This week, Harley-Davidson delayed the release of the Pan America adventure bike and the Bronx streetfighter until 2021. Aside from the initial disappointment, most of us understood the reason for the push back. Among the ongoing pandemic and the brand attempting to “Rewire” for a post-COVID world, adjustments to production and market strategy were needed to address more immediate issues.
While most manufacturers are left reacting to COVID-19 developments and local government mandates (and Harley is certainly in that category), the Motor Company has the opportunity to take a more proactive approach. For nearly two years now, the brand has been sitting on a product tailor-made for this brave new world—the electric scooter—and it would be wise to release it for these times.
In July 2018, Harley surprised the motorcycling world by unveiling the Bronx, Pan America, and Custom platforms. While the Bar and Shield’s foray into the adventure and streetfighter segments hogged all the coverage, the LiveWire and its electric underlings received much less attention. We were even more disheartened to see the electric scooter and e-bicycle relegated to the nebulous Future Concepts category in Harley’s updated Future Vehicle page this week.
Now that the shiny new toys have been pushed back to 2021, what does Harley plan to sell in the interim? Do they really think people are going clamber for a decked-out bagger when the unemployment rate is in the double digits? Are consumers supposed to take on payments for a Softail Deluxe when they can barely make their housing payments?
In these post-COVID conditions, people are delaying life decisions. Most aren’t inclined to buy a motorcycle that costs as much as a mid-size car. Furthermore, the majority of folks are either in lockdown, staying close to home, or avoiding long-distance travel. Though many states have recently relaxed restrictions, we can’t understate the psychological impact of a potential second wave of infections and how that affects purchasing habits.
With folks staying close to home these days, the efficacy of an electric scooter makes a lot more sense than a 700-pound cruiser. With its design prioritizing utility and ease of use, the e-scooter would also be the perfect companion for grocery runs and could open a whole new market for Harley. Especially if the Motor Company’s e-scooter doesn’t require a motorcycle license to operate, they could gain a whole new following and hook ‘em while they’re young.
I know what you’re thinking: an e-scooter isn’t going to save Harley-Davidson. However, if we look back to Europe and Asia post-World War II, cheap, efficient, and practical scooters and motorcycles saved/established a fair number of today’s manufacturers. While our current circumstances aren’t exactly the same, the brand needs to adapt to the modes of transportation of the moment.
There’s nothing wrong with big heavy cruisers. Heck, I have one myself. What is wrong is solely leaning on a premium, expensive product when consumer habits are shifting toward frugality. Now, I’m not educated on the costs of production but I do know that dumping a bunch of money into developing a platform that never sees the light of day doesn’t make much business sense—especially when that platform is ripe for the times.