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Harley-Davidson, juicing up for electric motorcycles, invests in Alta Motors

Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

The Harley-Alta deal may be partly a response to a 2015 agreement between Polaris Industries and electric motorcycle manufacturer Brammo, which was itself inspired by Harley's LiveWire project.

Polaris, a $5.4-billion-a-year power sports juggernaut that makes snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles, and the Indian Motorcycle brand of two-wheelers, said in January 2015 that its acquisition of Oregon-based Brammo was made possible by Harley's electric ambitions.

"Ironically, we may have to thank Harley for opening up a market opportunity for us," Polaris Chairman and CEO Scott Wine said at the time.

A company representative told The Times late Wednesday, "Indian will be in electric powertrains in the future," but declined to provide details, adding, "Indian understands that's where customers are going to go eventually, and the company has the ability to be there when it makes sense for its riders and the overall Indian Motorcycle business."

Harley appears to be on a faster track. In a letter to investors in January, CEO Matt Levatich characterized the electric motorcycle market as "in its infancy today," but he emphasized Harley's eagerness to develop technology.

Alta, too, is looking ahead. "Riders are just beginning to understand the combined benefits of EV today, and our technology continues to progress," Marc Fenigstein, Alta's chief product officer and co-founder, said in a statement Thursday. "We believe electric motorcycles are the future, and that American companies have an opportunity to lead that future."

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Harley-Davidson stock has struggled recently, falling from a high of $62 a share in May 2017 to $45 a share Wednesday.

In January, Harley reported fourth-quarter profit of $8.3 million, or 5 cents a share, down from a profit of $47.2 million, or 27 cents, in the year-earlier quarter. Worldwide retail motorcycle sales declined 9.6 percent; in the U.S., they were down 11.1 percent.

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