Dear Harley-Davidson, it’s us again.
One year later, and the road ahead looks rough for LiveWire…
It’s us again. We’re that generation of riders that you got genuinely excited about Project LiveWire when you announced it a year ago. In fact, today marks exactly one year since you detailed your ambitious plan to create an innovative electric motorcycle to help take the motor company boldly into the future.
LiveWire was so exciting that one of us wrote you an open letter in support of the concept, congratulating you on having the courage and ingenuity to look forward with the latest technology, cautioning you against letting an aging customer base drag you into complacency, and encouraging you to bring LiveWire to market quickly in a way that’s competitive with other electric motorcycles in range and in price.
Had our hopes been realized, this letter would be congratulating you in anticipation of LiveWire’s immentent launch as a 2016 model. Instead, we’re writing to share our disappointment in how you’ve handled the program, and our likely plans to buy yet another of your competitors’ motorcycles.
LiveWire was fun!
When you announced LiveWire on June 19, 2014, many of us welcomed the idea. Some of us love the H-D brand and products but don’t (or no longer) desire to own a heavy, big-twin cruising or touring motorcycle. We appreciate the legend you’ve built since 1903, becoming part of American culture, and we want you to succeed for generations to come. We like your motorcycles for what they are, but we want something truly modern and groundbreaking.
LiveWire represented the opportunity for a new generation of riders to engage with you, with the Harley Davidson brand, and with the community of riders around it. We cheered you on as you touted your reborn “Freedom and ingenuity” in your teaser video:
We were intrigued enough that we showed up at the LiveWire Experience Tour stops for a test ride and an opportunity to provide feedback. Just outside Seattle, Washington we organized a tech-centric Microsoft Day on LiveWire, bringing tech employees from around the Pacific Northwest — Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and others — together to experience LiveWire firsthand at Eastside Harley-Davidson.
It was a fantastic event, with hundreds of people test-riding throughout the weekend.
Reactions were unanimously positive: riders loved the handling, the café-racer-esque looks, the instant torque, and the surprisingly polished build quality of the prototypes.
Along with favorable impressions of LiveWire, people expressed astonishment that this was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This was especially true of younger, early-adopter riders, both men and women. Where they historically expected a loud, heavy tractor of a motorcycle… they were amazed to be on a quick, agile, fun bike with the bar and shield logo on it!
Most importantly, many ridres wanted to own one.
As the buzz spread, local media showed up. A Seattle Times reporter arrived and interviewed riders on their impressions of LiveWire, eventually getting a front-page opener for the story. You can read staff reporter Brier Dudley’s piece, “Harley LiveWire prototypes whir into Microsoft country,” here.
I shared my own feedback in a video from the event. It was mostly praise, which I hope reached the corporate ears in Milwaukee. The very end was equally important.
That closing quote was,
“This is not the beginning of a two- or three-year development cycle. You’ve announced a tech product that’s potentially going to change the motorcycle industry. You have six to twelve months to get it into people’s garages or Harley is going to be viewed as a tease. If you go beyond twelve months, people will have forgotten the entire LiveWire project, and your competition will be a generation or two ahead of you.”
That’s where we left things back in August, 2014. As the LiveWire Experience Tour continued throughout the United States and abroad, we looked forward a day in the not-so-distant future when we could own a LiveWire of our own.
I was personally so excited about an electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle and its potential benefits to H-D’s future that I wrote a check to my local dealer to secure the first unit off the production line. Without a date or a price, I was committed with a deposit, confident that the June 2014 announcement and the surprising degree of quality and finish on the prototypes hinted at a 2016 delivery timeframe. You got an unspoken extra six months thanks to the industry calendar of new model year announcements and availability.
Innovating is hard.
Creating an entirely new product is hard unto itself. Leveraging the latest technology in a brand new product makes things even more difficult, and Harley surely feels that with LiveWire.
Range and cost undoubtedly battle each other for places in LiveWire’s final specification. New drivetrain management software, charging technology, and a service and repair pipeline must all be created or adapted to electric vehicles.
But none of this is news to anyone that sets out to build an EV today. Elon Musk faced it with Telsa, and both Zero Motorcycles and Polaris have had to deal with these issues. Polaris is an interesting case, having purchased the electric motorcycle business from Brammo, leaving Brammo to focus on EV powertrain development.
In just this short year, one of Harley Davidson’s few domestic motorcycle competitors — Indian Motorcycles and Victory Motorcycles— being owned by Polaris, are now geared to compete directly with you on the electric bike front, armed with some of the best range and performance technology in the industry courtesy of the Brammo acquisition. Rumors suggest Polaris will release an electric motorcycle later in 2015 or 2016.
International competition is also heating up. Italy’s Energica is diversifying its product line and beginning a demo tour here in the USA. The Isle of Man TT is now populated with electric race bikes, exposing a much broader audience to tomorrow’s targets of performance lust and they scream past fans with over 130 m.p.h. average lap times. Victory Motorcycles is leading the way at IOMTT.
You need to be moving faster, not slower, Harley.
The timing was perfect.
You created a perfect storm of demand when you announced Project LiveWire in 2014, ran the LiveWire Experience Tour into 2015, and then had LiveWire featured in a blockbuster film in the spring of ‘15.
With Scarlett Johansson dropping out of jets onto busy city streets aboard an H-D LiveWire to fight crime as a superhero, you’ve delivered the vision for what much of America will buy: great looks, impossible performance, and availablity — at least to an Avenger.
The theatrical release of Avengers: Age of Ultron was in May of 2015. This left you a few months before the traditional model-year announcment in the September timeframe.
An announcment. A tour. A blockbuster movie appearance. It’s all there, Harley-Davidson. All of the demand-generation you could possible hope for with a new line of product, especially a line of motorcycles.
You should be getting ready to announce availability with the 2016 model year. If you aren’t, then you’re failing to run the LiveWire development program properly. And many of us are going to be disappointed.
What’s louder than an H-D Big Twin?
What’s louder than an H-D “big twin” with a gutted exhaust? The sound of everyone who was holding their breath for a production LiveWire exhaling all at once.
That’s exactly what happened when Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich recently told the Wall Street Journal that LiveWire is “unlikely to hit the market for at least two or three years,” and that you “would await improvements in battery technology so the LiveWire can have the performance [he believes] buyers expect,” last month.
That was followed up by a supposed realization that buyers expect about 100 miles of range, and would pay up to about $20,000 for an electric Harley-Davidson.
What’s shocking is that any of this is news to H-D. One hundred miles of ranges and a $20K price tag have been seen as constraints since the first LiveWire video was teased, over a year ago. Worse, there are competitive products on the market that meet these specs: Brammo’s Empulse R got about 100 miles and listed at $19,995. They touted it as the first production motorcycle to do “100 and 100,” in reference to its 100+ mile range, and top speed of over 100 miles per hour.
Yet two years after the Empulse R was introduced, Harley-Davidson is complaining to the press that it’s another two or three years before they can hit those specifications, despite their vast resources? It points less to the state-of-the-art in e-bike technology, as Levatich suggests, and more to an overweight corporate giant struggling to innovate where it hasn’t innovated significantly in many years.
Managing expectations around LiveWire is as important as the motorcycle development itself. It’s entirely inappropriate for a CEO to be conversationally dropping disappointing news to the press almost as if in passing. Once LiveWire was announced, regular updates on new developments would help keep the community excited, as long as the updates were accurate. Levatich’s “news” spread quickly, with TIME Magazine headlining, “Harley’s Most Innovative Bike in Years Isn’t Coming Out Soon.”
While the CEO is dropping bombs to the press, the rest of H-D’s public relations and marketing machine keeps touting LiveWire as if everything were fine:
Time for a re-think.
Harley, you need to re-think your strategy for LiveWire, and make a concrete decision.
Either LiveWire is part of your immediate future, a technology-infused exciting new way for modern buying audiences to become part of the Harley-Davidson family, or it’s years out and still uncertain in its target specs.
If it’s the former, then you must understand that excited consumers want real information about exactly when it’ll become available, how much it’ll cost, and how far it’ll go.
If it’s the latter, then you need to cut bait on your hype machine right now. With Levatich’s comments, you’ve reached the point of pissing off the very generation that you hope to attract.
I haven’t lost hope. I’ll keep my deposit money in until the 2016 models are announced with the slim hope that your CEO is either framing a huge surprise for the industry, or that you magically get your “innovation program” to a point where it can compete with bikes that were on the market two years ago.
We’re incredibly excited about electric motorcycles. We’d be proud to have the Harley-Davidson brand on the first one that we buy. You’re an American icon, and we loved what we heard in your video…
“We share the same promise of freedom, and the same desire to expand it. That’s the inspiration behind Project LiveWire, Harley-Davidson’s first electric motorcycle.”
…but we want you to create and deliver LiveWire in a way that shows you get the new culture of motorcycle buyers.
We know, we know: you didn’t commit to a delivery timeframe and refused to talk about price or range. The carefully constructed PR messaging that LiveWire is just a prototype and that there are no production plans yet were heard by all. We have no right to expect anything, do we? Yes, we do! You dangled a product in front of us, hype it in movies, and pepper your Facebook and Twitter feeds with rehashed LiveWire messages.
Nobody wants you to deliver a poorly-thought or poor-quality motorcycle too soon. Build it well, and build it right.
But please, get it built and stop teasing us.
Redmond, Washington — U.S.A.