Two years ago I lamented on the fact that Harley-Davidson didn’t have a model under 800cc, which among other things, left the company at odds with its efforts to push into the emerging Indian motorcycle market.
Six-months after I wrote that piece, there seemed to be some hope for the Bar & Shield brand, as rumors began to circulate about a 500cc class motorcycle that was being designed with emerging countries in mind. It would seem now, those rumors were true.
Confirming that Harley-Davidson would soon debut a 500cc class motorcycle for the Indian market, Harley-Davidson Motor Company Chief Operating Officer Matthew Levatich revealed last weekend that the Milwaukee-based company had a 500cc model in an advanced stage of development.
Hinting strongly that the machine would be built in India, and be aimed specifically at that market, Levatich also hedged his bets on the possibility of the model arriving on US soil.
Taking into account the expected reaction from loyal “Made in America” Harley-Davidson fans, Levatich and the rest of the company’s Board of Directors are surely pitching different variations of the “Designed in America” tagline that companies like Apple have used to denote American design while using low-cost labor in China or elsewhere.
Marketing issues aside, the machine is quoted to be very Harley in its design and function. According to Levatich, the 500cc Harley-Davidson sits low to the ground, is lightweight, and has a good throttle response and braking feel. Insert a “that’s not a Harley” joke here.
Reading between the lines of the Levatich’s comments though, a true 2014 launch window may be a tough goal, but the important news here is that Harley-Davidson is realizing that if it wants to play in markets outside of North America and Europe, it needs to bring out smaller displacement machines — after all, in India, China, and South America, 500cc is considered huge.
With the market opportunities available abroad, one could forgive Harley-Davidson for choosing to side-step the marketing and branding issues it would have by bringing a “Made in India” machine to the US market; however, a 500cc motorcycle could do wonders for the company’s ability to get new, young, and possibly female riders on a Harley-Davidson.
As if all this news wasn’t enough already, Levatich left the door open to a future where Harley-Davidson produces an electric motorcycle (something again that we reported on two years ago).
“I am sometimes asked whether there will be an electric Harley. People would say, hell no. But why not? Our engineers are quite intrigued with the idea of what an electric Harley would look like, sound like and feel like. And would it be visceral, would it be emotional, would it be luscious. There’s a way to do that, I believe. And it would be very exciting.”