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Harley-Davidson introduces electric motorcycle

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Harley-Davidson will unveil its first electric motorcycle next week, and President Matt Levatich said he expects the company known for its big touring bikes and iconic brand to become a leader in developing technology and standards for electric vehicles.

Harley will show handmade demonstration models Monday at an invitation-only event in New York. The company will then take several dozen riders on a 30-city tour to test drive the bikes and provide feedback. Harley will use the information it gathers to refine the bike, which might not hit the market for several more years.

The venture is a risk for Harley because there's currently almost no market for full-size electric motorcycles. The millions of two-wheeled electric vehicles sold each year are almost exclusively scooters and low-powered bikes that appeal to Chinese commuters. But one analyst said investment by a major manufacturer could help create demand, and Levatich emphasized in an interview with The Associated Press that Harley is interested in the long-term potential, regardless of immediate demand.

"We think that the trends in both EV technology and customer openness to EV products, both automotive and motorcycles, is only going to increase, and when you think about sustainability and environmental trends, we just see that being an increasing part of the lifestyle and the requirements of riders," Levatich said. "So, nobody can predict right now how big that industry will be or how significant it will be."

At the same time, Levatich and others involved in creating the sleek, futuristic LiveWire predicted it would sell based on performance, not environmental awareness. With no need to shift gears, the slim, sporty bike can go from 0 to 60 mph in about 4 seconds. The engine is silent, but the meshing of gears emits a hum like a jet airplane taking off.

"Some people may get on it thinking, `golf cart,'" lead engineer Jeff Richlen said. "And they get off thinking, `rocket ship.'"

One hurdle the company has yet to address is the limited range offered by electric motorcycles. The batteries must be recharged after about 130 miles, and that can take 30 minutes to an hour.

San Jose State University police Capt. Alan Cavallo helped his department buy two bikes from Zero Motorcycles, the current top-selling brand, and said officers have been "super happy" with the quiet, environmentally friendly bikes made nearby in Scotts Valley, California. But he said American riders who like to hit the highway would likely lose patience with the technology.

"That's the deal with the cars; you can't jump in a Tesla and drive to LA, it won't make it," Cavallo said, adding later, "People want the convenience of `I pull into a gas station, I pour some gas in my tank and I go.'"

Zero Motorcycles introduced its first full-size motorcycle in 2010 and expects to sell about 2,400 bikes this year, said Scott Harden, the company's vice president of global marketing. That would give it about half of the global market for full-size, high-powered electric motorcycles.

In comparison, Harley-Davidson alone sold more than 260,000 conventional motorcycles last year.

Outsiders focused on electric vehicle development predicted Harley would help boost sales for all electric motorcycle makers by creating greater awareness of and demand for electric bikes. Yamaha also has an electric motorcycle in development.

"It's the old `a rising tide raises all boats,'" said Gary Gauthier, business and technology adviser for NextEnergy, a Detroit-based nonprofit focused on energy development.

John Gartner, a research director for the consulting firm Navigant Research, noted the major automakers helped drive sales for hybrid and electric cars.

"Their marketing budgets are much larger and they have dealerships set up everywhere, and so it's much easier for companies like Ford, BMW and Honda to advertise about their electric vehicles," Gartner said.

Levatich said true growth will require common standards for rapid charging and other features, as well as places for people to plug in. Harley expects to play a key role in developing electric vehicle standards, and its dealership network could provide charging stations to serve all drivers, he said.

"We've been very silent up to this point about our investment in EV technology," Levatich said. "... but now that we're public, and we're in this space, we expect to be involved and a part of leading the development of the standards, and the technology and the infrastructure necessary to further the acceptance and the utility of electric vehicles."

Introducing Harley-Davidson's First Electric Motorcycle

Join the discussion

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epalmerjr June 19 2014 at 2:19 PM

Don't think it will be a big seller. To me, a Harley has a certain look and sound.

Flag Reply +29 rate up
7 replies
mahrmach June 19 2014 at 2:40 PM

More Green NONSENSE!

Flag Reply +25 rate up
4 replies
TboneCHS June 19 2014 at 4:32 PM

I wonder how many people will put baseball cards in the spokes to still have some sort of motorcycle sound.

Flag Reply +24 rate up
11 replies
gosoaring10 June 19 2014 at 3:23 PM

At last a Harley that doesn't sound like a herd of elephants farting in a waterhole.

Flag Reply +14 rate up
7 replies
rockymtnhikerCo June 19 2014 at 2:57 PM

I rode my BMW to Sturgis one year,it was very wet,on my return trip to Denver,i saw all these Harley babies,hiding under bridges while it rained,while the rest of us MEN,continued to ride.Harley riders are fairweather riding WHIMPS

Flag Reply +11 rate up
35 replies
Joseph Durbin June 19 2014 at 2:20 PM

I have always wished Harley Davidson would venture into the 2 seat sports car. A nice huge Harley engine with the Harley logo on the hood or trunk. Chromed out, Black or Fire Engine Red with a top speed of say 160MPH.

I would go in debt for it.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
15 replies
ch3n02junkie June 19 2014 at 3:25 PM

all they've done is make a buell electric. many people liked the buell and this might go over better than people believe. i'd love to get a ride on one just to see how the thing handles.
torque should be incredible, i'm betteing it would be fun!!!

Flag Reply +7 rate up
1 reply
suncity85373 ch3n02junkie June 19 2014 at 4:17 PM

25 or 30 years ago i had a rotary (mazda) powered 1959? Austin Healey Sprite... autocrosser, OMG fast,
Ended up selling to it Eric Buell, his wife took it for a test drive, and came back with a huge smile on her face. I had no idea who the guy was, I asked him what he did, the told me he "was with Harley Davidson Racing",, I thought cool!
They were the nicest people, he said the car was just different, and he wanted it.
I often wonder where that thing is today.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
2 replies
9RRs suncity85373 June 19 2014 at 11:47 PM

Look into find it.. Awesome story! to be continued as you would say. Good luck

Flag 0 rate up
Bob suncity85373 June 20 2014 at 8:19 AM

That almost mirrors my fantasy as a early '60's college student. I dreamt of combining a bug-eye Sprite with a Williams Research gas turbine, touted as 75 HP in 50 lb. But the cost of tuition stymied my fantasy.

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Bill June 19 2014 at 2:27 PM

I have owned Harleys all my adult life and there is no way this elect bike will make it in the market place. hope it does not drag down Harley's Co. and profits.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
6 replies
lichwala June 19 2014 at 3:03 PM

There making it like cars computerized. No shade tree mechanics on that biatch. Don't buy it unless you want to pay a mechanic hundred bucks an hour to touch it.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
3 replies
saultydog42 June 20 2014 at 12:58 AM

Harley could take a mo ped and put their name on it and the ignorant people would buy it.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
rothhammer1 saultydog42 June 20 2014 at 1:33 AM

They made golf carts in the 60's and through the AMF period.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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