In a massive blow to Harley-Davidson's (NYSE:HOG) plan to reverse its decline, the motorcycle maker has stopped production on its LiveWire electric motorcycle as well as delaying indefinitely all further shipments because it discovered a problem with the motorcycle's slow-charging capabilities.

Harley has told its dealers it doesn't know when production and delivery of the motorcycle will resume.

Motorcyclist charging the Harley-Davidson LiveWire

Image source: Harley-Davidson.

Short circuited again

The Wall Street Journal reports that Harley-Davidson chief operating officer Michelle Kumbier told dealers that the company is conducting further tests on the motorcycles, and though they're safe to ride, only Level 3 DC Fast Chargers should be used to charge them.

The LiveWire's high-voltage lithium-ion battery gives riders two ways to charge the motorcycle: a Level 3 DC Fast Charger port where the LiveWire can be hooked up to any public fast-charge station, to get an 80% charge in 40 minutes, and an onboard Level 1 charger for hooking up to a household outlet and letting the bike charge overnight.

It's the Level 1 charging capabilities that seem to be the problem. And it's a much bigger problem than the brake-light issue that at least one dealer was led to believe was the cause of the shipment delays he was experiencing.

Pinning its hopes on hitting a home run

The LiveWire was supposed to be a game-changer for Harley-Davidson, heralding the future of the motorcycle company and its relationship with a new generation of riders. It was in the point position of a new, accelerated growth plan to have 4 million Harley riders by 2027.

Although the bike itself wasn't necessarily expected to break any sales records, and analysts figured Harley would only move between 400 to 1,600 LiveWires in the first year due to the exorbitant $30,000 price tag, Harley was going for the "halo effect" the model would offer its other electric bikes.

Attracted by the high performance of the LiveWire, they would then look at the simpler and presumably cheaper bikes it would produce, including:

  • The IRONe12 and IRONe16 electric stability bicycles targeted 3- to 6-year-olds
  • Three new electric bicycles that are in the works
  • A dirt-bike-style off-road electric motorcycle unveiled at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show

The manufacturing and design renaissance the LiveWire was leading also includes smaller, middleweight gas-powered motorcycles like the Streetfighter and Adventure Touring models that will expand Harley's access from just 60% of the motorcycle market covered by heavyweight bikes to over 90%. 

But all that is predicated on the LiveWire's successful launch. Transitioning toward becoming a major player in electric vehicles that would drive future sales and growth is now in serious doubt.

Delay after delay

Harley-Davidson was supposed to begin shipping the LiveWire motorcycle in August, but pushed that back to late September when it finally began rolling out of the factory to dealer showrooms. Dealers I spoke with last week, however, had yet to receive them, and it appears it may be a while longer yet till they do.

The suspension of production and delivery of the LiveWire may cause customers already angry at the delays to cancel their orders, and it may cause others considering a purchase of the pricey electric bike to not do so.

Harley-Davidson already faced a difficult task convincing buyers it could create a whole new market for high-performance electric motorcycles out of nothing. Now that job has just become a lot more difficult.