😮

          1. Mint says:

            Very well said.

            I see that you were holding back severely in your article, though I have to say there’s a lot more interesting material in this comment. I’d love to see you put all this in an op-ed.

            It’s almost as if the project was designed to make EV bikes look bad. Don’t be surprised if we see them put out Toyota-like anti-EV ads at some point…

            1. Ted Dillard says:

              Thanks. I’m still trying to get my head around Harley claiming they designed the sound of an AC motor with a reduction gearbox. 😀

              As I’ve said in other stories, the people who are really going to benefit from this project are those who can deliver motorcycles – not to mention better ones: Brammo and Zero.

      2. Tony says:

        Mr. Dillard,

        I really enjoyed your article and I agree that Harley is not doing any good for the EV community by putting out a vehicle that cannot match or surpass the Brammo’s or Zero vehicles.

        Have you had an opportunity to test a ZEV LRC 10? I have been riding electrics for close to 9 years and this is the bike that I would love to tryout. I just haven’t made the trip to Morgantown, WV. Looks like they have a very nice bike.

  4. David Murray says:

    Oh well. Let Zero and Brammo have the market. I will shed no tears to see old-fashioned brands die that didn’t see the shift in technology coming. Just like I shed no tears when Kodak died.

  5. Anon says:

    Oil powered clockwork must be pretty cheap to build. I suppose they’re waiting for prices to drop, so they can maintain their profit margin on each unit sold. *shrugs*

  6. Warren says:

    Harley customers are the same folks who drive big pickups, and still use filament bulbs. The new generation have smart phones and Chinese scooters. The number of people who will be riding for pleasure is shrinking.

    1. kdawg says:

      I dunno, can’t really generalize. I have a Volt, but also a cruiser-style motorcycle. I use LED light bulbs. My coworker also has a Volt, and just bought a new big cruiser bike.

      I would love an electric cruiser. One of the best parts of riding a motorcycle is being exposed and enjoying the environment. That will only be enhanced when not having to deal with a loud, smelly, vibrating engine.

    2. Brian says:

      I know several bikers, and this stereotype is old and tired.

      Harley riders tend to have a good amount of expendable income. They are interested in the open air and the open road. Some love the sound, but that’s not the complete experience. In fact, the LiveWire has an addictive sound of its own.

      I think Harley needs to worry about range. First, that means make more space for batteries. If today’s tech can only get 50 miles, tomorrow’s can only get 100. Zero will also double their range with the new batteries.

      Second, that means quick charging. The OBC should support at least 6-7kW. CHAdeMO or CCS is required (at least as an option).

      Ultimately, the LiveWire will compete with a Zero no more than a Harley Road King competes with a Honda CBR1200.

      BTW, where is BMW in this discussion? They make motorcycles as well, and seem to be all-in with EVs.

      1. Ted Dillard says:

        I AM a biker, and I find the stereotype disturbingly accurate, sadly. I’d say it’s only something I can claim for my area, but Harley Davidson, themselves, describes their client base in much the same way. In their discussions about the LiveWire project that very fact is cited as a driving force behind the effort.

        1. Warren says:

          Exactly. Like any of the regulars on here are typical Harley riders. 🙂

      2. Vinny says:

        This isn’t the perfect fix but I wonder how side cases would look on the Live Wire. Side cases could be used to hold additional battery packs or chargers. It is an easy way to find additional space to address some of the issues with range and charging. The major downside to this is the additional weight effects handling. I have a Zero SR and have 2-2500 watt chargers in side cases.The sides cases come off easily and there is no question the bike handles better without 30 pounds of chargers hung on the sides. But it also means you would only have the additional weight when you needed additional range or faster charging.

  7. offib says:

    Zero-fricken-motorcycles!

    Hell above! Are they too shy to acknowledge that they exist! It’s like Toyota not knowing that the Model S, or even the RAV4 EV are real and practical.

    1. Richard Gozinya says:

      It’s more about relevance. In the world of motorcycles, Zero is not relevant. They don’t sell enough bikes to be noticed by Harley, or even the smaller companies like MV Agusta. As far as riders go, you can, very, very easily, get a vastly superior bike for way, way less money.

      1. I am predicting Zero will slowly take over more and more of the motorcycle market as time goes on. Other manufacturers will have a hard time competing on cost. To get ahead, they would have to sell bikes at a loss for years to gain electric motorcycle market share. I’ve ridden the Zero SR and its so much better a bike than any Harley I ever rode. (More reliable too 😉 I applaud Harley’s efforts to go electric, but sort of like Toyota did with the RAV4 EV. They sourced the powertrain from Tesla. Perhaps Harley should build a good looking cruiser chassis, and source a powertrain from Zero. That would be pretty cool. 0-60 in 3 sec, 180 miles range, and price at about $25-30k. Brilliant! I hope someone at smart at Harley is reading this.

  8. Vinny says:

    Anyone else notice that the Journal Sentinel article has been corrected? It seems that the first version that was published had the comment from Levatich about how the Live Wire would cost if it were built today. That comment has since been removed.

    1. Ted Dillard says:

      Nice catch! Yes, that has been changed to “… 50% more than customers would want to pay”.

      With this addition:

      “Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the electric motorcycle would sell for about $50,000 if it were being mass-produced. Harley-Davidson has never put a potential price on its new cycle.”

  9. Paul Scott says:

    In the article, you compare the Livewire at $50K to the Zero SR with power tank at $26K. Hollywood Electrics, where I bought my 2013 Zero S, lists the 2014 SR with power tank at $19,490. http://hollywoodelectrics.com/product/2014-zero-sr/

  10. Roy LeMeur says:

    No one has mentioned the Lightning electric bike. 200hp, 218mph top speed. 100mi+ range. Now available- http://lightningmotorcycle.com

    Reviewed by Lenos Garage:

  11. Tony says:

    Has anyone on here tested out the ZEV LRC 10. http://www.zelectricvehicle.com/22.html

    This one looks like an pretty good option that nobody seems to even know about. I would love to test this bike out. Anyone up for a trip to Morgantown, WV to test her out?