Harley to launch electric motorcycle within 18 months

Company also intensifying efforts to meet long-term goals

Harley-Davidson debuted Project Livewire in 2014.

Nearly four years after Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. first unveiled its Project Livewire prototype, the company says it is on track to launch an electric motorcycle within the next 18 months.

Harley-Davidson debuted Project Livewire in 2014.

Harley has been hesitant to put a timeline on when it would introduce a production electric motorcycle. At the company’s 2017 annual meeting Matt Levatich, Harley president and chief executive officer, would only say it was an active project that the company expected to come to market.

Starting in 2014 the company gave thousands of customers a chance to test ride the Livewire prototype. Levatich said Tuesday the feedback from those rides and other research gives the company confidence an electric motorcycle will be attractive to new riders and existing Harley customers.

“The EV motorcycle market is in its infancy today, but we believe premium Harley-Davidson electric motorcycles will help drive excitement and participation in the sport globally,” Levatich said. “As we expand our EV capabilities and commitment, we get even more excited about the role electric motorcycles will play in growing our business.”

John Olin, Harley chief financial officer, said the company would be increasing its investment in electric motorcycles by $25 million to $50 million annually for the next several years. The investment will go towards technology, products and infrastructure needed to be a market leader in electric vehicles. Levatich said the investment would be partially funded through savings from recently passed federal tax reform.

The announcement of a timeline for Livewire or another electric motorcycle comes on the same day Harley announced the closure of its Kansas City assembly plant with work transitioning to York, Pennsylvania.

Over the last several years Harley has seen its motorcycle revenue decline and worldwide shipments steadily decline as baby boomers age and competitors seek to make inroads against the company.

To counteract those trends, Harley launched a 10-year plan that included creating 2 million new riders in the U.S., launching 100 new models and growing international sales to 50 percent of the business.

Levatich said the company made progress on its goals last year, even as sales were down overall. He said there were 32,000 more Harley riders at the end of 2017 than there were at the end of 2016. The company also launched a revamped version of its Softail platform, calling it the largest product development project in its history, and opened 57 new international dealerships last year.

“We actually feel more strongly about our objectives,” Levatich said when asked if the company’s performance had caused executives to question their plans.

He added the company would intensify its focus on reaching its long-term goals, noting Harley is constantly reassessing how it invests in marketing. One particular area of investment has been in data on customer trends and participation. Levatich said the company has discovered there are more new entrants and more people leaving the sport than Harley previously realized.

“The flux within the industry is higher than we thought,” he said.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.