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Climate plans provide chances for motorcycles

FEMA’s Dolf Willigers: ‘Motorcycles are not the problem but part of the solution and go well with the present climate ambitions’.

The fuel- and material-efficiency of motorcycles could provide chances in an environment where decarbonisation and reduction of weight and materials are the new goals.

On the 14th of July 2021, both the UK Government and the European Commission presented their plans to reduce the CO2 emissions. Part of their plans is a ban on the sale of new vehicles that do not have a zero CO2 tailpipe emission. This sounded bad for a large part of the motorcycle community.

However, resistance was soon voiced by lawmakers, social groups, industrial stakeholders, and others who saw drawbacks in these plans. The criticisms are widespread:

  • lack of technological neutrality,
  • a focus that is too much on one solution, ignoring other solutions which leads to vulnerability and the possible negative effects on scientific and economic developments,
  • the risk of too high costs, especially for vulnerable groups with lower incomes,
  • loss of jobs that cannot be replaced by other jobs,
  • not enough electricity from renewable sources,
  • an outdated and insufficient grid,
  • a very long transition period for which there would be no provisions and
  • finally, the Havana-effect: existing vehicles will be used longer than they should be from an environmental perspective because the owners do not want or are able to replace them by electric vehicles.

One of the proposed solutions is the use of renewable low-carbon fuels (biofuels, e-Fuels, etcetera). This will not lead to zero CO2 tailpipe emissions, but it will provide zero CO2 emissions in the whole well-to-wheel cycles, and it shortens the transition period. This is the solution that we support: battery electric motorcycles and other light (L-category) vehicles for use in the cities on short distances and for the long distances and leisure riding, motorcycles with a combustion engine on renewable low-carbon fuels.

In his report, Dominique Riquet writes: “While the rapporteur supports the electrification of the vehicle fleet and the move towards zero emissions, he fears that premature political decisions may underestimate the economic, industrial, social and ecological costs of this transition. Battery-powered vehicles are not ‘zero emission’ in respect of the environment (given the carbon footprint of their manufacturing, the weight of vehicles, the origin of electricity, the extraction and supply of materials, let alone in a context of increased pressure to extract these resources with projections for battery production increasing twentyfold by 2050). Serious questions also need to be asked about our electricity networks (in terms of decarbonisation, availability, performance and standardisation) and recharging infrastructure (network size correlated with autonomy, high investment requirements while Member States will suffer losses and transfers of tax revenue on fuels). Betting everything on a single technology would at the same time undermine other sectors by causing major industrial disruptions in R&D, employment and European competitiveness.” (photo courtesy of EPP Group).

There is another issue that is getting voiced more often. Cars, especially electric and hybrid-electric, are getting much too heavy. Where 20 years ago a middle-class car weighted hardly more than 1200 kg, nowadays new model cars often weight more than 2000 kg.

For example, a Volkswagen Tiguan SUV in 2010 weighed 1412 kg, a Volkswagen ID4 77kWh SUV nowadays weights 2055 kg. All that weight must be set in motion, which is bad for fuel economy. But it also means more wear on suspension, tires and road surfaces, the need to adapt the road infrastructure (barriers) to this higher weight and a higher risk for other, especially vulnerable, road users in case of an accident. Besides, higher weight means that more is used to produce the vehicle which means more use of, often rare and expensive, products and more CO2 emission during the process of making the vehicle. Higher weights are bad for the environment and for road safety.

Recently, the European Parliament Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) adopted a report by MEP Dominique Riquet, with which the European Commission was called not only to look at alternatives for battery-electric propulsion, like vehicles that use low-carbon fuels from renewable sources, but also “to develop proposals to incentive weight reduction, including for low- and zero-emission vehicles, in order to encourage the production of more material-efficient vehicles”.

This can only mean one thing: get rid of heavy cars and vans where possible and use L-category vehicles like motorcycles. We support this because this confirms what we have been saying for years. Motorcycles are smaller, lighter, use less fuel, take less space, use less materials to produce and during their whole life cycle emit much less CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, polluting material, and particulate matter than cars. Again, this shows that motorcycles are not the problem but part of the solution and go well with the present climate ambitions.

Written by Dolf Wiligers

Top photograph courtesy of BP

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