Don't expect it to resemble Livewire.
By: Domenick Yoney
The streets of 2021 will be filled with the quiet, gentle hum of plug-in cars and buses ferrying people to and fro, the industrious hum interrupted only by the occasional Harley-Davidson, potato-potatoing its way amongst the pod people, like a wolf in with the sheep. Except, maybe it won't. According to a piece in the Milwaukee Business Journal, Harley exec Sean Cummings (Senior Vice President, Global Demand) says an electric model is coming within the next five years.
When we watched the sun set on the Harley Livewire project – a traveling circus introducing the concept of electric motorcycles to the brand faithful with a 40-strong fleet of bikes visiting dozens of dealerships in North America and Europe – we felt certain The Motor Company would eventually offer a similar creation to its customers. The only thing missing was a timeline. Now that we have an idea of when E-day will arrive, our minds now turn to what an electric hog will actually look like.
Although the styling of Livewire was met with strong reviews, it seems unlikely that the retail model will hold much resemblance. One of the things holding Harley from taking the electric plunge has been battery technology. Range, it said, would need to be at least double the 80 kilometres of its experimental machines. To get more range, you need to add more battery. To add more battery, the tech needs energy density improvements, of course, but beyond that, it needs space to put it.
That means the beautifully implemented, longitudinally-mounted motor in the Livewire probably has to go. Along with the bevel gear to change the direction of the work produced, it's just too big. That's a shame, but the reality of electric motorcycles is, for the foreseeable future, a large and heavy battery needs all the real estate it can claim, and should sit in the bottom of the frame. The motor, meanwhile, should be as small as possible and live out back close to, if not within, the swingarm swivel.
The challenge for the Bar and Shield brand is to somehow make this box look good, something other manufacturers in the space have struggled with. While the new bike may not need to appeal to many of its traditional customers – middle-aged (and older) guys – the design language should look forward without forgetting its significant heritage. It needs to make Harley-Davidson cool for a younger and more ethnically diverse crowd who would reject the pull of autonomous pod life for the feeling of freedom a motorcycle gives.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Harley HQ privy to what's penciled on the drawing board.