Better Than You Think: Harley-Davidson Updates Livewire Details

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Harley-Davidson has been slow to release concrete details on its Livewire electric motorcycle, and to be honest, today is no different.

This is because the Bar & Shield brand remains mostly mum on the hard specs that we crave, but with today’s release, we do see that the Harley-Davidson Livewire is stacking up better than many had once thought.

The reason for this is two-fold. One, Milwaukee continues to finalize the specs on this highly anticipated machine. And two, Harley-Davidson is getting closer to its summer launch and is building its marketing momentum.

However you look at it though, today marks another garment removed in this two-wheeled strip tease. We hope you have your dollar bills at the ready. We still have a few months more to go.

First up, the nitty-gritty from Harley-Davidson:

  • 0 – 60 mph in 3.0 seconds; 60 – 80 mph in 1.9 seconds
  • 140 miles of city range and 88 miles of combined city/highway range, when going 70 mph on the freeway (using the MIC Combined test)
  • Recharge time of 0-80%  in 40 minutes, and 0-100% in 60 minutes when using the onboard DC fast charger

We should note that this range estimate is a significant increase to what Harley-Davidson was touting back in January, which was pegged at 110 miles in the city (aka, +27% more than what was reported before).

The real devil here is in the details though, and the real headline might be what Harley-Davidson has done with its dealerships and charging strategies.

Learn This Term: DC Fast Charging

First, we have to talk about DC fast charging, which eclipses the abilities of Level 2 charging stations that are currently the status quo. DC fast charging (sometimes called Level 3 charging) roughly doubles the voltage going to the bike, and right now only Energica is equipping its motorcycles with this technology.

Harley-Davidson will be the second motorcycle brand to hop on the DC fast charging bandwagon, and this means charging with 25kW of power, rather than the roughly 7 kW throughput of Level 2 chargers.

Even the new Zero SR/F can only charge at 12 kW when you add in its optional Power Charger upgrade, and find a Level 2 chargers capable of such a charge amount (read: not likely to happen).

While battery pack size affects recharge time, we can see that Harley-Davidson is leading the pack on getting bikes back on the road with more electrons.

From what Harley-Davidson is implying with its stats, we are estimating the Livewire to have a 10 kWh battery pack (nominal). That’s a disappointment for range, but it could bode well for vehicle weight. 

Of note too, that small pack size will be less of an issue (though not a non-issue) to riders because of Harley-Davidson’s inclusion of DC fast charging.

Simply put, DC fast charging is the future for electric motorcycles, and electric vehicles as a whole. Level 2 chargers are already reaching the limits of their usefulness, and we are only going to see battery packs become larger and more dense over time.

This will relegate Level 2 charging as something used at one’s home, while real larger, more practical battery pack sizes and long-travel distances will become dependent on DC fast charging schemes.

Harley-Davidson has bet on the right horse here, and other brands should take note.

Building the Network

Looking deeper into Harley-Davidson’s press release we see that 200 dealerships will carry the Livewire in the USA. This number is roughly a third of the Bar & Shield’s domestic dealer network, and while we can debate whether that is a good thing or not, realize that each one of those dealerships will have at least one DC fast charger available to the public.

This means that Harley-Davidson is about to put 200 DC fast chargers into the wild (adding to the already impressive number of stations we are seeing pop-up), and it means that these 200 Harley-Davidson dealerships will become destination stops for electric vehicle owners, include Livewire riders.

Smart dealers will realize that this adds to their ability to create culture and community at their shops, as EV owners spend their recharge times perusing the dealership’s wares. It also means that Livewire owners are ensured to have the infrastructure they need in order to have a top-level ownership experience.

This move really isn’t all that different from what Tesla has done with its Supercharger networks – basically side-stepping the chicken and the egg problem when it comes to viable charging points.

As you can imagine, this is a strong move by Harley-Davidson in terms of ensuring that Livewire riders not only have a charging station near them, but that it also ensures that Livewire owners are incentivized to return to the mothership for quick visit and a recharge.

Doubling the Market?

Another interesting thought is the volume that Harley-Davidson could be hitting with the Livewire, and we should tease the concept that early signs point to the bike selling out in the US in its first year.

With 200 dealers signed up, it only takes each one to sell five Livewire units in 2019 for Harley-Davidson to reach 1,000 units sold in its first year. This is a figure that would roughly double the current electric motorcycle market in the United States.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Think that estimate is too high? Consider that Harley-Davidson sold 132,000 motorcycles in the United States last year. This isn’t a great number for HD, but it is still a mammoth amount for the industry.

Now, this also means that selling 1,000 Livewire motorcycles in the USA would mean convincing less than 1% of Harley-Davidson owners that their next bike purchase should be electric.

That doesn’t sound like a terribly daunting task, especially for those riders who ride mostly in urban environments, where electric efficiency shines and DC fast chargers are abundant.

That Price Though

The hardest selling point for the Harley-Davidson Livewire remains its price, but I am not convinced that Harley-Davidson got this as terribly wrong as most of the internet seems to think.

For starters, the Livewire is a halo machine, built to do “small” volume numbers by Harley-Davidson standards. As such, you can expect a premium to be levied, as we have seen with similar halo bikes, like the recent Ducati Panigale V4 R.

More importantly, take the nearest reference we have to the Harley-Davidson Livewire, the Zero SR/F. Even with its add-on extra 6 kW charger, which brings the price to a tad over $23,300, the SR/F still takes about 33% longer to charge than the Livewire (which will charge at 25 kW).

Some of the added cost to the Livewire comes in the form of its superior charging capabilities, and as I have pointed out already, this simple decision comes with big advantages

Helping close the rest of that $6,500 delta are a few notable things as well. One, Harley-Davidson has fitted better components to the Livewire, most notably the balance free shock from Showa, and a full Brembo braking setup.

One can also expect a premium for simply putting the Bar & Shield brand on the side of the bike, and while that might not justify the entire gap between these two models, when you stack the chips, they certainly look at closer to each other.

Of course, the real test is the riding experience. You can bet that we have a  set of side-by-side comparison tests ready for these two bikes. Let the games begin.

Source: Harley-Davidson