Joining with major car manufacturers, Harley-Davidson Inc. appears to be headed toward an all-electric lineup.
Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz this month told Deezen Magazine, an architecture and design publication, that the motorcycle company is pursuing a transition to producing all-electric lines.
Millennials Don’t Ride
Harley-Davidson motorcycles are prized for the muscular rumble of their gas-powered engines, and there’s doubt among Harley enthusiasts on the future of the brand that electric bikes will ever replace traditional hogs.
Brett Bennett, president of National League of Riders Motorcycle Club, laughed at the announcement.
“It’s the stupidest thing ever,” said Bennett, who is known as Grimlock by his riding buddies.
Grimlock said the company is going to lose a lot of customers because the quiet buzz of an electric motor won’t appeal to a lot of true Harley fans.
And at a time when the sales of motorcycles are in decline, Grimlock feels it’s the wrong move.
“They want the feel and sound of a classic Harley engine,” he said.
Zenith told Deezan the brand was looking to appeal to different consumer profiles, which could mean younger riders.
Grimlock questions that strategy.
“These millennials … they’re not getting on motorcycles,” he said. “They’re not riding. They’re too busy sitting behind their tablets, their phones and their computers being keyboard warriors. They’re not out enjoying life and writing and enjoying fresh air.”
While the electric bike is going to be a tough sell for diehard Harley fans, they have had some appeal with other types of riders.
Harley-Davidson introduced the electric brand LiveWire in 2019. Last year, that broke off into its own brand. Prior to that, High Country Harley of Cheyenne was the only dealer of electric bikes in Wyoming.
Reed Holmes, sales manager for High Country, said in November the bikes sold well when High Country was selling them, and the people who bought one spoke highly of the bikes.
Rebecca Thompson, marketing director for High Country in Frederick, Colorado, said she commutes on her LiveWire and likes taking it into the mountains around lakes.
“You don’t scare off wildlife when you’re riding,” Thompson said, adding that she likes that there’s less vibration, and it’s automatic.
“And the torque is unbelievable. I’m going to beat everyone off the line,” she said.
The electric bike isn’t totally silent when you’re rolling down the highway, she said, as there’s a lot of wind noise. But it does lack that distinctive, throaty hog sound of a gas-powered bike.
“If you want to show off to people, it doesn’t show off at the light or anything like that,” Thompson said.
Gas Up And Go
As more electric bikes come on the market, it could create separate groups of riders.
Grimlock said that the group rides he goes on have a 1000cc minimum requirement, which rules out electric bikes.
The electric bike’s range and charging times also don’t work alongside traditional hog riders. He has a 2012 Harley Street Glide, and it goes around 250 miles on six gallons of gas.
Thompson said she gets between 100 and 130 miles on a single charge, depending on if it’s freeway or city roads. At home, it takes about 12 hours to charge to full from empty, and that drops to about 45 minutes at a Level 3 charging station.
Grimlock said that when they have a big pack of riders on a group ride, it can take 30 minutes for everyone to gas up. A big group of electric bikers would wait for hours.
Zeitz said that the transition to an all-electric line won’t happen overnight; it will take “decades.”
This is much longer than car manufacturers, such as General Motors, which said its line will be all electric by 2035.
“I don’t see Harley continuing to grow or anything with that kind of extreme change,” Grimlock said.