There was a single glaring problem from the start: Price. 

When Harley-Davidson announced that, after its botched acquisition of Alta, it was launching the all-electric LiveWire, the Milwaukee-based outfit committed the cardinal sin of failing to read the room. It's understandable, though, as Harley had made its bones on expensive motorcycles built for folks who had a leg up with a booming economy and were always on financially stable ground. These dentists, middle managers, and soccer coaches had cash to burn, and they had the freedom to enjoy a toy that'd sit for 10 months of the year in their garage, only to enjoy it one perfect summer day. 

That's just not the case for today's buyers who face massive income inequality, trash job prospects, and rising inflation. Their spending goes to housing, food, and paying off their school loans, not five-digit motorcycles. 

And so, Harley's attempt at capturing the next generation and bringing them into the brotherhood of the brand became a joke after announcing LiveWire's eye-watering $30,000 sticker. I distinctly remember nearly doing a spit-take as Harley dropped the price on everyone, and recall saying "Wow, they're doing another Alta."

LiveWire S2 Del Mar - Left Side

To Harley's credit, however, when I rode the LiveWire on the Brooklyn Formula E track at its introduction, I thought the bike was solidly built. The power was fun, the engineering was cool, and though it needed more braking power to handle its weight, that weight was low enough down to make it pretty agile.

Harley's test rider and I had a good bit of fun at the back of the pack throughout our session. 

But a good bike with an astronomical price tag isn't going to move a company's aging demographics. Nor is reducing the price nearly $10,000 a year later, or rebranding and splitting the company in two. 

After what I'd call the bungling and failure of the LiveWire launch, the brand's executives decided that the real problem was Harley's core demographic wasn't interested in electrics, the more modern styling of the LiveWire, and its Harley branding was hurting LiveWire's sales with The Youths. To combat this, LiveWire became its own company without mention of Harley-Davidson.

LiveWire ONE - Studio - Nightfall Blue - Right Side
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And since that split, the brand's launched two more electric motorcycles including the S2 Del Mar and S2 Mullholland—bikes that have had their own share of serious problems—both of which will set you back a cool $16,000. I understand that it's expensive to design and manufacture a new electric platform, but that's still expensive for a bike with such limited range.

Even more confounding, these two definitely-not-Harley-Davidsons look exactly like Harley-Davidsons. If Harley's premise of why the LiveWire failed so hard was true, and that the brand's heritage and/or Boomer baggage was the culprit, then why style them so closely to the rest of Harley's lineup? Wouldn't more futuristic designs be the way forward?

That belief, however, wasn't true and leads us to today with Harley's latest financial disclosure.

We're painted a pretty bleak future for LiveWire as a whole, as Q1 saw operating losses for the brand hit $29 million, which is on the back of 2023's $125 million losses, and $85 million in loses in 2022. And sales have just gone nowhere, with the company stating it sold 660 motorcycles in 2023, with 2024 year-to-date sales of just 117 bikes. That's just not enough for a brand to sustain itself, nor am I sure it should continue as it is.

LiveWire S2 Mulholland

There are things I see that Harley-Davidson could do to turn things around, but all of it revolves around understanding that Harley's strategy failed from the outset for a variety of reasons.

And then, correcting those issues. Chief among those being the price of the LiveWire and subsequent S2 models. No longer can Harley charge exorbitant sticker prices for motorcycles, as the world is wildly different than that of the good-ole-years when Harley was riding high (pardon the pun) on Boomer generational wealth. 

My generation and the generation after me are facing far more worrisome financial outlooks. We don't have the money to drop on these machines, despite how so many analysts say we just need to give up our avocado toasts and fancy coffee to afford such niceties. 

And with that generation's attitude toward getting the most out of their dollar, the bikes' limited range has limited use—you can't go far on 100 miles

Likewise, the company failed to bring out a product that embraced its heritage but was still different enough from its other motorcycles. I mean, there's a whole history of Harley on dirt that it could've taken advantage of. Not to mention its historic sportier models, and lightweight, stripped machines. Imagine a modern Peashooter EV.

But the folks at the top seem to only see the world in expensive, bloated, cruiser-colored glasses, as the S2 models show. I hate to break it to you, Harley, but not everyone wants a bar hopper. 

All of which is to say, I'm left with a single question: When will Harley-Davidson give up on electric bikes or at least figure out it needs to completely overhaul its strategy? Because, at this point, it feels like they're beating the already pulverized bones of a dead horse.

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