Harley-Davidson Announces Release Date for Long-Awaited Electric Motorcycle

Flickr / Tomás Fano

The world’s most famous motorcycle manufacturer just revealed exactly when it plans to get into the electric game. Harley-Davidson revealed Tuesday during an earnings call with investors that it will look to release its first electric motorcycle sometime in the next 18 months.

Harley has talked about an electric motorcycle for years, revealing concept art for its Project LiveWire in 2014. But Tuesday’s announcement represents the most concrete step toward an electric alternative to its famously loud and raucous combustion-fueled hogs.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal, Harley CEO Mark Levatich promised an investment of between $20 million and $50 million on its new electric motorcycle in 2018 as part of a larger pivot to electric vehicle tech. He also said demand for electric motorcycles has grown from that of a mere curiosity to one that would attract the acceptance of the broader population.

“Certainly, it does a nice job of setting a different image of what a motorcycle can be and what a motorcyclist can be,” said Harley CEO Mark Levatich in the interview. Harley needs that kind of reimagining: The earnings call also revealed the company is closing a plant in Kansas City amid declining sales, with a net loss of 350 jobs.

The century-old Harley-Davidson is already one of only two American motorcycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression, and its continued existence eight decades later may hinge on its ability to adapt to the changing needs of 21st century consumers — and the needs of a 21st century planet.

“The environmental footprint is certainly a part of that,” said Levatich in describing the company’s electric strategy. “One of our five objectives is to grow our business without growing our environmental footprint, in EV but not just in EV. We had a seven percent improvement in fuel economy with our new Softails. EV certainly plays in that space.”

Although cutting emissions is a good thing, it’s worth asking just what an electric Harley would sound like, given the loud noise of the motor revving is a key part of a bike’s charm. Last May, great-grandson of company founder Bill Davidson revealed the electric motorcycle’s sound would be like that of “a jet fighter.”

Levatich stressed the company is not going all-electric, but rather that the new motorcycle will sit alongside the company’s more traditional, gas-powered models. For now, electric motorcycles remain primarily the domain of small startups like Zero Motorcycles and Juicer, which make up only a tiny fraction of a market that Harley, for all its problems, still dominates.