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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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