Harley takes page from auto manual

Inside the American heart of Harley-Davidson Motor Co.'s new VRSCA V-Rod motorcycle beats some German engineering.

2001 Management Briefing Seminars index
The concept for the V-Rod's V-twin, two-cylinder engine was created at the motorcycle maker's product development center in Wauwatosa, Wis. But engineers at Porsche Engineering in Weissach, Germany, handled the final design and development.

Seeking a new level of performance, Harley-Davidson and Porsche engineers decided that the V-Rod's engine should be liquid cooled, not air cooled, said Earl Werner, vice president of engineering for Harley-Davidson.

The V-Rod is an example of how Harley-Davidson is adopting many of the same collaborative product development techniques being used by the auto industry. "It's probably the best demonstration of a very close collaboration between styling and engineering," Werner said.

Nor is the V-Rod Harley-Davidson's first collaboration with the auto industry. The motorcycle maker's relationship with Porsche dates back to the early 1970s, Werner said.

Porsche was brought in on the V-Rod because Harley-Davidson did not have enough of its own engineering manpower, Werner said. Harley-Davidson also works with Lotus Engineering and racing engine developer Ilmor Engineering, he said.

The V-Rod marks the first time Harley-Davidson relied only on computer engineering, instead of actual prototypes, until just before production — another product development concept the auto industry is moving toward. Harley-Davidson also used the computer for some of the V-Rod's styling.

Although the virtual product development helped speed the process, the extra time was used to optimize the product, not get to market faster, Werner said. Shortening time to market will come eventually.

"Going to market faster is a competitive advantage, which we can utilize when necessary," he said.

The motorcycle company has been working on a high-performance bike concept since 1996. The V-Rod takes its styling cues from low-slung drag racing bikes.

The bike is aimed at a younger, more performance-oriented, style-conscious buyer than the traditional Harley-Davidson buyer. It will be the first of a family of high-performance bikes.

"We hope it does not appeal to our traditional customers," Werner said.

To develop its new motorcycles, Harley-Davidson is developing a robot rider that will be used for early prototype testing.

The V-Rod does not have the traditional Harley-Davidson staccato cadence, but instead mirrors the more consistent sound of its VR 1000 racing superbike.

The new sound is not a replacement for the traditional Harley-Davidson rumble, but will be a second option for buyers, Werner says.

The bike, which weighs about 610 pounds, has a top speed of 145 mph. The bike, on display early in the week at the Management Briefing Seminars, drew a steady steam of admirers.

When it hits dealerships in October, the retail price will be $16,995.

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