Harley-Davidson Inc. will launch electric motorcycles in Japan as early as 2024, its chief executive said Friday, as the American manufacturer seeks to secure a foothold in the growing all-electric two-wheeler market in the country.
"There is a long-term transition from combustion (engines) to whatever the technology is going to be," CEO Jochen Zeitz said in an interview with Kyodo News. "We want to be a pioneer" in the transition.
The products will be sold under LiveWire Group Inc., the company's electric motorcycle division, which was spun off in 2022 but remains under its control, Zeitz said.
All-electric motorcycles are a fledgling segment of the overall two-wheeler market in Japan, with a growing number of companies, such as Yamaha Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co., starting to offer products.
"I have yet to see an electric motorcycle from Japanese brands in the segment where LiveWire is competing," Zeitz said, adding that its vehicles are bigger than rival products.
LiveWire has already begun to sell its products in the United States and plans to expand into other regions outside Japan.
Selling electric vehicles under a different brand than Harley-Davidson, the American icon of large-size, gasoline-powered motorcycles, will help win support from various types of customers, such as those who want to try out new technology and those who expect to have powerful engines on their motorcycles, the CEO said.
"There are different customers for different products," Zeitz said. "But there could also be the same customer owning different products."
Japan is the second-biggest market for Harley-Davidson after the United States. Its Japanese business saw significant growth last year as more people began to use motorcycles to avoid public transportation amid the coronavirus pandemic, the company said.
According to the Japan Automobile Importers Association, Harley-Davidson sold 10,199 motorcycles in Japan last year, up 32.8 percent from a year earlier. The company had about a 40 percent market share among the imported brands in Japan.
In recent years, the American brand, which has long charmed relatively older motorists, is gaining more popularity with women and younger people in Japan, who are also contributing to increased sales of its parts and apparel, the company said.
The plan comes as major motorcycle companies in Japan ramp up efforts to make vehicles using hydrogen and other zero-emission technologies.
Honda Motor Co., Kawasaki Motors Ltd., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Yamaha said last month they will jointly develop hydrogen-powered engines, with an eye to launching them on two-wheelers and other means of transportation.
Zeitz did not deny the possibility that Harley-Davidson would join the group in the future but said his current focus is on electric vehicles.
The American maker on Friday also unveiled two new gasoline models for its luxury CVO brand for the Japanese market. The CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide each have a 1,977 cc engine, the biggest displacement for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
The two-wheelers, equipped with enhanced suspension, are priced at about 5.5 million yen ($39,000) and above.