Home / Top Stories / Motorcycle Industry Talk / People Are Acting Surprised Harley-Davidson’s Electric Bike Isn’t Selling

People Are Acting Surprised Harley-Davidson’s Electric Bike Isn’t Selling

Of course Harley-Davidson’s first electric motorcycle, the LiveWire, isn’t selling. It was never meant to generate big sales volumes, but it is part of Harley-Davidson’s greater strategy. In this article I’ll be covering why the LiveWire isn’t selling well (and it should come as no surprise), along with three predictions for the LiveWire’s future.

Background

For most of 2019, media publications, especially motorcycle ones, touted Harley-Davidson counting on electric motorcycles to attract a new generation of younger, affluent, green-friendly riders, to help them reverse their declining sales. Whenever I saw motorcycle publications saying this I found it fascinating. Are they really that out of touch with real motorcyclists, or am I the only one who doesn’t know a lot of people looking to spend $29,799 on a green-friendly first motorcycle? Could it just be that the motorcycle publications are trying to kiss up to the industry’s biggest advertiser? Say it ain’t so. (PS: It’s always, painfully, so).

The LiveWire, priced at $29,799 before dealer fees, provincial/state licensing fees, and taxes is just a few thousand dollars short of Tesla’s Model 3. Harley-Davidson is marketing it as the “IT” bike for affluent new green-friendly motorcyclists, but here’s the thing, how many affluent, green-friendly, young, new motorcyclists do you know?

watch this video

Watch this video!

The more things change the more they stay the same at Harley-Davidson

Reports indicate that the bulk of sales are not coming from young new riders. Can you guess who they’re coming from instead? That’s right. Existing old riders. Surprise, surprise. Harley-Davidson is still being carried by well-off old white men. Nothing new here.

The more the sun sets on the Boomers’ riding career, the more Harley stock prices set downwards with them. We already know motorcycle dealers are closing down, but in 2018, Harley had it’s sharpest decline in sales in the last half decade. Sales in 2019 are expected to decline once again. It seems like every time Harley gives updates on the LiveWire, financial and motorcycle publications alike act very surprised that everything isn’t all hunky-dory.

LiveWire Charging

Didn’t have a picture of a Harley-branded LiveWire charging station, but I’ll grab one the next time I’m at the dealership. It has one, but I’ve never seen anything charging there.

Carrying the LiveWire isn’t cheap for dealers either

Dealers have mixed feelings towards the LiveWire themselves. Carrying the bike means having to make an investment in a Level 3 charging station at the dealership. This is a requirement of Harley-Davidson’s corporate office. If a dealer doesn’t think demand for the LiveWire is enough to yield a positive ROI, they won’t invest either the time, or the space required.

The Motor Company also isn’t looking to add any financial discounts. Instead, dealers believe they’re keeping the numbers of LiveWires tight, in part to help reduce the chance of markdowns on the vehicle.

Prediction 1: Harley-Davidson follows Tesla’s example

Industry analysts at Wedbush Securities estimate that the LiveWire will represent less than 1% of Harley-Davidson’s vehicle sales. So what’s the real plan for the LiveWire moving forward? Harley could be taking a page from Tesla’s playbook:

Tesla began with a $100,000+ car, and over the years have developed down to a $35,000 car. We already know that Harley is planning on expanding in the electric motorcycle and electric bicycle market with four new models between now and 2022. The LiveWire is likely a flagship model launch, with more affordable (and realistic) options still to come.

FortNine’s Ryan F9 and myself are all smiles checking out a pre-release model at the Montreal Motorcycle Show.

Prediction 2: Harley-Davidson finds creative ways to incentivize LiveWire purchases without discounting the LiveWire

Discounting a product cheapens it’s perceived value in customer’s eyes, and that’s not something Harley wants to do with their first electric baby. Instead, look for Harley-Davidson to find new creative ways to offer incentives to would-be LiveWire buyers.
UPDATE/EDIT: So I looked into this more, and it turns out, they’re already doing this. Harley is offering 500 kwh of free charging, or about two years of free electricity for people who purchase the LiveWire. Expect more like this to continue.

Prediction 3: The LiveWire does sell more Harley-Davidsons to young people, just not more LiveWires to young people

“But will young people buy it?” seems to be the question motorcyclists keep asking about the LiveWire. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if young people will buy it or not because the LiveWire isn’t about driving LiveWire sales. The LiveWire is about driving the overall brand and overall vehicle sales.

When you switch from a “Will young people buy it?” mindset, to a “Will it help get more young people be interested in Harley-Davidson motorcycles?” mindset, the LiveWire makes a lot of sense. It draws the ire of from green-friendly folk, industry media and other digital publications, and it’s even been featured in Hollywood blockbusters.

A LiveWire on a show room floor… because where else could you find one?

Final thoughts

I like the LiveWire, a lot actually. I was fortunate enough to have worked on one in a marketing capacity when I was working for Harley-Davidson in Canada. But the next time you see a moto journalist telling you how surprised they are that the LiveWire isn’t selling, slap them. The market for this bike is tiny. Harley knows that. The LiveWire wasn’t designed to be a sales volume leader, it was designed to showcase and to create interest. In that regard it has always been and continues to be successful.

In my opinion it’s Harley’s first step into the electric market, and they wanted to do it with a bang to show that they’re taking electric motorcycling seriously from the very beginning. It’s a good strategy. The LiveWire will help to get more young people buying more Harley-Davidsons because it will help shape the perception of the brand. Those young people just won’t be buying LiveWires, and that’s ok.

QUESTION FOR THE COMMENTS: Do electric motorcycles appeal to you? Why or why not?

 

About YouMotorcycle

YouMotorcycle is a lifestyle motorcycle blog to be appreciated by those who see motorcycling as a lifestyle and not simply a hobby, sport, or method of transportation. Most of the posts on the site are written by past and present motorcycle industry staff. We remain fiercely independent, innovative, and unconventional. Our goal is to encourage more people to enjoy the world's greatest outdoor sport by helping new riders get started and inspiring current riders to get out more. We motorcycle, do You?

5 comments

  1. At the time Tesla started selling a 100k electric car didn’t exist a competitor. The Motor Company is starting selling (at the moment they have suspended production due to a quality issue still not revealed…) at 30k while a strong competitor, focused in electric motorcycles for more than 10 years, is selling a superior product (better performance and range) at 20k… Hard times to come…

    • I agree with you, but Harley’s bar and shield logo carries a lot of weight. I like Zero Motorcycles, but if you asked a soon-to-be motorcyclist who’s just getting his license today, and wants to buy an electric motorcycle, who produces electric motorcycles, who do you think the noobie will feel more comfortable buying from?

      • Yes, the bar and shield logo carries a lot of weight, but that is just perceived by the old school guys. The youngers don’t care about that, that is the point. The noobies I think will prefer more tech and affordable option. That’s the challenge!

  2. I agree with your hypothesis about the Livewire being a showcase/showpiece/flagship…only.
    HOWEVER, and it’s a big one, if they want the whole concept to gain a foothold, they’d better get models 2, 3 and 4 on dealers’ floors sooner than later in order to give “everyman” (i.e. folks with waaaay less than 30K kicking around for a discretionary/hobby purchase) an opportunity to get in on all the altruistic, FUTuristic, green, forward-thinking initiatives that Harley and others would like to think form the basis of a two-wheeled, electric biking “revolution”.
    I’ve got an idea: how about introducing the BOTTOM end of the line immediately; bring a $5000 model to market, even if it has to have severely limited range and/or carrying capacity (50 miles/solo only…no luggage, etc. What the hell, call it a scooter.) Reduce the barrier to entry for a huge chunk of the market and show they really ARE committed to the concept.

    • I think that’s just crazy off-brand for a “premium” brand like HD, who are already facing increasing competition and difficulty retaining their core customer base. If they produced a scooter today the HD GeezerGlide riders might blow gaskets and start buying more Victory motorcycles. I mean Indians haha.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Let's talk

Once a week if we have something really awesome to share, we reach out to riders and let them know. Join our two-wheel community!