Harley-Davidson has made an equity investment in Alta Motors, a move that accelerates its ambition to bring an electric motorcycle to market before 2020.
The Milwaukee motorcycle giant announced Thursday that its investment in Alta is part of its effort "to build the next generation of Harley-Davidson riders," which analysts have said is necessary. Harley is the country's leading motorcycle manufacturer, but it has been losing market share as its traditional riders age out of the hobby.
The partnership with Alta, Harley President and Chief Executive Matt Levatich said, will help Harley "bring new riders into the sport." The size of the investment was not disclosed.
Alta, based in Brisbane, Calif., is a respected manufacturer of high-performance electric street bikes and dirt bikes. The company produces the Redshift MX and MXR motocross and the Redshift SM supermoto race bikes, and has recently added an EX enduro model to its lineup.
Its machines have the benefit, especially for new riders, of having no clutch or gears to master. A company spokesperson said Alta will continue to make and sell its Redshift motorcycles.
Harley has given then name LiveWire to its future electric motorcycle, unveiling a prototype of the fast-accelerating machine in 2014.
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That prototype, although stylish and containing some obvious Harley DNA in its design, offered a poor combination of high top speed and low battery range -- good for photo ops but unlikely to attract buyers.
The bikes that will result from the Harley-Alta partnership will be "urban electric motorcycles," Alta said. It did not specify size, power or range.
The LiveWire will enter an increasingly competitive field. Although battery electric motorcycles have not been adopted as readily as battery electric cars, models offering high performance, excellent design and engineering, and practical range are already being produced by California's Zero Motorcycles, Germany's BMW and Italy's Energica.
Many other companies -- among them Japanese giants Yamaha and Honda -- also produce high-quality electric scooters, which have seen dramatic adoption rates in China and elsewhere.