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Harley-Davidson adapts electric vehicles to its big bad image

by Greg Klein | June 20, 2014

If Harley-Davidson riders in the U.S. seem more conspicuous than usual over the coming weeks, the spectacle won’t necessarily be caused by marauding bike gangs. The 111-year-old manufacturer will be offering test drives to help launch a new line of electric bikes. Dubbed Project LiveWire, the promo takes place at 30 Harley dealerships along Route 66 before expanding into Canada and Europe.

Harley-Davidson adapts electric vehicles to its big bad image

In an attempt to entice traditional bikers with green technology, Harley-Davidson has invented an apparently noisy electric bike.

The Hells Angels might not like to hear it but Harley has “broadened our reach to serve an increasingly diverse society,” according to a June 19 statement by president/COO Matt Levatich. But he’s careful to distinguish his product from the small, silent vehicles scooting around town. The new bikes will “deliver a new expression of the signature Harley-Davidson look, sound and feel,” the company stated.

In fact the company with the HOG stock ticker keeps emphasizing the bikes’ “unmistakable new sound”—seemingly a pitch to those traditional bikers who mark their presence with as much noise as possible. “The sound is a distinct part of the thrill,” said Mark-Hans Richer, senior VP and chief marketing officer. “Think fighter jet on an aircraft carrier. Project LiveWire’s unique sound was designed to differentiate it from internal combustion and other electric motorcycles on the market.”

Harley wants consumers to imagine its ride as “more like the first electric guitar—not an electric car.”

The big bad bikes also boast “tire-shredding acceleration.”

Besides promoting the e-Harleys, the test drives will gauge consumer response before the bikes actually hit the market.

Recent developments in battery-operated vehicles have inspired greater interest in energy minerals such as graphite, lithium and cobalt. In March Tesla Motors proposed to build a $5-billion lithium-ion battery factory in the southwestern U.S., a dramatic development that might lower the costs of EVs significantly. Last week the company released its entire library of patents to the public to further encourage EV development, even among competitors.

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