The current state of electric motorcycles, where are we with the “motorcycle of tomorrow”?
The electric motorcycle was almost born with Zero Motorcycles, in 2006 … in almost the greatest indifference. It will be necessary to wait for the big motorcycle manufacturers to get down to it for the electric word to begin to resonate in the heads of certain bikers. And it is certain that when Harley Davidson really launches the first public tests of the Livewire in 2015, the electric motorcycle seems to acquire its letters of nobility. This is really the year we started to read the praise for these “motorcycles of the future”. Since then, we find proposals from several manufacturers of KTM which was one of the first manufacturers up to Bajaj or Kawasaki with its electric Ninja, Vespa with its Elettrica and even Kymco with its Revonex. BMW also its vision of the electric, well beyond the C-Evolution. Today there is a new electric motorcycle manufacturer every month with so many new models from Pursang to Falcon to BST, Newron, Niu, Xiaomi and now Seat. There are too many of them, we will not list all the brands here!
Zero Motorcycle FXS What about 5 years later?
In five years, the penetration rate of electric cars has increased more than fourfold, while Tesla sold 368,000 cars in 2019. And the doubts we had a few years ago are reduced: electric vehicles represent an inevitable future . But what about electric motorcycles? Have they assumed their title of “motorcycle of the future”?
The numbers speak and they are not flattering
In France, electric vehicles represented 2.8% of passenger car sales in 2019 according to EV Volumes *. We are far behind Norway and the Netherlands, which show penetration rates of 56% and 15% respectively and have been steadily increasing for several years, with sales of electricity that even exceed thermal! And yet, in 2017 France took the lead!
Entry rate in 2019 (EV Volumes)
In the face of these figures, one would expect a comparable adoption for electric motorcycles. What reasons would there be for this to indeed differ?
In fact there are plenty of them and electric motorcycles are very far from following the car. According to the Association of European Motorcycle Manufacturers *, electric motorcycles have a penetration rate of only 1.29% in France.
This is more than half the results for electric vehicles as a whole. In other words, electric motorcycles are the poor performers in the category of electric vehicles. And if electric motorcycles were announced 5 years ago as the motorcycles of the future, the figures make us think that this future is far from there.
The key: 125 equivalents
However, there is one segment where electric motorcycles are positioned well. This segment is the 125 equivalent segment for which electric motorcycles represent a little over 5% of sales *. This is a good result, since it is even superior to that of electric cars, yet towed by Tesla (which for the anecdote also works on an electric motorcycle).
But what are the 125 equivalents since there is no cylinder?
The 125 equivalents are all the motorcycles on which you can ride with the A1 license (those with a power less than 11 kW or 15 hp), but which you do not have access with an AM license (those whose power does not exceed not 4 kW or 5.5 hp).
All motorcycles which offer a power greater than 4 kW and less than 11 kW will therefore be called 125 equivalent.
Electric motorcycle models equivalent to 125
In this segment, the first surprise concerns the number of equivalent models 125, not far from twenty models, 16 major * (see list and details on the site “build-sa-moto-electrique.org”)! It’s impressive when you consider that 5 years ago Zero Motorcycles’ Zero S was the only 125 equivalent that aimed at the general public. The offer therefore explodes … or sparks.
The second surprise concerns the comparison between the performance of these 16 motorcycles and the performance of the 10 thermal motorcycles 125 sold in France. Finally, when we talk about surprise, it is really only half a surprise. Because we know very well what to expect. It is easy to imagine that the autonomy of the 125 equivalents is lower than that of its thermal cousins, while their price is higher. But the gap is huge between electrics and thermals.
Indeed, the average autonomy of the electric 125 equivalents is 108 km, against 400 km for thermals. This gap is impressive. And it is all the more so than on average, the electric 125s cost 8,600 € against 3,300 € for thermals (even if we see models arriving under 2,000 euros like at Hero).
In other words, a kilometer of range in electric costs (to buy) almost 10 times more expensive than in thermal.
But in doing so, we are making a mistake. Because we only work by looking at the average. And until proven otherwise, we do not measure the quality of each student in a class by looking only at the average for that class.
We must go a little further.
Electric motorcycle in town The detail that explains the success of the equivalent 125 electric motorcycles
When we look at them in more detail, we realize that these 16 electric motorcycles are not all alike. While their thermal competitors are comparatively more homogeneous.
Indeed, of the 10 thermals taken as an example, 7 display a power between 6.8 kW and 8.5 kW. Electric vehicles show a much greater diversity, with as many motorcycles at 5 kW as motorcycles at 11 kW.
This diversity is the first indication of the potential of equivalent electrics 125.
If we find both roadsters, sports, trails, customs, road and off-road motorcycles in 125 thermals, there are even more differentiations for their electric counterparts, especially in terms of power.
They relate to the category of off-road motorcycles (there are 5, posting prices between € 7,899 for the KTM Freeride E-XC and € 12,890 for the Zero FXS. But they split the remaining category into 2 different uses: the only urban use and multipurpose use.
In this way, those who have a limited budget (6,000 € on average and use restricted to the city can be satisfied with a motorcycle with a power between 5 and 6 kW (there are 6, including the TC Max by Super Soco which is a bestseller).
And those with a larger budget (€ 11,000 on average) are turning to motorcycles with a power of 11 kW. They then have the choice between 4 models, including the Zero S from Zero Motorcycles which is more comparable to an MT-07 than an MT-125.
Thus, the equivalent 125 electric motorcycles have a serious delay both in terms of price and in terms of range.
But they somehow manage to convince their users to invest thanks to relevant segmentation.
But that’s not enough. Because in order for electric motorcycles to become the motorcycles of the future, it will be necessary to seriously fill the two large gaps that separate them from thermals. And address a few other critical issues.
What remains to be done to make electric motorcycles very serious
We could talk about the impressive performance that an electric motor can bring to a motorcycle. But the real stake lies elsewhere.
Indeed, fossil resources will run out. And an alternative fuel is unlikely to be found to run heat engines without emitting greenhouse gases unless you go in the direction of hydrogen and the latest advancements in that.
Therefore, we can be fairly sure that electric motorcycles will sooner or later become a real (or even the main?) Alternative to riding a motorcycle. One can quote India which wants to ban thermal scooters and motorcycles by 2025. It does not say in any case if the electricity will be stored in batteries or in fuel cells thanks to hydrogen.
However, the real question is when electric motorcycles will become the majority.
To answer this question, just ask yourself why they are not in the majority today. And several axes are clearly emerging thanks to the study of the 125 equivalents that we have just seen.
Price and autonomy, same struggle
The first obvious axis already mentioned above: the price is too high while the autonomy is much too low.
Under these terms, it seems that the price and autonomy are differentiated. Yet they are only the result of one part of the electric motorcycle: its battery.
Indeed, it is she who concentrates most of the reasons that explode the price by making their autonomy derisory. More specifically, it is the cost per kWh of the batteries that is the problem.
The range of electric motorcycles (c) Zero Motorcycles
According to a study by Marcello Contestabile and Mohammed Alajaji (Science direct *), the cost per kWh of an electric vehicle battery was around $ 300 (€ 266 at current price) per kWh in 2017 and it didn’t is not much less today.
It’s pretty gigantic.
Because the number of kWh of which a battery is capable is equivalent to the capacity of a motorcycle’s fuel tank. The higher this number, the more it will be able to supply the electric fuel to run the engine and guarantee a decent range.
The problem is, a kWh gives a motorcycle between 20 and 40 km of range.
Therefore, if we want to hope for a reasonable autonomy, we must increase the number of kWh. Which automatically increases the price. And in doing so, the weight of the motorcycle is increased, which therefore reduces its performance.
And as much, corn makes it possible to quadruple the autonomy while the guaranteed lifespan of the batteries increases (a manufacturer guarantees a battery over 2 million kilometers), the autonomy and the bulk that this generates does not yet allow the motorcycle to benefit from all the progress underway on the car with the 800 km of autonomy of a Samsung battery even if the Nawa Racer with its announced 300 km is promising.
In short, it’s a puzzle.
The only solution for electric motorcycles to become relevant quickly is then to work hard on their batteries to lower their cost per kWh, while at the same time trying to reduce their weight.
And without a serious network of terminal territory to recharge the battery quickly, all these efforts are in vain. And it will especially take fast chargers like Enevate which offers a recharge in 5 minutes to ensure 390 km of autonomy.
It will therefore be necessary to gather a good number of parameters for the electric motorcycle to prevail.
But that’s not all. Because we must also take care to contain their environmental impact.
Zero Motorcycles DSR Black ForestElectric motorcycles are not automatically green
It may be unfair, but just because a motorcycle is electric doesn’t mean it is necessarily environmentally friendly. Because even if electric motorcycles are more electric than their thermal counterparts, it takes a lot more.
And for good reason: of the 16 equivalent electric motorcycle models 125, they are all equipped with a Nickel Manganese Cobalt lithium-ion battery and a brushless motor with permanent magnets.
This is a very bad point.
To be convinced of this, Marcel Weil’s team conducted a study in 2018 (Research Gate *) to assess the impact of batteries on mineral reserves over the coming decades.
Result: if we continue like this, we will quickly deplete lithium and cobalt stocks, while nickel and copper reserves will be largely depleted before 2050.
And without these minerals, it is impossible to produce batteries.
The only solution is to find an alternative to lithium-ion batteries as we know them today in our electric vehicles. It is necessary to increase their recyclability and their share of recycled ores, then opt for chemistries (iron-phosphate) or even different technologies (sodium-ion) or even lithium sulfur or aluminum-air batteries.
And it is roughly the same observation with brushless motors (Science direct *), whose permanent magnets are necessarily made of rare earths to improve their performance.
These rare earths, however necessary, present a double problem. The first is that they stir up all covetousness because of the strategic advantage they give to those who sell them. They then concentrate titanic and very dangerous geopolitical issues.
The second problem lies in the contradiction they imply. Because electric vehicles are supposed to oppose the abuse of our soil. Yet rare earth mines are an ecological disaster for all the life around them.
The solution is simple. You just have to stop using rare earths, thanks to the brushless motors without rare earths or to the induction motors that equipped Tesla’s Model S and X.
In other words, environmentally friendly electric motorcycles are not for tomorrow.
Electric motorcycles are the future, but we’re not there yet
The situation and the future of electric motorcycles is not that simple. But if they want to explode and become as serious as they claim, there is still a long job for manufacturers to reduce their price and environmental impact while increasing their autonomy.
In five years, I haven’t seen any dramatic change. So I find it hard to imagine that the situation will change dramatically in the years to come. In other words, if the electric motorcycle is the motorcycle of the future, it is for the moment very far from being the motorcycle of tomorrow.
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