Electric hogs are coming, and could be the antidote to autonomous driving

Harley-Davidson Livewire
© Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson's forthcoming line of electric motorcycles will sound like jet fighters, but you might have to wait 5 years to get one.

This iconic American motorcycle company has hinted at producing an electric model over the past few years, and has shown off a prototype bike, dubbed Livewire, in 2014, but as of yet, no firm details on an electric production model have been released. However, a recent statement from Bill Davidson, the great grandson of company co-founder William Davidson, hints at an electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle coming to market within the next five years, as part of a decade-long plan that will see 100 new models from the company.

One of the unique and recognizable aspects of a Harley is the sound of that V-twin engine, which Davidson describes as sounding like "potato-potato-potato," and which may represent something of a task to re-create in an electric motorcycle. But Davidson said the company's approach to the sound and feel of the electric bike will rival the thought put into the design of its traditional motorcycles with their signature exhaust notes, and that a unique sound was created for the bikes "through various technologies."

"We have studied our competitors and we understand what they are up to and we did not want a normal-sounding electric motorcycle. We wanted something that plays into that look and sound formula. It is something really cool. I often refer to it as sounding like a jet fighter." - Davidson

As an interesting side note, Davidson also mentioned the trend toward autonomous technology in vehicles as an opportunity for the company, and motorcycles in general, as "the more automatic cars become," the more appealing that riding a motorcycle will be. Although some people are greatly looking forward to driverless cars, so they can focus on things other than the road while in transit, and instead let sensors, automation, and technology take care of the safety and navigation, others who really like to drive (or ride, in this case) aren't likely to want to give up control of their vehicles, just for the sheer fun of it.

"Society has become driven by so many factors and we are all now in touch 24/7 as we're surrounded by electronics, and I think riding a motorcycle lets you break free of that and enjoy nature and have fun." - Davidson

On the one hand, when you have legacy manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson feeling out the electric motorcycle market, it points to a coming eventual 'critical mass' for electric vehicles, but on the other hand, there are electric motorcycle companies that are already miles ahead of the company in terms of customer feedback and testing and development, because they've been making and selling electric motorbikes for some time now.

However, this future coming of age moment is similar to what we've seen recently in the electric vehicle sector, where upstarts such as Tesla are setting the bar high with cutting edge cars, and traditional automakers are now scrambling to push out their own 'clean cars'. Where Harley-Davidson has the clear advantage in the electric motorcycle sector over new companies is in its existing supply and manufacturing processes and agreements, as well as its wide reach through dealers, a bulletproof brand identity, and a loyal customer base.

Here's hoping the company soon offers a range of electric motorcycles that can offer both new and existing customers a chance to ride the lightning in a cleaner and quieter manner, while also bearing its distinctive style. Learn more about Project Livewire on the Harley-Davidson website, and if you're an experienced EV engineer, there may be a job opening for you.

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