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eROCKIT Electric Motorcycle

eROCKIT Electric Motorcycle

Building a better mouse trap.

It’s about engineering.  It can be a daunting task, especially after 105 years in the market with the leading heavy cruiser segment share locked up.  It seems impossible to surpass.  With success like that why would anyone at Harley-Davidson do anything different or even consider trying to break a proven success?

But, that’s exactly the point, right?   Remember what happened to the record companies?  They cruised along, making buckets of $$ selling overpriced CD’s with one good song and Napster came along and ruined the business model.  What was the response?  They tried to keep the future from happening by suing those who wanted to live in the future, then blaming the artists, then demanding 360 degree of rights for almost nothing rather than jump ahead of the curve, retool part of their business and innovate for what didn’t exist today, but clearly would in the future.  Does Harley have visionaries who see the electric transportation future? Or are they doing a “Detroit”…  denying what’s possible and booking the profits… extracting cash, but failing to reinvest it… only changing when forced to by the government or when consumers go elsewhere?

Toyota has been showing the world it has engineering prowess.  It has a proven piece of hybrid propulsion technology that set the de-facto standard of the world when the hybrid Prius debut in Japan in 1997.  Honda was second with the Insight, but Toyota is perceived as the world’s hybrid leader — and estimates it has saved consumers more than 135 million gallons of gasoline worldwide via its technology.

Brammo Enertia Motorcycle

Brammo Enertia Motorcycle

With Harley-Davidson’s engineering I’m not referring to a different headlamp configuration, paint scheme, or removing a few pounds from the overall weight to improve fuel consumption or save $$ in raw material costs.  Difficult as each of those may be, it’s not a better mousetrap and will do nothing to set them apart from traditional players.  The present always rests on the foundation of the past, and when it has taken shape, it incorporates the essence of the future. Where is Harley-Davidson’s electric motorcycle future? Do they have the intellectual and engineering capabilities to get ahead of the customer and entice them when they finally catch up?  Providing more not less.  Sure the motorcycle business is altogether different than automobiles with shorter development cycle times and the visceral passion shown by customers who literally feel exactly what the motorcycle is doing.  But, is Harley stretching their design ethos to showcase their engineering skills and expand into new segments?  They are either dark with a double top-secret projects or in denial.  My hope is they take motorcycle design in a new direction and show people there is something unique about the engineering of their bikes and demonstrate that electric motorcycles have a place in their line-up.

There is a lot going on in this space ranging from electric assist bikes ($1-$5K) to the fully functioning electric motorcycles ($15K).  There is the 30-employee Zero Motorcycle company that builds a 140 pound dirt bike called the Zero X that uses clustered lithium ion batteries which fully charge in 2 hours.  Then there is the 12-man eROCKIT (.pdf) company building a variety of bikes, mixing the aesthetics of a motorcycle with a battery motor and adding bicycle pedals to come up with a totally unique two-wheeled vehicle.  There is Electric Motorsports and their model called the GPR-S that sells for approximately $10K.  There is the world’s fastest (0-60 in 0.9 secs; 7 seconds in the ¼ mile) electric motorcycle which has been showcased at the National Electric Drag Racing Assoc.  In Oregon, there is the Ashland-based Brammo Enertia Motorcycle manufacture which is selling motorcycles via Best Buy while the state is working on a bulk purchase agreement for EV charging stations open to private industry as well as local governments.  And in Hillsboro they announced the planned installation of 16 charging stations.

Clearly electric motorcycles are coming of age and not only for the fuel economics as there are military stealth implications.  So, what is Harley’s position on electric motorcycles?  Is the Harley sound of silence the inevitable sound of the future?

Photos courtesy of Brammo and eRockit.

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ford_logoFord Motor reported last week a $3 billion quarterly loss while burning through $6.3 billion in cash and cutting another 2,600 hourly workers.

Ford’s press release said something about…blah, blah, blah…cut salaries…blah, blah, blah…reducing bonuses…who believes any of this now days?  At the same time executive management was meeting with Congress to push their double-down request on the $25B (yes that’s BILLION) low-interest loan program approved previously – BEFORE – they got any money from the first loan!  Automakers must think the car buying public is stupid?  They want us to believe it’s all about energy legislation and the help they need to convert over to more fuel-efficient vehicles while meeting the demands of buyers and new federal mileage rules.   So, that would explain Ford’s new 2009 Harley-Davidson F-450 Truck called “Big Hog DaddyHERE, right?! So, I wrote Ford a letter… 

Dear Mr. Alan Mulally (Ford CEO),

The taxpayers don’t want to reward Auto companies or their management for lack of vision and insight.  We don’t want to carry your cash hemorrhaging burden.  This is not a one off event that will be contained by a blank check from the tax payer.  This downward spiral has been brewing for decades while you profited from high margin SUVs. And now that the public no longer wants or values bigger SUV’s you want the tax payer to come up with the “mother of all bailouts!”  You’ve got nerve Alan.  After all, your organization doesn’t stand out as an ethical oasis in today’s corporate desert!  Isn’t this just another example of big corporations exploiting the little guy, and keeping all the money for themselves?

Signed – The Little Guy

Intermittent Windshield Wiper

Intermittent Windshield Wiper

But, let’s go back to the future…it was 1962 and Bob Kearns was driving his Ford Galaxie through a Detroit rain storm.  He had the inspiration to ask “Why can’t a wiper work more like an eyelid?”  He knew the human eye blinks at different speeds when needed – so why can’t a windshield wiper do the same thing – move quickly in heavy rain and slowly in light mist. WHAM!  The idea for an intermittent windshield wiper was born.

Kearns is one of the more famous independent inventors in the U.S., but it hasn’t been an easy road.  After showing his invention to Ford, and believing he had a contract to manufacture the item for the auto company, Kearns watched Ford cancel their deal and bring out their own intermittent wiper, which incredibly looked like the one he had provided them.  Thirty years of legal action followed.  I’m sure Ford thought they had the time, money and ability to pay high-profile attorneys to wait out or steam-roll Kearns.

Kearns won every “lawyered-up” automobile legal battle and obtained millions in settlements.  They even released a movie last month about it called Flash Of Genius starring Greg Kinnear (“As Good as it Gets”, “Little Miss Sunshine”) which was based in large part on the New Yorker profile.  But, Kearns wasn’t interested in the money…he wanted justice.

Isn’t it ironic that Ford’s arrogance or attitudes of the past likely helped them get into trouble today.  And a movie about a big auto company exploiting the little guy while keeping all the money/credit for themselves clearly doesn’t bode well for any bailout cause now does it?!  Clearly Ford is in it to make money.  Any allusion to the contrary is disingenuous.  Their actions are no different than any other company defending their turf and using all available means to get or keep their disproportionate share of the pie

But, still… shame on Ford.

Ford logo and drawing courtesy of company web sites.

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