At the end of February 2024, LiveWire formally issued a safety recall on 100 percent of its hotly anticipated 2024 S2 Del Mar units in the US due to a vehicle supervisory controller (VSC) software issue. Now, just saying the words "software issue" may not sound scary at first, until you consider what the actual issue is: That the electric powertrain may suddenly and completely shut down without warning. 

To clarify my own personal positions on things ahead of any talk otherwise, I'm cool with tech. I'm also cool with electric motorbikes, from e-bikes to actual full-fat motorcycles. If I can ride it, I want to try it. They may not make the noises I'm used to from combustion bikes, but I'm open to two-wheeled fun of all kinds.

Climate change is a real thing, and if we can have fun while simultaneously not pooping where we eat, I am all for it.

In a similar vein, I want LiveWire to succeed. Sure, as a longtime industry observer, I've had my share of questions about Harley's intentions for electrification, particularly after watching what happened with Buell and MV Agusta, and then later peering on anxiously as things fell apart with Alta Motors.

But there's no escaping the fact that Harley was, is, and remains an incredibly important part of the motorcycle industry, particularly in the US. Separate company or not, with all that weight in mind, I want LiveWire to do great things and expand the viability of electric motorcycles in the world. 

That's Why This Recall Is Both Frustrating And Disappointing

Yes, software development issues happen. Yes, it's also cool that although there's a serious issue here, LiveWire is planning to issue an over-the-air (OTA) update to fix the problem. It's nice that OTA updates exist for so many devices, including motorcycles. I've taken some myself on non-LiveWire bikes with no issue, and appreciated each time that we live in a time when such things that make our lives so much easier are possible.

And yet, this recall hits different. Why? Because if your phone or computer or watch or other smart device suddenly shuts down with no warning because of a software issue, it's annoying. Maybe even really annoying. However, it usually won't result in your risking serious injury or death with an unexpected shutdown. 

If your motorcycle suddenly shuts down with no warning, that's a much more serious issue. Yes, electric cars can and have suddenly shut down with no warning on users in the past. But those vehicles have certain safety advantages that motorcycles inherently don't.

Say your electric car suddenly shuts down. It probably has all kinds of safety features, since it was built fairly recently and governmental safety authorities in most countries have certain requirements that manufacturers must meet. Also, you're on four wheels, not two, so if your car suddenly gives up the power ghost mid-corner, you'll have an easier time coasting yourself to as safe a position as you can before calling a tow truck.

By contrast, if your motorcycle suddenly loses motive power going through a corner, and maybe you were relying on some of its electronic rider aids, you might find a good way to compensate and come to a safe stop. But you also might not, and that likelihood goes up exponentially the newer and less experienced you are to the sport. 

The LiveWire S2 Del Mar is positioned as a less-expensive, more practical everyday commuter type of electric bike. While we don't have specific demographic information about who's been buying them, it's reasonable to assume that some less experienced riders may be in the mix. There are reasons that LiveWire, when it was still officially part of Harley-Davidson, chose the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas as the place to announce its first-ever electric motorcycle.

Vats of digital ink have been spilled discussing the mounting pressures faced by software developers to get their work out the door and into the hands of customers, whether it's ready or not. From video games to other types of software, it's an incredibly large problem, and one that's well outside the scope of either this piece or RideApart more generally.

But most video games don't have the potential (at least on their own) to endanger life and limb of their users if something doesn't behave as intended. You'd think that a little more testing and refinement would be in order for software intended for use on, say, a motorcycle.

It Also Seems Like A Potentially Serious Problem For LiveWire As A Company

Since Harley-Davidson reports LiveWire's shipments (not sales; in its financial reporting, it uses the word "sales" only to describe units of its combustion bikes, and uses the word "shipments" to describe LiveWires) in its quarterly reports, we have some data to consider regarding how the bikes are moving.

LiveWire Q1 2023 Shipments

LiveWire Q1 2023 Shipments.

Source: Harley-Davidson Financial Reports

LiveWire Q2 2023 Shipments

LiveWire Q2 2023 Shipments.

Source: Harley-Davidson Financial Reports

The S2 Del Mar is LiveWire's newest model. While it was originally intended to begin shipping earlier in 2023 than it did, it was delayed and ultimately didn't start shipping until the end of Q3. 

In its reporting for Q1 and Q2 of 2023, you'll notice that LiveWire sales are broken into both LiveWire One and Harley-Davidson LiveWire units to differentiate between the very first LiveWire and the rebranded LiveWire One.

LiveWire Q3 2023 Shipments

LiveWire Q3 2023 Shipments.

Source: Harley-Davidson Financial Reports

LiveWire Q4 2023 Shipments

LiveWire Q4 2023 Shipments.

Source: Harley-Davidson Financial Reports

Setting aside for a moment any questions you might have about "sales" vs. "shipments" as a word choice, it's clear that the S2 Del Mar's release resulted in a sudden increase in LiveWire's unit shipments toward the end of 2023.

There are two likely reasons for this. One: The LiveWire S2 Del Mar is priced as the least expensive LiveWire you can buy. In the US, the MSRP as of March 6, 2024 is $15,499. While that's not exactly pocket change, it's still significantly less expensive than the $22,799 MSRP currently being asked for a new LiveWire One. 

Reason number two is that LiveWire began expanding its operations into Europe in 2023. Thanks to a powerful combination of legislation, infrastructure buildout, and rider culture, electric motorbikes of all kinds have been more readily accepted in Europe than they have been so far in the US. Therefore, bringing LiveWire's more practical everyday machine to the masses in Europe seems like sensible math, right? 

Now, since LiveWire ceased to specify how many of each of its models were shipped in Q3 and Q4 of 2023 on its financial reports, we can't say with certainty how many S2 Del Mars were sold. However, Harley did offer a little more insight in the text accompanying its data tables in both its Q3 and Q4 2023 financial reports. 

On the Q3 report, it wrote that "the majority of Del Mar shipments [would be] landing in Q4." And then, on the Q4 report, it wrote that "in the fourth quarter, LiveWire revenue increased to $15 million from $9 million, driven by unit sales of the new Del Mar electric motorcycles." 

It Seems Like You'd Want To Make Sure The Serious Bugs Were Worked Out Before Shipment

If you've been reading Harley's financial reports every quarter as I have, you'll probably have noticed that the LiveWire notes always contain something to the effect of a much more businesslike "we're just getting started, guys, so we're going to lose money at first but things should improve in the future." That's not unreasonable.

People (and products made by people) aren't perfect. It's meaningful that companies do safety recalls to fix things when they go wrong. It would be unreasonable to expect no recalls to ever be necessary.

However, this seems like a more potentially damaging issue, and one that shouldn't have made it past quality control testing and out into the world in the first place. Bad things happen when people (and their processes) get rushed, and while we can't say for certain that's what happened here, it could be something to look into to avoid similar problems in the future. Rider safety, the concept of viable electric bikes, and the future of associated businesses likely all depend on it.

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