Harley-Davidson and Alta Motors Are Parting Ways

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It was just six months ago that we broke the news about Harley-Davidson investing in electric motorcycle maker Alta Motors, and now in that short timeframe that story has seemingly made a 180° turn.

Our sources tell us that Harley-Davidson has all but removed itself from its joint motorcycle project with Alta, and backed out of its involvement in the San Francisco startup.

For Alta, this means losing the backing of a strategic investor, as well as the resources that Harley-Davidson wields in the motorcycle industry when it comes to purchasing power and vehicle development.

For the Bar & Shield brand, this raises interesting questions about Harley-Davidson’s electric roadmap, which the company revealed just one month ago – not so subtly with a concept sketch that clearly showed the use of an Alta Motors battery pack.

In their investment announcement, Alta Motors and Harley-Davidson committed to partnering on two motorcycle models, which would be brought to market under the Harley-Davidson name.

Also too, the platform for at least one of those machines would serve as the basis for Alta’s next lineup of motorcycles. According to our sources, that joint vehicle development strategy is no longer.

Instead, Alta will develop its follow-up to the Redshift line on its own (or with a new investor/partner), that much seems obvious. But, what is less obvious is what happens next at Harley-Davidson.

Making frequent appearances in the news lately, both in the industry as well as in the mainstream, Harley-Davidson has garnered attention for telegraphing its future business plans.

These plans include moving into new product segments (ADV and sport), developing two new engine platforms, creating a range of small-displacement machines, and forming an aggressive electric vehicle strategy.

Harley-Davidson has also signaled its recognition of the changing geography for the motorcycle industry; with the US market already saturated by the American brand, the European market still under-served, but waning as a whole; and the rise of developing regions like India, Southeast Asia, and China.

As such, Harley-Davidson is set to move more of its production overseas, and the development of motorcycles for those foreign markets is a key part of the company’s plan to stay healthy and relevant in the industry.

Harley-Davidson has also the unlikely distinction of now being a leader in the motorcycle industry when it comes to electric vehicles, as the Harley-Davidson Livewire is roughly a year away from its production debut, and will likely be the first full-sized electric motorcycle model from an established OEM.

Now without Alta, one has to wonder how Harley-Davidson will follow-up the Livewire model with its laundry list of electric vehicles it hopes to develop. After all, the company isn’t known for its robust research and development program for the changing transportation landscape.

Planning an e-assist pedal bike, an electric moped and scooter, and also an electric small-displacement street bike equivalent, Harley-Davidson’s future resides squarely on electric two-wheelers.

You can believe then that Harley-Davidson is readying itself for the sizable change that is about to occur in how people move themselves, especially in urban centers.

Accordingly, one would expect that Harley-Davidson plans to partner with a different technical partner for these future electric two-wheelers – after all, Magneti Marelli is said to be the brains behind the Livewire production model, while Mission Motors was responsible for the prototype Livewire test bikes.

But there is reason too to believe that Harley-Davidson could pave its own future. Timelines on the future electric machines are not set in stone, and at best are five years out.

If you will allow a quick diversion, it is of note too that Harley-Davidson made a big point last month about getting more serious in regards to motorcycles in India, though Harley-Davidson offered no partnership or strategy with an existing Indian OEM, as many other brands have done.

That struck many in the motorcycle industry as odd, and now with rumors about Ducati and Hero aligning their stars, Harley-Davidson is seemingly left standing with the music stopped during this game of musical chairs.

Pundits in the industry may have been taken too narrow of an understanding to Harley-Davidson’s announcement last month, however.

Showing a sea change in its corporate strategy, the plans that Harley-Davidson is undertaking require a long-view approach to the company’s future actions.

Perhaps we must take the same perspective when it comes to India and electrics – perhaps, Harley-Davidson plans to go it alone in India and with EVs.

Developing its own electric technology, its own models, and its own foreign infrastructure and dealerships abroad, this could be just the start of Harley-Davidson investing in a more solid future, as it quietly sunsets its baby-boomer centric business plan over the next five to ten years.

As we are fond of saying, time will tell.

Source: Bothan Spies