When we broke the news that Harley-Davidson and Alta Motors were parting ways, we teased the idea that the Bar & Shield brand might go it alone with its electric future. Since that breakup, there have been murmurings that Harley-Davidson was going to build its own EV design and research center, right in the heart of Silicon Valley, and today those rumors became true.
Announcing the plans during the company’s 115th birthday celebration, Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich described the plan as an extension of Harley-Davidson’s commitment to make electric vehicles, and the move is an obvious grab at some of the top electric vehicle talent that resides in Northern California.
“Recently we shared with the world our accelerated plans to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson riders globally,” said Matt Levatich, President and CEO of Harley-Davidson. “This new R&D facility in the heart of Silicon Valley will help us deliver on those plans and demonstrate our commitment to lead the electrification of the sport.”
The Silicon Valley facility is expected to open in Q4 2018, and it will initially focus on electric vehicle research and development, which will include R&D for battery, e-machine design, development, and manufacturing. Looking further down the road, Harley-Davidson hopes to expand the center’s focus to an increased range of what it calls “advanced technologies that uniquely leverage the rich talent in the Silicon Valley.”
Harley-Davidson says that it has already begun recruiting top talent in electrical, mechanical, and software engineering, with an eye on employees that have experience in developing and delivering a wide variety of EV systems, from design through production. The Silicon Valley facility will initially employ a staff of approximately 25, most of which the company intends to hire from within the San Francisco Bay Area.
The move is a big step from Harley-Davidson, which is no accident, as the iconic American brand is fighting to show that there is life yet within its hallowed halls. Making obvious overtures for a new future, this new R&D facility – which will be an extension of the Willie G. Davidson Product Development Facility in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin – will be the driving force behind Harley-Davidson’s electric movement.
The creation of the Silicon Valley division is surely directly related to Harley-Davidson’s divorce from Alta Motors. It is hard to say why the two American brands couldn’t find collaboration on what would be both of their second-generation electric motorcycles, but the result is clear: Harley-Davidson will go it alone, while Alta will find a new investor/partner.
There was plenty of cynicism concerning Harley-Davidson’s about-face in product earlier this year, as members of the two-wheeled community assessed Milwaukee’s convictions on the future. Coming head-to-head with a sitting American President, opening more production abroad, while investing in electrics domestically, we now have to take Harley-Davidson more seriously, because the Bar & Shield brand is certainly taking itself seriously.