It’s among the most famous and ferocious of noises in the motorised world, the guttural roar of the Harley-Davidson, or Hog to its friends. In fact, so iconic is the motorcycle’s sound that in 1994 the company attempted to register it as a trademark — much to the disgust of its competitors who used similar V-twin engines. Harley were eventually forced to withdraw but the reputation of that legendary roar was even further entrenched. “If our customers know the sound cannot be imitated,” Joanne Bischmann, vice president of marketing, told the L.A. Times, “that’s good enough for me and for Harley-Davidson.” But that customer base is now ageing and changing and to attract a younger, more environmentally-aware generation of Hog straddlers, Harley-Davidson is experimenting with replacing that raging V-engine with the silence of an electric one. It’s called Project LiveWire.
“It’s a way of attracting younger people… who aren’t currently riders to our brand,” Asia-Pacific director of Harley- Davidson, Greg Willis, told the Sydney Morning Herald in March. “We want people to start thinking about Harley a bit differently… to hopefully make Harley-Davidson relevant to that younger audience, particularly urban young adults.”
“America as its best has always been about reinvention,” said Matt Levatich, Harley-Davidson’s president and COO at the time of the launch. “And, like America, Harley-Davidson has reinvented itself many times in our history, with customers leading us every step of the way. Project LiveWire is another exciting moment in our history.”
Still a concept, as it stands the stunning, silent Harley is good for an 85km range off a single charge, which takes three hours. It will reach 100km/h in around four seconds. LiveWire was revealed to a surprised press last September before embarking upon a trip down Route 66 offering select customers the opportunity to ride in exchange for feedback. This year, the tour went global.
Senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Harley-Davidson, Mark-Hans Richer, compares the motorbike not to the first electric car, but the original electric guitar. “It’s an expression of individuality and iconic style that just happens to be electric,” he says. “Project LiveWire is a bold statement for us as a company and a brand.”
It’s an expression of individuality and iconic style that just happens to be electric
There are no plans for LiveWire to hit showrooms in the immediate future, with the company still awaiting the battery technology to be improved in order to increase the bike’s range. “Preserving the riding environment is important to all of us,” continues Levatich. “Project LiveWire is just one element in our efforts to preserve and renew the freedom to ride for generations to come. As a company that has seen success for 111 years, we think in generational terms about our great riding environments for the next 111 years.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces