An Electric Harley Loses the Growl but Still Aims to Turn Heads
Quiet. Sleek. Unintimidating. The LiveWire is the antithesis of everything Harley-Davidson has ever stood for. And yet, it is undeniably a Harley.
The LiveWire, the first production electric vehicle from Harley, is looking to redefine an industry that has grown complacent in the face of declining sales.
The country’s oldest (116 years) and best-known motorcycle maker, Harley wants “to lead in the electrification of this sport” just as it led with traditional, gas-powered motorcycles more than a century ago, said Matt Levatich, the chief executive.
“We are as a company shifting our mind-set from where our first thought in the morning was ‘We build great motorcycles’ to our first thought having to be ‘We build riders,’” he said.
Arriving at dealers in September, the LiveWire is targeting a new audience for Harley — one that is young, affluent and urban, and eager to adopt new technology. And it’s hoping to do it with a bike that looks and feels as progressive as the company’s new mode of thinking.
Harley, like most other motorcycle companies, is trying to reverse a steep sales decline. It sold 132,868 bikes in the United States last year — down 10 percent from 2017 and 18 percent from 2016. It’s an industry problem. Domestic sales peaked at 1.1 million in 2006 but struggle to reach 500,000 annually now.
“The millennials are getting in too slow, and the baby boomers are leaving too fast,” said Ron Bartels, general manager of Bartels’ Harley-Davidson in Marina del Rey, Calif. “We need a new kind of customer.”
Bartels’ is among the 150 American dealerships, out of Harley-Davidson’s 650, that will carry the LiveWire this year. A hundred dealers in Europe will also sell the bike. All of them must install a DC fast charger and train staff to service electric motorcycles. Mr. Bartels said his shop had presold seven of the eight LiveWires (retail price: $29,799) it would receive this year.
The industry is banking on electrics.
“For so long, we thought of motorcycles as being these raw, fire-breathing vehicles,” said Harlan Flagg, founder of Hollywood Electrics in Los Angeles. “Motorcyclists have done themselves a huge disservice by scaring people away with these ridiculously loud bikes that are obnoxious.”
Their electric cousins are easier to ride than the gas-powered monsters. They have no clutch or gearshift, so riders do not need to coordinate all their extremities to operate the controls. They just twist the grip and go. There’s no hot exhaust pipe to burn a leg. And they project a friendlier, more eco-conscious image. They’re whisper-quiet.
There are hopeful signs for the industry.
While sales are flagging, motorcycle ridership is at an all-time high, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council in Irvine, Calif. Almost 29 million riders swung a leg over a bike at least once in 2018. What’s getting the industry in trouble is that the pre-owned market is three times the size of the market for new bikes, the group says.
Electrics could change that. Almost 70 percent of millennial riders in the council’s survey of owners said they were interested in electric motorcycles. But so far, no Tesla of bikes has emerged.
Zero Motorcycles, based in Scotts Valley, Calif., entered the market in 2008. Hollywood Electrics is its No. 1 dealer globally. Still, the shop has sold just 500 of its bikes over the last decade.
For companies like Zero, which have seen Brammo, Alta Motors and other electric motorcycle start-ups come and go, Harley-Davidson’s entrance into the category provides legitimacy.
“I hope Harley’s serious,” said Sam Paschel, chief executive of Zero Motorcycles.
Mr. Paschel said he was worried that Harley would jump into the market, “stumble and go back to the combustion engine business model they’ve been running.”
Zero is starting to get traction. It has set sales records monthly since 2018, Mr. Paschel said, and is doubling its production staff to keep up with demand.
Zero’s high-tech SR/F model is feeding that growth. Introduced in March, it offers much of the same performance as Harley’s LiveWire, including cornering, anti-lock brakes, traction control and a top speed well over 100 miles an hour. But it has a lower price tag — $18,995.
Other mainstream manufacturers, including Honda, Yamaha and BMW, have shown electric concept motorcycles, but none are in production.
Electric motorcycles face many of the same market hurdles as electric cars. Buyers must deal with limited range, a lack of charging infrastructure and high prices. There are other deterrents. Most people don’t use motorcycles for primary transportation. Moreover, the young consumers the industry needs are frequently too saddled with student loan debt to afford them.
That’s why analysts are watching Harley-Davidson’s electrification strategy carefully.
“We remain somewhat skeptical,” James Hardiman, a Wedbush Securities analyst, said in a note to investors last month, citing the company’s declining sales. At best, Harley will sell 400 to 1,600 LiveWires in the first year, Mr. Hardiman said. That would add less than a percentage point to the company’s annual sales of 228,000 bikes globally.
The LiveWire is a radical departure for the Milwaukee-based Harley, a brand synonymous with large, expensive, gas-powered, cruiser-style motorcycles that both fans and detractors refer to as “hogs.”
Until a decade ago, it claimed about 50 percent of the United States market. And it dominated motorcycle culture, thanks to hit television shows like “Sons of Anarchy.”
But the market has shifted, and the company gave a small team of engineers seed money to develop a “no-excuses electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle,” Mr. Levatich said.
It wasn’t long before Harley was giving potential customers test rides of the unbranded bike in Tokyo, London and San Francisco and asking, “What would you think if the brand was Harley-Davidson?”
There was enough positive reaction for the company to build 33 prototypes for a wider test ride program that reached over 30,000 people worldwide.
The LiveWire’s lack of noise is the most noticeable difference from a typical Harley, and the most surprising for a company that filed a sound trademark application in 1994 for its V-twin engine. The LiveWire replaces that engine with a black battery pack stacked atop a silver motor, elevating both to art pieces showcased with the bike’s trellis frame.
When I was riding the bike around Portland, Ore., for a day, it was a relief to be on a Harley and also be able to hear. If a gas-powered Harley growls, the LiveWire purrs its approval with instant torque that accelerates the bike from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in a mere three seconds on its way to a top speed of 110 m.p.h.
And when it’s idle, it lets you know the throttle is still live with a throbbing, yet subtle, heartbeat pulsing the seat.
Per charge, the LiveWire can travel 146 miles in the city, or 95 miles in combined city and highway riding. Those distances are helped by regenerative braking that captures the momentum of the bike when the throttle is released and feeds the energy back to the battery to extend the bike’s range.
Recharging can be done at two speeds. A regular wall outlet using a cord stowed under the seat can provide an overnight charge. Speedier results are possible with a DC fast charger, which takes it from empty to 80 percent in 40 minutes.
The LiveWire comes with an app called HD Connect that pairs with riders’ smartphones and can direct them to charging stations or alert them if someone is tampering with their wheels.
As a whole, the LiveWire offers a surprising level of innovation for a company that for so many years succeeded with updates of its classic machines.
Harley says it will bring two to four more electric bikes to market by 2022. Already, it has invested in the pint-size electric motorcycle maker Stacyc and floated two additional electric concepts, including an off-road motorcycle and a mountain bike. They all would push the company into new market categories in an effort to attract not only new motorcycle riders but two-wheeled electric riders of all kinds.
“Our sport is about the ride, and we need to inspire and light a fire under people to continue to enjoy what we enjoy and for more people to give us a look,” Mr. Levatich said. “This technology is intended to do that.”
Pilot 3-in-1 X04 Helmet
Recommended 91 octane (95 RON) or higher fuel (R+M)/2.
Values shown are nominal. Performance may vary by country and region.
Standard and optional fuel systems may vary by country.
See motorcycle owner’s manual for complete details.
Estimated from fuel economy tests on a sample motorcycle from the corresponding family conducted by Harley-Davidson under ideal laboratory conditions. Not all motorcycle models undergo fuel economy testing. Fuel economy and mileage may vary among motorcycle models within a family. Your mileage may vary depending on your personal riding habits, weather conditions, trip length, vehicle condition and vehicle configuration and other conditions. Break-in mileage may vary.
Prices listed are the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices for base models. Options such as color are available at additional cost. Prices exclude tax, title, licensing, registration fees, destination charges, surcharges (attributable to raw materials costs in the product supply chain), added accessories, and additional dealer charges, if any, and are subject to change. Harley-Davidson reimburses dealers for performing manufacturer-specified pre-delivery inspection and setup tasks. Dealer prices may vary.
Measurement reflects 180 lb. (81.7 kg) operator weight.
North America security system includes immobilizer; outside North America the security system includes immobilizer and siren.
Standard and optional wheels may vary by country and region.
Financing Offer available only on new Harley‑Davidson® motorcycles financed through Eaglemark Savings Bank (ESB) and is subject to credit approval. Not all applicants will qualify. 3.49% APR offer is available on new Harley‑Davidson® motorcycles to high credit tier customers at ESB and only for up to a 60 month term. The APR may vary based on the applicant’s past credit performance and the term of the loan. For example, a 2021 Road Glide® Limited motorcycle in Vivid Black with an MSRP of $28,299, no down payment and amount financed of $28,299, 60 month repayment term, and 3.49% APR results in monthly payments of $514.68. In this example, customer is responsible for applicable taxes, title, licensing fees and any other fees or charges at the time of sale. APR is calculated according to the simple interest method. Not valid in conjunction with other offers. Other terms, conditions, and limitations may apply. Dealer participation may vary. Financing offer is subject to change or cancellation at any time. See your Harley‑Davidson® Dealership for details.
Financing Offer available for Used Harley‑Davidson® motorcycles financed through Eaglemark Savings Bank (ESB) and is subject to credit approval. Not all applicants will qualify. 4.49% APR offer is available on Used Harley‑Davidson® motorcycles to high credit tier customers at ESB and only for up to a 60 month term. The APR may vary based on the applicant’s past credit performance and the term of the loan. For example, a 2015 Softail® Deluxe model in Vivid Black with a sale price of $17,845, no down payment and amount financed of $17,845, 60 month repayment term, and 4.49% APR results in monthly payments of $332.60 In this example, customer is responsible for applicable taxes, title, licensing fees and any other fees or charges at the time of sale. APR is calculated according to the simple interest method. Not valid in conjunction with other offers. Other terms, conditions, and limitations may apply. Dealer participation may vary. Financing offer is subject to change or cancellation at any time. See your Harley‑Davidson® Dealership for details.
1. The customer (“Purchaser”) must purchase a new or used model year 2013 or newer Harley-Davidson Sportster motorcycle available and in stock a participating U.S. H-D dealer ("Eligible Motorcycle") between February 1, 2019 and August 31, 2019 ("Sales Period").
2. Purchaser who purchases an Eligible Motorcycle during the Sales Period has the option to trade-in the Eligible Motorcycle at its original purchase price towards the purchase of a new, unregistered, model year 2017, 2018, 2019 or 2020 Harley-Davidson Touring, Trike, Softail, Dyna, Sportster, Street or Special 3. Edition/Shrine Big Twin motorcycle (“Eligible Trade-Up Motorcycle”). Offer is limited to one claim per eligible VIN. Excludes Police Models.
The trade-in must occur no later than August 31, 2020 (“Trade-Up Period”).
4. Customers must redeem the offer at the same H-D dealership where the Eligible Motorcycle purchase originated. Certain exceptions apply for customers who move during the Trade-Up period. See participating H-D dealer for details.
5. The owner must have the original bill of sale and title in the original owner’s name as valid proof of purchase of the qualifying new motorcycle at time of trade-in to qualify for this offer.
6. Original purchase price does not include taxes, title, registration, license fees, state fees, parts and accessories, dealer set-up/prep/freight charges, ancillary products (e.g., Extended Service Plans, GAP, wheel and tire coverage, etc…) and other dealer add-ons, regardless of the amount actually paid.
7. The offer only applies to Eligible Motorcycles submitted for trade-in on a new, unregistered Eligible Trade-Up Motorcycle of greater value and not the same model. Offer is limited to one claim per eligible VIN. Offer is limited to one claim per customer.
8. The Purchaser is responsible for the difference between the trade-in value of the Eligible Motorcycle and the purchase price of the Eligible Trade-Up Motorcycle.
9. Trade-in must be a vehicle in good condition and good working order. Tires, suspension, engine, and transmission must all be within factory specifications and are subject to inspection by the participating H-D dealer. Vehicle exterior cannot reflect neglect or abuse. The participating H-D dealer will make the sole determination regarding whether the trade-in is in good working condition and good working order.
10. The purchaser is responsible for all costs of operating and maintaining the Eligible Motorcycle prior to trade-in.
11. This offer may not be combined with any other promotions, offers or discounts without the express permission of Harley-Davidson. However, qualified customers can use Harley-Davidson Financial Services special financing promotions in conjunction with the Freedom Promise. The Freedom Promise trade-in benefit will not be considered as part of the rider’s down payment.
12. This offer is not transferable except to the original owner’s spouse or to the original owner’s legally recognized domestic partner, provided such person lives in the same household and has the same permanent address as the original owner. The H-D dealer may require documentation to substantiate this relationship before extending the offer to the spouse or domestic partner.
13. Eligible Trade-Up Motorcycles must be taken from dealer stock and are not available on future motorcycle orders, deliveries or deposits outside the Trade-Up Period. Certain models of motorcycles may not be available at some participating dealers.
14. Valid only at participating U.S. H-D dealerships. Offer not valid in Hawaii. Non-transferrable. Cannot be redeemed for cash or cash equivalent. Offer not valid on motorcycles purchased and/or delivered outside the Sales Period or outside the U.S. Harley-Davidson and/or H-D dealer are not responsible for lost or stolen proof of purchase documentation. Offer is subject to change without notice. Void where prohibited.
Financing Offer available only on Used Harley‑Davidson Street® motorcycles financed through Eaglemark Savings Bank (ESB) and is subject to credit approval. Not all applicants will qualify. 5.49% APR offer is available only to high credit tier customers at ESB and only for up to a 72 month term. The APR may vary based on the applicant’s past credit performance and the term of the loan. For example, a 2015 Street™ XG500 motorcycle model in Vivid Black with a sale price of $6,799, no down payment and amount financed of $6,799, 72 month repayment term, and 5.49% APR results in monthly payments of $111.05. In this example, customer is responsible for applicable taxes, title, licensing fees and any other fees or charges at the time of sale. APR is calculated according to the simple interest method. Not valid in conjunction with other offers. Other terms, conditions, and limitations may apply. Dealer participation may vary. Financing offer is subject to change or cancellation at any time. See your Harley‑Davidson® Dealership for details.
Financing Offer available only on new Harley‑Davidson® motorcycles financed through Eaglemark Savings Bank (ESB) and is subject to credit approval. Not all applicants will qualify. 2.99% APR offer is available on new Harley‑Davidson®
A Katy Perry Song Drops a Gift in Harley-Davidson’s Lap
“Harleys in Hawaii” has been streamed and viewed millions of times, by a demographic the motorcycle maker has had a hard time reaching.
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Katy Perry went for a joy ride in Hawaii and came back with a song that should have Harley-Davidson dancing.
Last month, Ms. Perry released “Harleys in Hawaii,” a song inspired by a tropical idyll with her fiancé, the actor Orlando Bloom. Within two weeks, it had been streamed 20 million times on Spotify, and the accompanying music video — which features the pop star as both a rider and a passenger on Harley bikes — had been watched over 12 million times.
Many brands now spend as much on product placement with social media influencers as they do on advertising. Ms. Perry is a heavyweight on social media, with over 100 million followers on Twitter and 80 million on Instagram. But all Harley-Davidson did in exchange for the enormous exposure to her fan base was provide motorcycles for the video.
While Ms. Perry may not strike you as a typical Harley customer — spoiler alert: she’s not — the company has long acknowledged that it must replace its aging male customer base; younger riders in general, and women in particular, are a major marketing focus. Harley had been banking on a new electric bike, the LiveWire, but it was recently forced to halt production to address a charging issue.
Ms. Perry described the song’s genesis to Zach Sang, a Los Angeles streaming radio host and podcaster.
“We rented a Harley because we were just there for a few days,” she said. “I can remember specifically where I was, the street corner I was at in Oahu, and turning that corner and whispering to Orlando I’m going to write a song called ‘Harleys in Hawaii.’”
She didn’t just write the song. She hired a coach to teach her how to ride a motorcycle for the music video.
Harley-Davidson didn’t know anything about Ms. Perry’s newfound motorcycle affinity until after the song had been recorded.
“We found out in the last week of June through her record label, and the video was shot in early July,” said Jenny Lowney, who manages the company’s product placements in film and television and with social media influencers.
The combined effect of Ms. Perry’s music video, a making-of video and several other short videos shot in the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee — not to mention a cascade of posts on her Instagram and Twitter accounts — amounts to an incredible social media influencer campaign that the beleaguered motorcycle maker got virtually free.
“We worked with our local dealer on Kauai to get bikes for the music video, and that’s really all we provided,” Ms. Lowney said. (Harley-Davidson also paid what it describes as a “nominal fee” to Universal Music Group for digital assets — photos and video clips — for use in its own social media channels.)
Sales have been sliding for Harley. Last year, for the second straight year, motorcycle sales in the United States were down 10 percent from the year before, and through the first nine months of 2019, domestic sales were off more than 5 percent from the same period of 2018.
At this point, it’s still impossible to say what the exposure to countless 13- to 21-year-old women will be worth to the 116-year-old motorcycle maker. But we gave it a shot, speaking with the leaders of three top agencies specializing in influencer marketing.
“They’re extremely lucky,” said Mae Karwowski, the founder and chief executive of Obviously. “The sheer amount of content that she’s created around Harley, with a clear positioning that this is a new feminist symbol — we talk a lot about authenticity in influencer marketing, and it’s really clear that she’s passionate about this.”
Ms. Karwowski’s math was stunning. “If you just look at how much Katy would make for paid placements on her social channels,” she said, “I think it would be upwards of $40 million, and that doesn’t even factor in the value of all the streams on Spotify, or the 11,000 fan posts tagged #HarleysinHawaii.”
She added, “I would have a girl squad of brand ambassadors who would teach other women to ride and really grab on the coattails of this.”
Mike Craddock, the chief of Kairos Media, was more conservative. “The product integration is worth in the low seven figures in our opinion across the board,” he wrote in an email.
While “it’s a terrific play and generating huge traction for Harley, people’s attention spans are incredibly short,” Mr. Craddock added. “For brands to make a difference across time, influencers need to produce authentic content regularly, and become ambassadors for specific products.”
Joe Gagliese, a co-founder of Viral Nation, which describes itself as a “global influencer marketing agency,” provided the lowest estimate of all, at “a million plus.”
The wide range of estimates illustrates the degree to which this branch of marketing remains an inexact science. But all three experts agreed that the motorcycle company should leverage the exposure to build long-term brand awareness among Ms. Perry’s fans.
Even at the low end, “Harleys in Hawaii” was a gift to Harley’s marketing team in Milwaukee.
“We work to find product placement opportunities and to create opportunities to insert our brand in these cultural moments,” said Paul James, the company’s public relations boss. “But sometimes an artist just decides, ‘It’s got to be a Harley,’ and they come to us.”
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