Electric motorcycle: why it does not start

Despite encouraging signs, the market for electric motorcycles is still struggling to get started. What are the reasons?

While sales of new electric cars seem to continue to increase inevitably, with 12% of registrations in April 2022, the vast majority of advertising communications relate to electrical models (the only exception being hybrids), and the charging network is multiplying at a steady pace and finally adapted, the electric motorcycle appears to tread water.

Not that sales of electric motorcycles are not progressing, but they remain anecdotal compared to sales of cars or even electric scooters and small displacements, where the latter is booming as sales of 50 electric motorcycles in France have increased by 90% and sales of 125 by 35 % in 2021. Overall, sales of electric two-wheel motors increased by 25.7% in 2021, confirming the growing interest of users.

But for electric motorcycles with larger displacement, it’s still a bit of a grimace. Between January and September 2021 (the only figures we currently have), only 16,521 electric motorcycles were sold in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK in a market of almost 800,000 motorcycles. This represents a market share of new registrations of 2.06. Although this number has probably evolved a bit since then, we are far from the 12% of the electric car or the 5 to 10% (estimated) of the electric scooters.

So of course some brands are doing well, but they are still rare. However, we must point out the strong sales growth in 2021 for Zero Motorcycles, which confirms its leading position with an increase of 166.67%, and SuperSocco, which sees sales of its small shifts increase by 130.61%.

In addition to the figures, there are reasons that explain the mistakes at the start of the electric motorcycle market. Objective reasons, but also more subjective reasons.

The price

This is probably the first reason that comes to mind when we talk about electric motorcycles. Thus, a Zero SR / S, a sports model in the range, corresponding to a thermal 750, is shown in a “long range” and “fast charging” version for almost 27,000 euros. By comparison, a thermal Kawasaki Z750 with similar benefits costs 7,500 euros. If the price difference between electric and thermal cars is often pointed out, as it falls to be very minimal in some cases, it is still abysmal in the motorcycle area. It is clear that the electric motorcycle is not for all budgets and remains a luxury product, even by deducting the 900 euros in organic bonus upon purchase (the support is limited to 900 euros). Rest assured that Zero is not a unique case, as the Harley-Davidson LiveWire sells for 34,000 euros.

Autonomy and charging time

To take the example of Zero SR / S, when we talk about great autonomy, we are talking about 365 km in the city, 182 km on the motorway at 113 km / h and 243 km in total. I let you imagine with a sustained speed of 135 km / h … In terms of charging time, we are also quite far from the results obtained by newer electric cars, as it will take from 2.7 hours to 4.5 hours to recharge the machine by 95% depending on the version. Note, however, that with the 6 kW fast charge option + A Faster Charge Cypher Upgrade, the Premium version of the motorcycle will “only” require 1h30 hours for a full charge and 1 hour all the way around to regain 95% of the battery capacity.

But is autonomy a problem? Not really. Because unlike the car, the difference between a thermal and an electric autonomy is not huge. If we take the example of the car, between an “average” electric car that will hardly reach 300 km of autonomy on the highway and a diesel internal combustion engine that can easily drive between 600 and 900 km, ie double or triple, the gap is abysmal. In the world of motorcycles, it is not uncommon for the range of a thermal motorcycle to not exceed 200 to 300 km. The question is therefore more a question of the availability of terminals and especially charging times. Aside from the price, it is probably one of the main reasons to discourage motorcyclists who would be tempted by the electrical experience. And not necessarily autonomy.

The sensations, the pleasure … and the look

Motorcyclists love the motorcycle because it is a … motorcycle. With all the sensations and driving pleasure it gives. Just as with cars, a large proportion of users experience neither passion nor pleasure, and regard their car as a simple means of transport and from a practical angle, the overwhelming majority of motorcyclists exercise this discipline by choice and passion. In this passion, the pleasure of controlling the power, of hearing the engine roar (and heat) between the legs and of going up and down the gears is a mixture that the electric is still far from providing. Or maybe never even deliver again. This is one of the reasons mentioned when we ask motorcyclists the question, as 90% of them do not intend to go for electricity, despite the planned bans in 2035 for thermal vehicles. . Well, it depends on the surveys …

In terms of appearance, again, if we compare with the car, the mechanical elements of a motorcycle are much more visible, constitutive of the overall design and weigh more in balance. A beautiful exhaust line, a profiled tank, the visible cylinders participate in the general line, and one can understand that a motorcyclist is not insensitive to this view of the motorcycle. That said, although taste is a subjective matter, let’s acknowledge that most of the electric motorcycles available on the current market have a fairly successful range and that an uninitiated will have a hard time guessing, that they are electric machines.

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Performances

Another chapter that is the subject of debate today is the performance of electric motorcycles. We must not lie to each other, performance is in the DNA of the bike. If the difference in performance between an electric and thermal car today can largely play in favor of the first (a 50,000 euro electric car is able to accelerate and pick up identical to a Porsche for 150,000 euros), it is not the same for the motorcycle . The difference is actually insignificant between a thermal 750 and a similar electric one. If we take the comparative example between a Zero SR / S and a Kawasaki Z750, it is 5 tenths of a 0 to 100 km / h (3.3 seconds for the first, 3.8 for the second) or nothing. It is therefore a criterion that will not be able to convince a thermal motorcyclist to become electric. But the biker likes to put the handle in the corner. Not all motorcyclists, but certainly a significant part.

Security?

This topic has been questioned because it can be discussed. Many motorcyclists believe that the noise from their machine is a guarantee of safety to other road users, and in particular motorists, because it allows them to be heard and therefore can be seen from a distance. With an electric motorcycle, even equipped with AVAS (mandatory since 2021, but which is primarily aimed at pedestrians), we can no longer expect motorists’ hearing to remember their fond memories.

Not everything is lost for the electric motorcycle market, but the obstacles to the adoption of this new method of propulsion are greater than for the car or scooter because the technical limitations are still significant. Although the legislation should probably speed up the movement, with a clear ban on the sale of thermal vehicles in Europe in 2035, it is above all on the side of the manufacturers that we need to look. They will have to show creativity and be aware of the innovations that are breaking out in the sector in order to be able to offer motorcycles fairly quickly at reasonable prices, with an acceptable range and above all a recharging power that makes it possible to recover enough to cover at least 200 kilometers in barely more time than it takes to fill up with gas. And maybe they also need to look at ways to reproduce with electricity – and probably in a slightly artificial way – all these little visual and auditory pleasures that tickle motorcyclists’ senses and make their passion vibrate.

That day will probably come soon enough, but only in a few years. Motorcyclists will then be able to discover the other benefits of electric and the various sensations it provides.

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