For the past year or so, Curtiss Motorcycle has been punctual with sharing its latest creations on paper to try and keep a dwindling hype alive. Thing is, aside from a prototype flashed once last year, the company doesn’t have much to show for. Formerly known as Confederate Motorcycle, Curtiss not only changed its name but also did a pretty dramatic 180-degree, going from producing massive V-twin engines to strictly electric powertrains. Sadly, not unlike other “legacy brands” taking the green turn, it sounds like they don’t know what they’re doing. If like me you are wondering what exactly Curtiss Motorcycle is doing, don’t watch this video because it answers none of our questions.
To call Confederate Motorcycle slash Curtiss a legacy brand is a stretch. Confederate was founded in the early 90s. When the team realized that the name could become an obstacle to its expansion, it changed its branding over to Curtiss, inspired by the name of motorcycle pioneer Glenn Curtiss. He’s the legacy—the company, not so much. That being said, they seem to be presenting similar symptoms to other actual legacy brands: they don’t seem to know how to position themselves in a rapidly evolving market.
Just like Harley is having a bit of an identity crisis, Curtiss seems to be having a hard time defining itself. You don’t see Ducati or Honda post long-winded, passionate, and emotional spiels about their new-found mission in self-promotional videos created to try and convince people that they know what they’re doing.
If you watch the Curtiss video, all you get is an empty, vapid, self-pleasuring speech about building honest motorcycles and becoming the most important motorcycle brand in history. Sustainably. Cue the buzzword. Someone care to explain what an honest motorcycle is? Watching this video reminds me of how Director Jason described Harley’s presentation about the LiveWire: a bunch of words glued together that ultimately mean nothing. It sounds good until you actually try to understand what they mean.
This seems to be symptomatic of old-mentality companies trying to understand new technologies and new markets. You’d think that after a while (read: years), they would have figured that part out and would have something more substantial and interesting to say about their creations. They are, after all, designing arguably stylish, premium electric bikes meant to appeal to a niche audience. See, I just summarized it using words 99.9% of the people who read this will understand.
“Keep the creative energy sustainable”. “We’re not creating something that is designed to look like something that it isn’t.” What? This all screams confusing brainstorming session to figure out what to tell the people about the brand and the products.
As good as the LiveWire is—which puts Harley further along the way than Curtiss—the Black and Orange brand also seems to face a similar struggle to define its new creative direction. Want to know how the company describes its target audience for its first electric bike? The bike is for “early adopters of technology who enjoy being on the cutting edge, who want to add excitement to their life, aspirational and expressive with premium brand association, consumers of luxury brands, personal style is highly developed with a high value on design, quality and finishes.” I’ll say this: the early adopters probably didn’t wait five years to get a LiveWire and opted for another electric model instead. Just sayin’.
I strongly believe Curtiss (and even Harley for that matter) need to sit down, actually figure out where they want to be positioned on the beautiful motorcycle spectrum, and use that as a building block. Right now, the way they talk about their electric bikes sounds like grandma trying to connect the wireless printer to her computer. She knows part of the lingo, but she doesn’t know how to use it in order for someone to understand what she’s trying to do.
Personally, I'de love to see more electric bikes out there and I'm rooting for the LiveWire or even the Zeus to have the impact they're capable of having. Just, don't try so hard to convince us you have it figured out. As Elvis once put it: a little less conversation, a little more action.