Transportation

Harley-Davidson should keep making e-motorcycles

Comment

Image Credits: Jake Bright

Harley-Davidson should continue to make electric motorcycles. That’s my big takeaway after taking home the company’s LiveWire for three weeks.

I’d ridden it on a closed course in 2019, but that wasn’t enough to absorb the finer qualities of the 105 horsepower machine. After nearly a month and a thousand miles on the LiveWire, I’d venture to say it could be the most innovative motorcycle Harley-Davidson has ever produced.

That doesn’t mean perfect (particularly on the pricing). But with declining sales and the aging of the baby boomers — Harley’s primary market for chrome and steel gassers — the company needed to take a fresh turn.

HD’s first EV

Harley-Davidson did that with the LiveWire, which began as a concept and developed into the manufacturer’s first production EV, released in late 2019. The voltage-powered two-wheeler is meant to complement, not replace, HD’s premium internal-combustion cruisers.

Founded in Milwaukee in 1903, Harley-Davidson opened a Silicon Valley office in 2018 with plans to add a future line-up of electric vehicles — from motorcycles to bicycles to scooters. The $29,799 LiveWire was first, though waning earnings and the COVID-19-induced recession have put HD’s electric plans in question.

Harley-Davidson is opening a Silicon Valley R&D center to power EV production

On key specs, the Livewire will do 0-60 mph in 3 seconds, top 110 mph and charge to 80% in 40 minutes on a DC Fast Charger. The motorcycle’s 15.5 kWh battery and magnet motor produce 86 ft-lbs of torque.

Image Credits: Harley-Davidson

The 548-pound LiveWire has an advertised city range of 146 miles (and 95 for combined city/highway riding).The electric Harley is also an IoT and app-compatible vehicle, with preset riding modes — that offer different combos of power, torque and regen braking — and the ability to create custom modes.

Harley-Davidson added some premium features to the LiveWire, such as key fob operation, an anti-theft control system and a heartbeat-like vibration on the motorcycle.

That’s useful to remind the rider that the LiveWire — which goes silent at a stop — is still in run mode. In motion, the bike is basically quiet, though Harley-Davidson — famous for its internal combustion rumble — created a signature electric sound generated from the vehicle’s mechanical movements. It’s a barely audible buzz that gives the motorcycle a distinct voice as an electric Harley.

The ride

As an e-motorcycle, the LiveWire is remarkably balanced for a two-wheeler that has so much mass concentrated in one place: the battery.

At over 500 pounds, it isn’t exactly heavy by Harley cruiser standards, but the LiveWire is hefty for a naked sport bike. You definitely feel that weight pushing the EV around the garage, but fortunately — with some clever frame engineering — it fades away once the LiveWire gets rolling.

When I tested the LiveWire on a track in 2019, I noted that it brought everything that was becoming the e-motorcycle experience: huge torque and lightning-like acceleration with little noise beyond the wind moving around you.

More time and riding conditions with the LiveWire led to a stronger appreciation. I took it down the Hudson River Valley into Manhattan, up to three digits on I-95, and on the twisty backroads outside of Greenwich. The LiveWire looks and performs the part of a high-performance e-motorcycle, and in many ways, offers a more exciting ride than anything piston-powered.

Image Credits: Jake Bright

The biggest rush on a LiveWire, compared to ICE peers, is the torque and acceleration. With fewer mechanical moving parts than gas bikes — and no clutch or shifting — the power delivery is stronger and more constant than internal combustion machines. You simply twist and go.

Like other high-performance e-motorcycles, the LiveWire’s regenerative braking — or the extent to which the motor recharges the battery and slows the rear wheel coming off throttle — also enhances performance. Regen braking can be adjusted manually or by riding mode on the electric HD.

It takes some skill, but the end result is the ability to fly through corners in a smoother manner than a gas motorcycle — with little to no mechanical braking — by simply rolling off and on the throttle. This is complemented by the motorcycle’s lateral handling. In turns, the LiveWire holds a line as precisely as a Tron light-cycle (at least that’s how it felt conceptually).

This all translates into a riding experience of uninterrupted forward movement, without any racket and rattling. That the motorcycle also looks great— with lines and styling that hit the marks for an EV and a Harley — adds even more.

The market

With the LiveWire debut, Harley-Davidson became the first of the big gas manufacturers to offer a street-legal e-motorcycle for sale in the U.S.

The move is something of a necessity for the company, which like most of the motorcycle industry in the U.S., has been bleeding revenue and younger buyers for years.

Tarform unveils Luna e-moto for folks who may not like motorcycles

While HD got the jump on traditional motorcycle manufacturers, such as Honda and Kawasaki, it’s definitely not alone in the two-wheeled electric space.

Harley-Davidson entered the EV arena with competition from several e-moto startups that are attempting to convert gas riders to electric and attract a younger generation to motorcycling.

One of the leaders is California startup Zero Motorcycles, with 200 dealers worldwide. Italy’s Energica is expanding distribution of its high-performance e-motos in the U.S.

And Canadian startup Damon Motors debuted its 200 mph, $24,000 Hypersport this year, which offers proprietary safety and ergonomics tech for adjustable riding positions and blind-spot detection.

Of course, it’s not evident there’s enough demand out there to buy up all these new models, particularly given the COVID-19-induced global recession.

On the LiveWire’s market success (or failure), it’s tough to assess since HD’s reporting doesn’t include LiveWire-specific sales data. One thing I (and others) have been critical of is the motorcycle’s $29,000 price. At just several thousand dollars less than a Tesla Model 3, it’s just too high — even for a premium motorcycle. But price aside, and that’s a big aside, I’d still argue the company succeeded with the LiveWire in a couple major ways. Harley-Davidson created an exciting halo motorcycle that established it as a legitimate e-motorcycle maker — in a distinctly Harley-Davidson form — while capturing public interest for its EV program.

What’s next?

For a company to reap the benefits of a successful halo launch, it needs to create a more accessible sequel. In July, Harley-Davidson’s newly appointed CEO, Jochen Zeitz, announced a five-year plan — dubbed The Rewire — to adjust to declining sales and lead the company into the future. The strategy includes a massive restructuring and holding on (or even cancelling) some previously announced programs, such Harley’s gas powered Bronx model.

On whether the LiveWire — and producing new EVs — remain in Harley-Davidson’s future, Zeitz hasn’t been specific in confirming that in recent statements or investor calls.

Image Credits: Jake Bright

After some intimate time getting to know HD’s debut electric motorcycle, and assessing the market, my vote is for the iconic American company to continue its EV program and give us more. Offer a follow-on that makes the rush and on-demand capabilities of the halo Livewire available to the mases.

I could envision the company’s next EV product release including a scooter offering — registering Harley in the urban mobility space — and a more affordable e-motorcycle with broad market appeal.

What could that look like? Something priced around $10,000, lighter and more realistic for beginner riders than the 549-pound LiveWire; cloud and app connected with at least 100 miles of range and a charge time of 30 to 40 minutes. A tracker-styled EV channeling Harley’s flat-track racers — with some off-road capability — could be a winner.

Image Credits: Jake Bright

Getting it all right on specs, style and price-point will be even more critical for HD in a COVID-19 economic environment, where spending appetites for motorcycles will be more conservative for the foreseeable future.

But continuing the commitment to production EV’s is still Harley-Davidson’s best bet to reach a younger market and remain relevant in the 21st century mobility world. HD’s Rewire should definitely include more LiveWire.

Damon Motorcycles makes acquisition, raises $3M and extends pre-orders

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

23 hours ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares