Harley-Davidson is giving its first electric motorcycle a road trip, stopping the environmentally friendly Hog in NYC as it looks for consumer feedback to expand sales beyond traditional customers. Conway G. Gittens reports.
A whizz is hardly the sound you think of when you think of a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle - but that's what you get with the new electric concept model. Absent is the roar of a traditional Hog as the iconic American motorcycle maker hits the road with this - its first electric motorcycle. But this is only a test. There's no release date and no price target as it rolls out Project LiveWire. The green bike is stopping in 30 U.S. cities this year; and even more, along with Canada, next year, as Harley looks to gather consumer data - rather than just speed. Mark-Hans Richer is senior VP and chief marketing officer at Harley-Davidson: SOUNDBITE: MARK-HANS RICHER, SENIOR VP/CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, HARLEY-DAVIDSON (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The electric motorcycle market is fairly small today. I guess customers are voting with their dollars and saying it's not yet as much as what they've asked for from it. And we're helping advance what that can be. And we'll see what customers tell us and how far they want to go and what we can provide to them. But ultimately it's got to be a Harley that happens to be an electric and not the other way around. And that's why we're doing the project LiveWire Experience to get real customers on these real motorcycles and get their real world feedback." Harley's been on a less than steady ride for a few years. After seeing sales drop for the period of 2008 to 2010, sales growth has been up but not straight up - slowing to 4.4 percent growth last year. That's why Harley is eager to try out something new like an all-electric or EV model, hoping to expand sales beyond its core customer: white, male, and aging, says auto website Jalopnik's Silicon Valley Editor Damon Lavrinc. SOUNDBITE: DAMON LAVRINC, SILICON VALLEY EDITOR, JALOPNIK (ENGLISH) SAYING: "This is a whole different realm for Harley-Davidson, and I think that's one of the reasons they are being a little bit tepid about this announcement. It is something that they obviously wanted to do or are interested in doing and they are absolutely looking to get younger buyers into this and the appeal of an EV absolutely has that." But the bike doesn't come without limitations and risks. Riders can hit the open road for hours, but prepare to also wait for hours for a recharge. SOUNDBITE: DAMON LAVRINC, SILICON VALLEY EDITOR, JALOPNIK (ENGLISH) SAYING: "A lot of these electric bikes that are out right now can only charge on a 110-volt outlet, just like what you plug your toaster into and that means a charge time of six, seven, maybe eight or nine hours." And that could make the bike more appealing to young urban professionals who just want to zip around town, the perfect demographic add on Harley-Davidson is desperately trying to win over.