A couple years ago, Harley-Davidson built its first electric motorcycle, the LiveWire, to largely positive reviews. Since we now live in a world created by constant brand consultant input, however, the company has announced they are branching out LiveWire into an entire separate electric motorcycle sub-brand.
Harley-Davidson says LiveWire will “draw on its DNA as an agile disruptor from the lineage of Harley-Davidson,” whatever that means. Per Harley, the new LiveWire entity will have a virtual headquarters paired with “initial hubs” in Silicon Valley and Harley-Davidson’s home, Milwaukee. Livewire will launch its first new branded electric motorcycle on July 8th.
LiveWire will target new buyers in a younger urban market. That’s a substantially different buyer from the people who purchase Harley-Davidson’s bread-and-butter touring bikes. As with Harley-Davidson’s European-focused Serial 1 e-bikes brand, perceptions of the brand may be more of a hindrance than a help courting new buyers and establishing a new identity.
Customers and (never to be discounted) investors get excited about narratives of innovation and disruption from the tech world. As with Ford in the automotive space, it’s hard for a venerable, massive, century-plus old and Rust Belt-based American institution to tell that story, even if the company is doing innovative stuff. It’s much easier to get excited about a new, digital-friendly startup, which is what LiveWire is explicitly positioning itself as.
Not coincidentally, LiveWire’s major competitor looks like it will be Zero Motorcycles, an independent and more youthful California-based startup selling cheaper and sportier electric bikes intended for a younger customer.
Will Harley-Davidson rebranding as the young, hip company for young people be successful? It probably will…as it would have otherwise, if the motorcycles are good enough.
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