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Where are the electric motorcycles?

The European Union aims for a 90% reduction in transport emissions and a ban on petrol engines. Car manufacturers jump at the opportunity to sell us one of their newly developed electric or hybrid cars, but the established motorcycle industry does not appear to be so keen. FEMA’s Dolf Willigers asks what the motorcycle industry is waiting for. And the industry responds.

Charging station (photo by Wim Taal).

In December 2020 I wrote about the possibilities of survival of the internal combustion engine (ICE) motorcycle in a world that shows more and more electric vehicles. Now I will focus on electric motorcycles. Here something strange is happening. Manufacturers of cars are changing rapidly to fully electric and hybrid cars. LRJ (Land Rover Jaguar) has even announced that they will stop making ICE cars altogether from 2025, Volvo and Ford from 2030, Audi has stopped the development of new diesel engines, Volkswagen wants to compete with Tesla and plans to launch 70 purely electric cars by 2030. They are becoming cheaper as well: in the Netherlands for example, the basic model of the newest Mercedes EQA 250 is cheaper than the basic GLA 250 from which it is derived. Dacia has launched its sub-€20,000, fully electric mini-SUV Spring.

Many Chinese brands bring battery powered cars to Europe with growing success. Even the iconic American pickup trucks will be electrified: General Motors announced recently that they will produce the Silverado electric pickup truck in their ZERO factories in Detroit and Hamtramck (Michigan). To make a long story short: forced by the European CO2 tax, and with plans in several countries to ban the sale of new cars with an internal combustion engine, and with a growing number of low and zero emission zones, all manufacturers are developing hybrid and fully electric cars, trucks, lorries et cetera.

Bans on ICE vehicles and low emission zones (LEZs) affect motorcycles too. Also, the Euro 4 and 5 emission standards forced manufacturers to take many models from the European market. Especially the larger touring models are getting scarce. The Honda Pan-European and the Yamaha FJR 1300 could not be updated to Euro 4 standards and vanished already some time ago, but now also models like the Kawasaki Z 1000 and ZZR 1400, Honda VFR models and Harley-Davidson Sportster have disappeared. There was even a rumour that the BMW K1600-series would be discontinued because they could not be homologated to Euro 5, but they are still on the price list. Of course, this could just be because of the opportunity the European Commission gave to the manufacturers to sell existing stock that does not comply to Euro 5 standards a bit longer because of the Covid-19 situation.

‘European Green Deal: in 2050 the emissions from transport must be reduced by 90%’

Harley-Davidson LiveWire (photo courtesy of Olaf Biethan).

One would expect these models to be replaced by other models with an ICE or electric engine. This is not the case. The electric motorcycles we see are almost all from manufacturers like Zero, Evoke, Damon, and Energica, that made electric motorcycles from the beginning. Other new manufacturers like OX Riders, Cake and Pursang have just started to produce or show interesting prototypes. Cake even advertises its model Ösa+ as “… a utility machine, a work bench and power station on wheels”. We do not hear much from the established brands. Of course, Harley-Davidson has its Livewire, KTM some dirt bikes, Triumph recently showed their TE-1 project prototype, and BMW has its C evolution scooter. However, all this cannot be compared with the developments in the car industry. One could say that this is good news for the petrol heads among us, but is this so?

Like it or not, ICE motorcycles will be confronted with restrictions in purchase and use. Many countries have already announced the year after which no new cars with internal combustion engines should be sold. In March 2021, nine European countries have called on the European Commission to come up with a plan to phase out cars with ICE and of course there is the European Green Deal, in which there is no place for internal combustion engines. In 2050 the emissions from transport must be reduced by 90%. Although motorcycles are never mentioned, there is no reason to believe that they will be exempted from any coming measures. In the United Kingdom motorcycles are exempted from the ban on the sale of new vehicles with an internal combustion engine in 2030, but how long will this last?

Motorcycles pollute less than cars and emit less greenhouse gasses, but will that be enough to earn a different treatment? With a growing number of hybrid and fully electric cars, there is a risk that motorcycles will in time stand out as polluting. We already see the same with the noise issue: cars have become considerably quieter, and motorcycles attract more attention. Resistance against real or perceived motorcycle noise grows. As we already saw, many types of motorcycles could not be homologated to the Euro 4 and 5 standards and disappeared from the showrooms. It is not that they are pushed out by electric motorcycles, they just did not comply with current environmental standards anymore.

‘Europe is just 2.5% of the global motorcycle market’

(photo courtsey of Yadea).

It is a mistake to think that the apparent reluctancy of the established motorcycle manufacturers to invest in electric motorcycles, benefits the ICE motorcycles. You also should consider that Europe is just a tiny piece of the cake for the big Japanese manufacturers. In 2020, 56.5 million motorcycles were sold globally, which was 14% less than the 64.4 million that were sold worldwide in 2019. In Europe, in 2020 1.5 million motorcycles (and other powered two- and three-wheelers) were sold, which was a little more than in 2019. Around 75,000 of them were electric. Just to put things in perspective, you can say that Europe is just 2.5% of the global motorcycle market. Outside Europe and North America, motorcycles are generally small. No wonder that motorcycle manufacturers are not in a hurry to develop new large models.

Have you ever heard of Yadea? According to it is the second largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, after Honda, and a the largest electric powered two-wheeler manufacturer. They sold 5.6 million electric scooters in 2020, mostly in China. The Indian government put a target on 2025 of 90% electric powered two-wheelers. This means about 20 million electric motorcycles per year. With numbers like this, it is to be expected that the large Japanese motorcycle manufacturers will not spend much time and money to develop motorcycles for a European market (a market that was already declining before governments and city councils announced their plans to ban ICE vehicles).

If the big Japanese four manufacturers, but also the big European motorcycle manufacturers, do not seem to invest much in ICE motorcycles anymore – especially in the bigger bikes – why do we not see the alternatives yet? Honda seems to be working on a CB125 look-alike electric bike. Honda, KTM, Piaggio, and Yamaha recently formed the Electric Battery Consortium, and announced a swappable battery standard, which is genuinely nice for small motorcycles, but you would need a crane to swap the batteries of a big bike. This leaves the question why we do not hear or see anything about a medium sized or big electric bike from the established manufacturers. Where is the electric touring bike that could replace my Honda Pan European, with the same range, luggage capacity, protection, qualifications et cetera? And make it a little bit affordable as well please, which is only achievable when large quantities are made.

‘Bikesure: 47.6% of the riders in the UK would like to own an electric motorcycle’

Click on the image for a larger view (image courtesy of Bikesure

The car industry shows that it is possible, the established motorcycle industry still appears to be hibernating. Do not get me wrong: I do not want all ICE motorcycles replaced by electric ones, but I want to have a choice and I am surprised by the inactivity of the vested names. According to a survey of the British insurance company Bikesure, 47.6% of the riders in the UK would like to own an electric motorcycle, but also 44% think that the sale of petrol-powered models should never be banned. For the people who would like to own an electric motorcycle, the torque from zero rotations is the most important reason, followed by the more economical run, the environmental impact and the lower sound emission. For the fans of the ICE motorcycle the range is still the most important issue to stick with petrol, followed by the charging time compared to the time to fuel an ICE bike and the general experience like the sound, feeling the engine working, et cetera.

From a survey we at FEMA did ourselves in 2016, I remember that there were big differences in Europe. Leisure riders wanted to stick to their ICE motorcycle, while other riders, who see their bike more as a commodity, would gladly change to electric. When almost half of the riders in Europe say they would like to own an electric motorcycle and governments all over the world are talking about a transition from ICE to electric, it is very strange at least that the established motorcycle industry keeps hesitating.

We asked ACEM, the European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers, to respond on behalf of the motorcycle industry.

Today as in the past, ACEM manufacturers are working on exciting, sustainable individual mobility, leisure and personal transport solutions for now and for the future, ensuring safe, clean, smart, fun and efficient mobility for all.

With the Green Deal launched in December 2019, the EU took the political commitment of being climate neutral by 2050. The European Climate Law sets the 2050 target and the direction of travel for all EU policy. The subsequent EC Communication on Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy (December 2020) states that a clear path is needed to achieve a 90% reduction in transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is the effort required from transport to ensure the EU becomes the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, as outlined in the European Green Deal. ACEM acknowledges the EU’s ambition of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Whilst powered two-wheelers represent less than 2% of the vehicle fleet on EU roads, they provide a wide spectrum of vehicles, often used for very specialised purposes. Overall, in the EU motorcycles emit significantly less greenhouse gases than cars (50 times less). According to the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE), the average car emits 2.0 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) each year, compared to just 0.3 tonnes for motorcycles. However, decarbonisation does not necessarily go through electrification. Our industry ambition, based on the ‘right vehicle, right place, right energy carrier’ concept, is to continue to offer to the market a variety of powertrains that each individually will contribute to decarbonisation.

ACEM expects that the predominant share of the urban mobility powered two-wheeler market will be electric by 2030, with increasing spill overs on the whole motorcycle range towards 2050.

Antonio Perlot, ACEM’s Secretary General (photo by Wim Taal).

Within the above multi pathway approach, the powered two-wheeler industry clearly understands that electromobility will play a key role in the future mobility of people and goods. Manufacturers in ACEM are progressively increasing the availability of electric models designed to meet these new consumer mobility- and citizen needs, within or around cities. Electric versions of leisure orientated motorcycles are still a niche market, made of ‘early adopters’ both in the industry and amongst consumers, willing to accept current limitations in the usage of the vehicle, let’s face it with a much higher price tag, when comparing vehicles with the same purpose and characteristics. Start-ups are predominantly visible in this area, due to the fact that their investment and smaller manpower can be focused on such limited quantities, often acting as ‘system integrators’ when it comes to the powertrain and choosing to address a very specific market. Their production usually revolves around one, or in any case few, vehicle models or even trims.

Established manufacturers are balancing long term investments in infrastructure and employment, as well as high consumers’ expectations linked to the brand when it comes to overall quality – electric propulsion for leisure motorcycles being only a fraction of their total activities. They are involved in a variety of vehicle segments, meeting different purposes and consumers’ expectation. Needless to say, whilst established manufacturers are also entering the electric motorcycle segment, for most pure electrification is focusing mainly on smaller, short range vehicles, aimed mainly at the urban environment, where the perspective of higher volumes is in line with their industrial dimension. With the right enabling conditions, ACEM expects that the predominant share of the urban mobility powered two-wheeler market will be electric by 2030, with increasing spill overs on the whole motorcycle range towards 2050.

Written by Antonio Perlot, ACEM’s Secretary General.

European countries with plans to ban fossil fuel powered cars are:
Austria – 2027 Non-electric newly registered taxis, car shares and hire cars.
Belgium – 2026 Petrol & Diesel new company cars.
Denmark – 2030 Petrol & Diesel new vehicles, 2035 all vehicles and new PHEV.
France – 2040 no fossil fuels for new cars and light commercial vehicles.
Germany – 2030 Zero emission new cars.
Ireland – 2030 Fossil fuel, new cars.
Iceland – 2030 Petrol & Diesel, new cars, except remote areas.
Netherlands – 2030 Zero emission, all cars.
Norway – 2025 Zero emission, all cars.
Portugal – 2035 Petrol and Diesel cars, still under discussion.
Scotland – 2032 Climate Action Plan, support electric vehicles.
Slovenia – 2030 <50 gr CO2/km.
Spain – 2040 ICE, new cars.
Sweden – 2030 Petrol & Diesel, new car sales, Dec 2019 Climate Policy Action Plan.
United Kingdom – 2030 ICE, 2035 plug-in hybrid cars.

Despite our efforts, this list may not be completely comprehensive or up to date. The information that we could find was sometimes contradictive. The status of the plans differs from rather vague to concrete legislation, although in most cases they are still plans and no more than that.In March 2021 nine EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Malta, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) asked the European Commission to set a phase-out date for the sale of new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles with combustion engines in the EU that is in line with the goal of climate neutrality by 2050.

Next to the national bans, there are many local limitations on ICE vehicles in low- or zero emission zones and congestion zones. A full overview of these can be found on the website far, motorcycles are not mentioned in any national plans, but bans on older motorcycles and/or mopeds to enter LEZs (or other restrictions) already exist in some European cities. Examples are London, Paris, Amsterdam (mopeds and in 2025 all ICE vehicles), some Italian cities (two-stroke engine motorcycles and mopeds).

Written by Dolf Willigers

Top photograph courtesy of Energica

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