LiveWire ‘risk’ worth taking as Harley boss likens electric strategy to Tesla

Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz plays down LiveWire's sluggish investment drive on the New York Stock Exchange, says it is trailblazing like Tesla

LiveWire ONE

Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz says the company would rather ‘take the lead’ in the nascent electric motorcycle sector despite the slow uptake of its inaugural model, the Harley-Davidson LiveWire [Livewire ONE].

Launched in 2019, the Harley-Davidson LiveWire naked represented a radical change of tact for the American firm - synonymous with large capacity, traditional cruiser models - in terms of brand perception and market strategy.

Moreover, the timing of its launch put Harley-Davidson years ahead of its mainstream rivals, which only now are grappling with plans to roll out EV models in a reluctant consumer space in the run up to fossil fuel-powered models being phased out in several key markets.

It’s a trailblazing approach that hasn’t paid dividends for Harley-Davidson so far with only 387 LiveWires being shifted in 2021, figures that haven’t been helped by its lofty £28,000 price tag ($29,799) - almost three times pricier than most of its petrol powered rivals - and anomalous position in the market.

However, rather than put development of the machine on hiatus until market conditions improved, Harley-Davidson proceeded to syphon LiveWire into its own sub-brand and cede full ownership in favour of having a majority stake, while SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) AEA-Bridges assumes the rest.

With the sale between the two parties completed last month, LiveWire was floated on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in an effort to drum up investment. However, it has been an uneasy debut for LiveWire with the $295m raised (as of 27 September) falling well short of the $545m anticipated in December.

Despite the challenges, Zeitz is retaining a positive attitude towards LiveWire futureproof platform as it waits patiently for the market to turn in its favour, pointing towards Tesla - which successfully belied its start-up status to pioneer a sea-change in perception and sales of electric cars - as an example of what taking the reins can achieve.

“I don’t build brands based on what the market does when you go public,” Zeitz told Bloomberg. “I believe in the strategy of separating the brands” to bring about “strategic clarity” to operations, he added. 

“If you look at other motorcycle manufacturers they’re sort of dancing around the discussion, like a lot of autos danced around that discussion when Tesla was winning,” he said. “I’d rather take the lead and I think we have a unique opportunity, which is always more risky if you’re the first.”

LiveWire is gearing up for the first deliveries of its second model - the LiveWire Del Mar - a more compact and affordable flat-tracker inspired electric motorcycle to slot below the ONE in the doubled up range

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