Harley-Davidson Motor Company chose the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as the venue to unveil details about the release of its new LiveWire bike, along with the debut of two additional electric motorcycle concept bikes. Why is a 115-year-old company that defines old school American industry mingling with the world of high-tech?
Electronics have been critical to Harley-Davidson bikes for decades. Technology like electronic ignition, fuel injection, anti-lock brakes, telematics and GPS navigation are found up and down the lineup. The LiveWire takes this electronic integration a few steps further, as one of the first steps in a plan that H-D calls “More Roads to Harley-Davidson.” The plan has four pillars: New products; broader access; stronger dealers; and incremental revenue and earnings. In the category of new products, electric motorcycles are a key element. LiveWire is the first electric bike that Harley-Davidson will put into production, and it is a showcase for electronics.
The Motor Company is not pulling any punches. “The LiveWire represents the future of Harley-Davidson, bringing high-performance electric propulsion, evocative design, and cellular connectivity to today’s rider,” according to a press release about the bike’s CES appearance. Those are strong words for a company that relies heavily on its heritage for its brand identity.
A pre-production version of the LiveWire was on display at CES in the Panasonic display area. Panasonic Automotive Systems of America (PASA) is the supplier of cellular connectivity capability of the LiveWire. Working through Cubic Telecom’s PACE Platform, a telematics control unit connects the bike to the Harley-Davidson app and the new Harley-Davidson Connect service, transmitting information about motorcycle status, tamper alerts and vehicle location, service reminders and notification. This level of cellular connectivity is fairly common in the automotive marketplace, but represents a first for mass-market motorcycles.
I got a chance to sit on the LiveWire prototype, which was mounted in a stand with the rear wheel on a roller. The seating position is upright, more V-Rod than Softail, with mid-set foot pegs and low-rise bars. Showa suspension will be standard front and back, with Brembo dual-disc brakes with ABS and traction control (a H-D two-wheeler first). There’s no clutch lever – the electric motor uses no gears – just a twist-and-go throttle on the right with a brake lever and foot brake on the right, too. The ignition was switched on, and I twisted the grip to feel the rear wheel’s rotation. The speedometer, part of a display screen above the center of the handlebars, quickly reached top speed for the display, 69 mph. The LiveWire was very quiet in operation, with just a spacey kind of hum that increased in pitch as it picked up speed. The roller stand probably made more noise. There was little-to-no vibration. The whole demo took about three minutes, but it left me eager to actually ride this new bike. Range is estimated at 110 miles on a single charge.
H-D announced pricing and availability for the 2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire at CES. The bike will start at $29,799. Pre-orders are open at authorized dealers, with delivery to begin in August 2019. I called the three local authorized H-D dealers closest to my home to inquire, and the term “pre-order” is flexible. Each dealership was seeking a cash deposit up to $1,000, along with confirmed financing or a non-binding commitment to pay cash. Other electric motorcycles on the market right now include Zero Motorcycles (four models starting at $8,495 – $16,495) and KTM Freeride E-XC NG (starting at $14,000). The field is wide open.