Would an electric Harley have an audience? The legendary American motorcycle maker is about to find out. Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) is launching — what else — a cross-country tour to show off its new bikes, but his time the classic roar will be replaced by the sound of electric power. Harley is testing the waters to see if zero-emissions bikes are going to be in its future before it brings any electric Harleys to production in an experiment called Project LiveWire.
If the company’s website is any indication, the interest in Project LiveWire has already hit a level of staggering proportions. The page showcasing its electric bikes was crashing June 19 from the overwhelming traffic, but beginning on June 24 bikers will be able to test the new Harleys at events around the country. There are no details on the power plant or electric range of these Harleys, but a video posted by the bike maker on YouTube offered a hint of how the engine sounds.
Mark-Hans Richer, chief marketing officer for Harley-Davidson, described the sound to Bloomberg as having “an emotional character” for riders and spectators alike. Despite the inevitable high-pitched quality of the electric motor’s sound, company officials are confident there is a big audience of riders who will find it satisfying. Electric motorcycles currently sell 1.2 million units a year, with the numbers predicted to grow only slightly over the next decade.
Why then would Harley-Davidson invest in a bike with zero tailpipe emissions? According to Bloomberg, the company sees about 40 percent of its sales in 2014 coming from foreign markets. Increases in female and minority motorcycles riders have also changed the way the bike maker does business.
The release of 500cc and 750cc bikes in the 2015 Harley line indicates the company is open to changing its focus. Harley’s new Street line features a younger, more urban and diverse crowd than one considered inclined to ride a Harley.
What electric bikes lack in growl they many make up for in power and speed. New superbikes by Lightning and Sarolea run massive power plants capable of going 0-60 mph in under 3 seconds. In the case of the Lightning LS-218, the Bonneville winner was named after its record speed of 218 mph in competition with a bike that produces 200 horsepower and 168 pounds-feet of torque.
Will this trend in electric superbikes rub off on Harley-Davidson? In many ways, Project LiveWire proves Harley is open to the idea and has bikes that are nearly production-ready. Their cross-country tour will answer a lot of questions.