12 000 people, including Scarlett Johansson, rode the Livewire prototypes. File photo: Harley-Davidson

Milwaukee, Wisconsin - Without any of the usual hype or fanfare, Harley-Davidson has let it be known that it will launch a production version of its Livewire electric motorcycle “within 18 months”.

During a media conference call to discuss its (depressing) quarterly sales results, the closure of its Kansas City, Missouri assembly plant and wheel operations in Adelaide, Australia, Harley-Davidson president and CEO Matt Levatich said: “You’ve heard us talk about Project LiveWire.

“It’s an active project we’re preparing to bring to market within 18 months.”

The Livewire Project was a batch of prototype battery-powered motorcycles that Harley-Davidson built in 2014 and took on a roadshow tour throughout the United States and Europe, to test customer response to a motorcycle that was neither loud nor vibratious, two characteristics that have defined Harley-Davidson since it produced its first two-cylinder motorcycle in 1907.

“The universal appeal of that product was the most astounding aspect of that initiative,” Levatich said of the 12 000 people who rode the prototypes. “It gave us a lot of confidence that electric motorcycles have broad-based appeal - they’re going to sit in garages alongside existing Harleys as much as they’re going to create new interest in riding.”

The Livewire prototype accelerates from standstill to 100km/h in a seamless (it has no clutch or gearbox) four seconds and has a range of about 80km. By comparison, the Zero SR battery bike will launch to 100km/h in 3.3 seconds and a conventional petrol-powered Ducati Monster 1200 can do it in less than three.

A Livewire was also featured in the 2015 action movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, where it was ridden by Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson - although to be fair, most of the riding was done by French stunt rider Sarah Vignot, who has a lot of nice things to say about the bike in the video below .

Chief financial officer John Olin said the company would be spending $25 - $50 million (R300 - R600 million) on electric bike engineering over the next couple of years in a bid to become the world leader in the electric motorcycle market.

Harley-Davidson is desperately in need of a fresh customer base. We noted 10 years that the median age of Harley customers was going up by a year each year, and now those baby boomers are trading their bikes in for Zimmer frames, while millennials are going for lightweight, non-traditional bobbers and are hesitant to spend big money on machines they see as old-fashioned.

The Motor Company expects to sell between 231 000 and 236 000 motorcycles in 2018, after producing 241 498 bikes in 2017 - its lowest number since 2011. Global sales for December declined 11.1 percent from December 2015, and sales for the fourth quarter were down 9.6 percent.

IOL Motoring