Harley-Davidson Takes Equity Stake In Alta Motors

Cruiser builder taps into solid electric vehicle R&D

Harley-Davidson, which previously showed “LiveWire,” a prototype electric motorcycle, and then announced this past January that an all-electric model will arrive sometime in 2019, has bought an interest in San Francisco-based Alta Motors, makers of the critically acclaimed Redshift off-road motorcycle.

Alta bypassed the easy route to electric motorcycling, which is what I think of as “Grainger Catalog engineering.” Instead it has engineered a mature system, which integrates a liquid-cooled brushless motor, liquid-cooled power supply, and an energy-dense lithium-ion battery module cooled by thermal conduction into an effective motocross chassis.

Harley-Davidson needs a future-penetrating concept of motorcycling—vehicles that can respond to a changing society. Most people today learn to drive on automatic transmission-equipped cars, compelling them to learn clutch/throttle coordination if they are also to become motorcyclists on conventional combustion-powered machines. Electric drive, which has neither a clutch nor gears, eliminates this.

“Alta has demonstrated innovation and expertise in EV and their objectives align closely with ours,” Harley-Davidson president and CEO Matt Levatich said. “We each have strengths and capabilities that will be mutually beneficial as we work together to develop cutting-edge electric motorcycles.”

Even today, noise remains a problem for motorcycling, and electric motorcycles can be essentially silent. Electric drive already delivers what all of today’s electronic rider aids seek to get from traditional motorcycle combustion engines: smooth, controllable torque at all speeds, without the driveline disturbances of gear changing.

An important word to all Harley-Davidson riders is torque, and electric motors can deliver maximum torque from zero rpm. If riders truly want torque rather than talk, electrics deliver in spades.

Although it’s hard to imagine a silent electric Harley-Davidson motorcycle satisfying the tough-guy image marketing goals of The Motor Company, the future of the motorcycle’s appeal is impossible to predict. That makes it mandatory for major motorcycle makers to bring electrics to market. Think of it as insurance.