Harley-Davidson on adventure bikes: “we intend to deliver the best product in the segment”

Harley Interview off-road and electric bikes

Like New Year’s Eve in London, the fireworks kept coming yesterday. But rather than being sprayed high into the night sky one-at-a-time from the Millennium Wheel, Harley-Davidson lumped theirs all together in one monster set of announcements straight out of Milwaukee.

An adventure bike, a streetfighter, electric bikes, dealer network, improving customer opportunities and getting more people into motorcycling, not to mention a couple of brand new engines and entry into a smaller segment too. As far as reporting the news, there was plenty to dissect but we also had the opportunity to talk to a senior representative of the 115-year old firm to quiz him on the revelations.


BikeSocial: Is there an adventure bike market in the USA? Is the Pan America a bike for Europe and emerging markets?

Harley-Davidson: It’s definitely a global product. With the exception of the small capacity bikes this product portfolio is for the global market. We are not looking at “this bike fits here, this bike fits there”. For sure, there’ll be more acceptance or adoption of some models in some markets.


Is this seen as an opportunity to develop an adventure market in America? Is it felt that if only Harley had an adventure bike, there’d be a market?

I think the reason for it is that the adventure bike market is quite an exciting one and one that continues to grow and it’s one that we don’t have an offering in at the moment so it was always a very interesting segment for us and has given us the opportunity to develop this product as part of the platform.


It’s also a market that’s littered with failed attempts from many manufacturers so what will Harley-Davidson do differently to those who haven’t managed to crack the GS/Triumph success?

We’re coming into this segment with the intent to deliver the best product in the segment so we’ve done a huge amount of research and it’s a segment that excite us and we’re not coming into it to make up the numbers.


Harley Interview off-road and electric bikes


Are the two engine sizes, the 975 and 1250, two completely different units or is the 1250 the same engine but with bigger bores?

It’s actually two powertrains over four displacements so the range will be from 500cc to 1250cc.

At the moment we’re not going into the tech specs of the engines other than saying there are the four displacement in two powertrains. We’re opening the doors on everything and some of these products are 18-months away from market. We want to take you on the journey with us and there will be specific milestones where we come back to you with more information as the projects move forwards.


Will the smaller engines be a V-Twin as well?

I think we should come back to the technical aspects of the engine when the milestones are the right time.


Harley’s CEO, Mr Levatich, spoke about a “modular chassis”, can you explain what that is? Will you be using the same chassis across the range for the adventure bike as the streetfighter?

You’ll have seen with Softail, we have taken that approach before where we’ve got a number of frame variations, a number of front-end variations and a number of swingarm variations. What we’ve been able to do is to learn that we have specific requirements for each bike so we’ve been able to design this whole family as part of this development process.


Will the smaller displacement bikes, will they be new styles of bike or similar to what we’ve seen from Harley already?

That’s a new segment. A 250-500cc market specifically targeting the Asia market and there’s lots of opportunity in that market. There’s more news to follow on that.


Are you worried about diluting the brand’s strengths as far as your core customer is concerned?

No, I think this is a massive acceleration of the brand’s strength. We remain committed to continuing to evolve, develop and lead the heavyweight cruiser and touring segments and then what we’re doing is opening up the brand in a very exciting way to a whole host of new riders but it’s key to remember that we’re offering new Harley-Davidson riding experiences to our existing customers as well.


Harley Interview off-road and electric bikes


So, the last time it was possible to buy an adventure bike from a Harley-Davidson dealer was when you were still involved with Buell. What have you learned from that experience?

We’ve done this as a complete bottom-up evaluation of the company in every aspect; in product, in customer experience, in dealer and in the access to the brand. So, we’re coming into this with a huge amount of fire power when you look at our capability in global manufacturing, when you look at our capability in design, when you look at the success recently of the new Softail range and the way we’ve showcased what we’re capable of. When you add all of that up and then you top that with the investment that we’re focussing on this project, we’re only coming into this to win.


Clearly these projects and announcements where in development far earlier than when Trump’s tariffs and the EU’s retaliation kicked off a few months back, was that of any concern when it came to the investment required?

This company is 115-years old and we’ve been through a lot and we’ve answered a lot of the tariff questions and we were always going to fund this from our own base. So the reallocation of previously planned investment or resource, including operating investment, I mean through to 2022 that’ll be $450-550m invested plus capital investment of $225-275m, so you’re talking almost three-quarters of a billion dollars in this project between now and 2022 so as you say, we’ve been planning his investment for a long time.


Does that investment involve building new manufacturing capability?

I think you’ve seen we’ve have manufacturing capability around the world and some superb manufacturing capability in the US so for us it’s about leveraging that entire network.


How big is the Indian project? Is the intention to be building some of the big bikes in India and Thailand?

At the moment we aren’t committing to specifics of which bikes will be manufactured where as we look to see how the market responds and what the opportunities are. We will continue to build US product in the US and we’ll build Livewire in York, Pennsylvania.


Is a lot of this geared towards the emerging markets?

We have a stated intent to increase our growth in China as part of this release and obviously there’s a strong strategy behind that. For us, with this portfolio that we’ve unveiled is global opportunity in very mature markets such as the US and Europe because it gives us access to segments that we don’t currently compete in and it obviously gives us the opportunity to dominate in developing markets. By 2022, we’ll have the broadest and most diverse product range that Harley-Davidson has ever offered.


Harley Interview off-road and electric bikes


Is the electric vehicle development a key to focussing on younger customers?

All the way through this press release, there’s a very clear understanding of mobility. Back in 1950, 750 million people lived in urban environments globally. Today, that’s 4.2 billion and by 2025 we expect another 2.5 billion on top of that.

We changed mobility in 1903 when the four (men behind the company) put the internal combustion engine in the push bike therefore it’s not surprising that we’re looking to do that again with such a clear understanding of global mobility. So, the electric bikes, the streetfighter, the adventure bike, the custom… they all serve a new mobility requirement in the market. And those smaller EV’s are absolutely targeted at that urban market but they all have another advantage in that there’s no clutch and gears to master, they’re all twist-and-go and that removes quite a big barrier for a lot of people.


Is the intention to sell all those electric vehicles only in Harley dealers only and getting younger folk in dealerships early?

We’re currently looking at the retail model and how we best to bring those products to market. We have a huge commitment to our dealers and they remain central to our success but at the same time we’ve stated that we’re looking at urban retail, we’re looking at pop-up and we’re looking at more urban locations so I think there’s a lot more to come on that in the near future.

We need to go and meet the customers where they are, where they want to shop, when they want to shop, so we understand that we have to continue to evolve and we have to include the way that people interact and purchase the brand as part of this process.


Harley-Davidson are the first major motorcycle manufacturer to produce a fully electric motorcycle and it’ll be interesting to see the response from the public – you must already be making marketing plans and a price point?

Yes we do but we can’t tell you just yet! You’ll get another bite of the cherry quite soon. All the electric vehicles you’ve seen in the release are all before 2022, so we’re not just launching an electric bike. Out marketing plans really began four years ago, when we let everyone ride it.


How much more advanced is the latest version?

When you look at EV technology where it was and where it is now… and it’s the infrastructure too and the way they’re accelerating to support this. When you’ve got companies like Shell buying-up EV infrastructure firms, that signals the tipping point is coming. There are countries now who won’t allow the sale of the internal combustion engines after 2030 – that’s only 12 years away.


Harley Interview off-road and electric bikes

Above: we rode the prototype Livewire in 2015. Click here for the review


How are the dealers taking it when you’re talking about Livewire?

Livewire has always been an incredibly positive and exciting project for anyone who is even slightly associated with the brand. Again, to reiterate; the streetfighter, the adventure bike, the custom, the small capacity, the electric vehicles and the approach to retail is incredibly exciting and not what you expected to hear from Harley on a Monday.

Last year, we did something we’ve never done before by telling everybody our objectives for the next ten years. And we always knew that we were going to come out and with this level of news, with this level commitment and showing more than just one new bike shows the level of commitment to success with this plan.

When you look at the three pillars; new products, broader access and a stronger dealer network that’s fire power that really sets us apart.


Livewire has essentially been a very public development process over the last four years, you must be proud to be the only main motorcycle manufacturer with an EV coming?

We’re committed to leading the electrification of the sport. That commitment has been there from day one and will continue to stand.

In this situation, you can spend your time thinking and wondering about what other people will do or you can get your head down and deliver what you do in the excellence that you know you can and therefore lead the market. By definition of leading the market you expect people to follow and help expand the sport. This isn’t just about getting some riders to switch over it’s about expanding the sport of motorcycling and bringing more people in and bringing more people to the brand.


Is there a likelihood of Harley amalgamating these technologies – how long until we see a hybrid Ultra Glide?

I think 21 new models on a Monday is pretty good going and obviously what you’re seeing is a complete change in attitude from us in that we’re showing you. This is start of a journey and one of the most exciting times in Harley-Davidson’s history and we’re enjoying the fact that we get to take you all on the journey with us. So this is day one.

It’s been massively exciting and yet massively frustrating not to be able to tell anyone! We’re excited to get people riding these bikes.

You’ll see Livewire next year then Pan America and Streetfighter in 2020 and then everything else you’ve seen before 2022.


Any idea where the 500-750 engine fit into that timeline?

I think we’ll be talking very soon! Rest assured that we have changed our stance on not talking about new product. The throttle is wide open and it’s time to have some fun!

If people don’t think we’re capable of this then the biggest challenge I’d give them is ‘ride one’. We know that doing this is going to raise some eyebrows and cause some conversation but we are committed to the success of this and we have an understanding of the global mobility market that we’ve never had before and we’re looking to succeed in that.