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 on 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 continue refining 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 emphasised 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 210 kilometres, 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.