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Harley-Davidson Will Go All-Electric, Says CEO

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Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz says that the company will be going full electric at some point in the future. Zeitz says that it could take decades but it will happen.

Harley-Davidson is planning to phase out motorcycles powered by its storied internal combustion engines, and will slowly but surely transform into an all-electric brand. Harley CEO Jochen Zeitz tells Dezeen that after 120 years of being famous for its big gas-powered models, electrification is the logical next step. That is, if the company plans on sticking around for another 120 years.

Harley-Davidson’s EV transition “needs to happen,” according to its CEO, and not just on a small scale with a brand like LiveWire. No, we’re talking H-D dealers selling EVs exclusively, although it isn’t going to happen overnight.

Zeitz says it could take decades — plural — so at, the very least, we’re looking at some time after 2033, or easily into the 2040s. But the change is coming:

“If you look at the past 120 years, the company has always evolved, never stood still,” he said. “Now, like the founders did at the time by trying to reinvent or invent something unique, that’s obviously something that we as a company brand need to do as well.”
“What we’re doing is celebrating our past but also evolving the brand at the same time,” he continued. “It’s a natural evolution that needed to happen”.
This new commitment to Harley-Davidson branded EVs calls into question the company’s recent decision to spin off current EV models into its new LiveWire brand, but Zeitz went on to explain:

“We are thinking: ‘how do we evolve if you think really long term’, as this will not be an overnight transition,” he said.
“It takes decades, right? But you have to also think in decades rather than just thinking about what year and the short-termism that everyone is exposed to as a public company. We have to think about the transition, and preparing for that transition is why LiveWire was born.”
It’s possible Harley-Davidson is fully aware that its core customers have little interest in buying EVs. If that’s the case, then the move to compartmentalize, or “quarantine,” its EV efforts seems downright shrewd: it lets Harley keep selling pricy large-displacement hogs and baggers to the H-D faithful as it fills up its war chest. After all, moving to a fully-electric lineup is not going to be cheap.

Maybe that’s why Harley isn’t committing to a hard and fast timeline just yet. Still, it’s ironic that the bikes dragging old Harley down in the eyes of generations of newer riders are going to pave the way for a new Harley:

According to Zeitz, the transformation of the iconic brand means focusing on people who may not typically ride large motorcycles and even those that do not ride at all.
“I believe in big transformational change for iconic brands, which is what I’ve always done in my life,” he said.
“We are targeting different consumer profiles – you have the traditional core customer, but you have a contemporary core customer, you have dreamers that aspire to ride or may just dream about the brand,” he continued.
Perhaps for the first time in a long time, Harley-Davidson is truly thinking about the long-term. The iconic American company could stand to be a little more transparent about its EV roadmap — as other companies in the auto and moto industry have been. But what seems clear for now is that Harley is finally looking at its future rather than its past.
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Good commentary and I agree with a lot of it. Demographically a lot of the HD fans of the big twins will likely die off anyway to put it bluntly. I think that has been one of HDs issues is lower the average age of their owners and getting new, younger, blood into the stealerships.

I am likely in the age group of the typical HD owner, but maybe toward the younger (but not young) range of it and for almost all my life, there is almost nothing HD ever built that interested me as much as the LW. I was pretty much a sport bike or cafe racer aficionado and dreamed of Dunstall Norton or a Norton Commando John Player Special. All my friends were in the HD choppers and all I wanted was something quick and fast.

Closest HD got at the time was the XLCR and they sort of phoned it in to be honest. I did like their flat track bike the XR750 so I picked one of them up and made it street legal. That satisfied the quick and fast part for me.

I prefer to support local businesses so would have preferred to buy an American bike but HD kept churning out crap I wasn’t interested in. The LW was about as close as HD ever got to the bullseye for producing something I was very interested in/passionate about buying for as long as I’ve been alive. Contrast that with Ducati who has likely gotten something like 150k+ of my disposable income over the years. I just did the math and I’ve spent more on just one Honda model (Africa Twin) over the years than I have on all my HDs combined until you add in the LW. That just pushed it past my expenditures on Africa Twins (AT). Apparently I really like them and didn’t realize I’ve spent over 100k on them until posting this. Maybe there is a 12 step program to help with my addiction…

What is remarkable for me is since buying the LW, I’ve put less than 1k miles on the 2 ATs I’ve still own and I don’t think I’ve even so much read any posts on the AT forums I belong. That is what a tidal shift buying the LW has been for me. I think if a lot of motorheads actually can ride a decently designed and executed electric motorcycle, they might have the reaction I have had.

I‘ll be the first to admit that the amazing off the line torque and the attendant acceleration is a big appeal for me. At the same time the low maintenance and tuning aspects are big draws from a daily driver aspect. I’ll also to be the first to admit that the acceleration can be wickedly fast, it is also boring. My LW will crush most sport bikes 0-60 with no skill required. My Tesla will crush my LW at any speed range. At the same time they are sort of boring because the acceleration is so linear.

For me the high water mark of adrenalin inducing acceleration was when I was racing very fast 2 stroke road race bikes (RZ500 and RG500) that were highly tuned. The powerband was fairly broad given how highly tuned they were but I recall my last dyno plot the power basically tripled over about 2k RPM. It was something like 50HP to 150HP going from 8k-10k. Don’t quote me on exact numbers but it was the ride of your lift. It just pin the throttle, RPMs hit the magic number, and brap, brap, brap up through the gears. Imagine 150hp in a bike that was about 300 pounds.

When they were pulling hard on the pipes (in the right RPM range for the expansion chamber and port tuning) the acceleration was amazing. I could do roll on wheelies at 140 mph with ease. The LW would likely eat its lunch to 60 mph as it was so hard to launch from a stop but what a rush when you got going. It was the exact opposite of what most HD riders would want.

That is why I think HDs move to electric makes a lot of sense long term. Not just about the ecological aspects, but power delivery of electric motors matches up well with what you need for the big, heavy bikes HDs builds and markets. You could potentially have bigger battery packs and have decent range. Use the Tesla standard charging port and tap in the Tesla network as it works and is well maintained and you could go cross country on one these fairly easily.

I am not sure HD will get to 100% adoption of electric in my lifetime but I’ll be definitely interested to watch.
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I love a big twin as much as the next guy. Like you there hasn't been much in the Harley lineup that really spoke to me. The V-Rod did though in it's different variations like the Street Rod and V-Rod Muscle. I love the look of a muscle bike. The LiveWire really spoke to me though. Going all electric in the future likely won't happen until it is government mandated.
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