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

DEC 8 2014 BY TDILLARD 35

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

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Apostrophe abuse!

“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)

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

And the Suzuki Extrigger in action

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.

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*

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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/

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

Reviewed by Lenos Garage:

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?