Corporate suicide watch: Harley-Davidson plans to go all-electric

I can’t think of a worse example of a corporate CEO misreading his customer base than this via the Robb Report (Hat tip: Ed Driscoll, Instapundit)

“At some point in time, Harley Davidson will be all-electric,” the executive [Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz] recently told Dezeen. “But that’s a long-term transition that needs to happen. It’s not something you do overnight.”

Zeitz’s pronouncement seems guaranteed to make a not-insignificant portion of the manufacturer’s customer base cringe. For many enthusiasts, the thing that really sets a Harley apart from other motorcycles—American-made or otherwise—is a thunderously loud internal combustion engine. But the company knows that no matter how important those large-displacement mills might be change is on the horizon.

Maybe by “long term” he means several generations from now. If not, this is a surefire recipe for disaster.

With a battery much bigger than the electric motor, the look won't be nearly as appealing

Perhaps it is just an attempt to pre-empt critics, possibly including the CEO’s college indoctrinated children, claiming that Harley emissions are making “the oceans boil” as Al Gore recently claimed at Davos, after deplaning from his Gulfstream private jet, the Flying Squirrel.

But after all, what does Harley-Davidson really have to offer aside from a bad boy image connected to loud exhaust pipes and the buy-American preferences of some motorcycle gangs clubs? I am not a biker nor an expert on motorcycles, but I spent a lot of time as a consultant to two of the world’s biggest auto manufacturers and talked to a lot of engineers about manufacturing tolerances and other arcana of internal combustion engines, and I know that Harleys are not exactly pushing the frontier of excellence. In fact, one American executive with whom I worked was an enthusiast and drove a BMW machine, while others praised the engine technology of Japanese manufacturers.

This is what happens when CEOs focus on acceptance by elites in the media, other corporations and governments. Or when they listen to their kids home on break from college.

Photo credit: Ronald Sanders  CC BY-SA 2.0 license

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