Will motorcycles go electric?

January 3, 2020
Andy Murphy

Is it inevitable that motorcycles will go electric? In the UK, interest in electric cars has grown strongly over the last four years:

However, searches for electric motorcycles have been slower to take off:

So why is consumer interest low? Are bikers inherently less green? Seemingly not, they are simply more pragmatic; almost a quarter of bikers (2) believe in doing green things if they also save you money and would only do environmentally friendly things if others did the same. They are 59% more likely to buy a hybrid or electric powered vehicle in the next two years. So, what’s stopping them?

Why is demand for electric motorcycles not comparable to cars?

Almost all of our automotive clients are working on an electric or hybrid solution. The hard initial yards were done by Nissan with its LEAF. But others, including Jaguar with its award-winning I-PACE, have been quick to pick up the charger. We can learn from their experience of how to overcome some of the barriers that may be limiting the demand.

Range anxiety and charging fears

In the four-wheeled world, the big barrier to overcome was always range-anxiety. Most riders who commute to work on their motorcycle are travelling for less than 30 minutes, or around 15 miles – well within the range of most electric motorcycles. Charging times are an issue for cars, easily overcome for bikes – The Livewire can charge fully in an hour and go for 100 miles – a good distance for a motorcycle ride before you need a coffee break to help feeling to return to your behind…

Sticker Shock!

The cost has been a big barrier for drivers and is present for motorcycles too. EV car ‘sticker shock’ often scares away potential electric converts, despite the lower overall running costs. At £29k, Harley’s Livewire is not a cheap purchase considering the equivalent petrol bike is closer to £10k and that, traditionally, motorcycles have been seen as a cheap form of transport for all. The US electric car market, has seen a 13.4% price decline (1) which is expected to continue as more manufacturers enter the market. As more motorcycle manufacturers enter the market, prices should drop but, for now, electric motorcycles could be a choice only for more wealthy early adopters.

Loud pipes save lives and make for smiles

Motorcycles are a slightly illogical, emotive purchase. Some would argue they aren’t as practical as cars and, as such, are used for different reasons in the UK. Only 17% of motorcycle owners use their motorcycle to get to work and 45% use a car instead. So if you aren’t commuting on it, that makes the motorcycle more of a noisy fun luxury, used to go from A to B via the rest of the alphabet and Loomies at the weekend. So if you only use your bike for fun, why would you give up the noise and the speed and the fun that you get with a traditional motorcycle? Manufacturers need to demonstrate that the bikes are all of those good things apart from noisy, which will concern the ‘loud pipes save lives’ brigade.

So how do we raise interest in electric motorcycles? And will they all go electric?

So how do we get more people on electric motorcycles? As we’ve seen in the car world, education and experience are key. Prices will come down over time, but the public needs educating about the issues highlighted above. They need to be able to experience the thrill for themselves. I think there’s an opportunity to be had in electric bikes.

Interest in Electric Bikes has risen strongly along with cars:

As more people get used to the idea of electric-powered two-wheeled transport over longer distances, charging bikes and the inevitable discomfort of inclement weather, I predict we will find electric bikes becoming the gateway drug to larger motorcycles, both petrol or electric. Harley seems well-positioned to take advantage of this trend.

Aside from the Livewire Harley’s future electric motorcycles look much more like electric bikes and scooters/mopeds. Once it gets a new audience of electric bike riders into the brand, it’s easier to move them onto the rest of the range. It will be interesting to see what the other manufacturers bring out in the coming year.

Ultimately though, there will always be a place for petrol-fueled motorcycles. The MCIA recently published its white paper on the future of mobility in cities. They focus on the idea of riders choosing the right vehicle for the right journey. So if you have a short commute into town, then maybe an electric scooter like the eScooter from SEAT is a good choice. Looking to go to a meeting out of town, then an electric motorbike like the Livewire from Harley or the much speculated about a future model from Triumph could be right. But if you want a blat on country roads on a warm Sunday, then, in my opinion, there will always be time for a petrol-driven, loud piped Triumph Scrambler 1200 around the Surrey Hills on a Sunday!

1 – https://qz.com/1695602/the-average-electric-vehicle-is-getting-cheaper-in-the-us/
2 – Kantar TGI Green Segmen

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