I’d be slacking if I said nothing about Harley-Davidson’s Project LiveWire. So here’s something: you can’t actually buy it, which is why there’s no price and no date. It’s a marketing probe and styling exercise- a “concept bike.” Of course, automakers show concept cars all the time; we just need to remember what they are, and aren’t. This one’s at least rideable, which is how it’s in Avengers 2.
Manufacturers show concept vehicles based on their possible plans; this one’s going on tour. They’ll start in New York next week, then Boston, Philly, etc.; Canada/Europe are slated for next year. Obviously, company reps will log rider comments. Less obviously, I’d bet the interested riders themselves will be pegged, so H-D can do demographic studies. Note that the official video’s full of young people- not a gray beard to be seen.
There’s a reason Harley-Davidson is playing coy: those graybeards have kept the lights on for 111 years, and are not to be trifled with. Heck, H-D got snide remarks over the V-Rod, and that was just going to multivalve, liquid-cooled tech. And yet, The Motor Company went ahead with the V-Rod, even expanding it into a mini-lineup, and spreading liquid cooling to other models. Air cooling simply isn’t competitive in the 2010s; heck, it wasn’t competitive in the 1980s. Any graybeard who test rides a liquid-cooled competitor will come around to this realization eventually.
This is like the British motorcycle industry sticking with parallel-twin engines after the Japanese went to inline-4s. End result: dead British motorcycle companies. It is widely believed that Harley built the V-Rod to bring fresh, young blood to their balance sheets, as well as more Europeans. I had already spoken with a Harley vice president about the demographic issue before he could disclose the V-Rod; he did hint that they had something in the works.
As a styling exercise, then, this concept bike treads a fine line. It clearly displays H-D trade dress, as well as a loose H-D look and feel. Particularly if your last look was at their V-Rod. The LiveWire shares a hydroformed aluminum frame, chopped tail, and decorative “tank” with the VRSC… a bike which also got placement, in Smallville, X-Men 3, the Green Hornet movie, and music videos. Anyway, this is still an electric, and it’s still about the battery, so there’s not just a bit of Voxan Wattman in the styling. Just, a more tasteful Wattman.
About the battery. Harley-Davidson hasn’t released any significant details, nor should they, and specs are what I’m least concerned about. Again, you can’t actually buy one tomorrow, or next week, or next year. In the years it takes to go from concept bike to on-road product, the specs will not only change, but change significantly. Zero saw their engine output double in one year; while doubling is too much to ask on any regular basis, this is an emerging field and that’s what can happen.
In this case, engine output won’t, because Harley-Davidson is contracting some electric work to Mission Motors, the consulting half of that EV company. Mission is at the top of its game, and it’s hard to imagine them getting upstaged by a factor of two. Fortunately, this is where the LiveWire is doing fine: 0-60 is something like four seconds, which is as much as people need out of a bike that doesn’t come covered in plastics and stickers. A regular old Harley is already beating cars off the light.
The big question is battery tech, and here H-D is in good company. BMW‘s Ian Robertson claimed that batteries will make more progress “in the next four years than in the past 100.” In particular, we’re looking at lithium-sulfur chemistry as the next breakthrough, with other new chemistries as Plan B, C, etc. Further out, metal-air batteries have already demonstrated order-of-magnitude gains in trials. There are procedural hurdles with metal-air, sure, but procedure is a good place to be. Flow batteries are a sort of Plan B to metal-air, and have been lurking in labs for a while now. Since Harley’s not on any sort of rigid timeline for sales and shipping, they can at worst sit back and have the plans and procedures wrung out by Mission, Zero, a startup company, a research lab, or someone we haven’t even heard of yet.
It’s clear the LiveWire won’t hit the showrooms immediately, and I wouldn’t expect that from an 111-year-old corporation. Fortunately, they don’t have to. Mission and Lightning are tackling the high end of the market, and Zero and soon Yamaha the low end. Harley has some luxury of time to fill in the mushy middle- but not too much, like the British motorcycle industry sat back and found.