Despite encouraging signs, the electric motorcycle market is still struggling to take off. What are the reasons?
While sales of new electric cars appear to continue to rise inescapably, with 12% of registrations in April 2022, the overwhelming majority of advertising communications refer to electric models (the only exception being hybrids) and charging networks are becoming increasingly popular. multiplying at a sustained pace and finally adapted, the electric bike seems to be treading water.
Not that the sales of electric motorcycles are not progressing, but they remain anecdotal compared to those of cars or even electric scooters and small cylinders, the latter growing, as in France the sales of 50 electrics have increased by 90% and those of 125, 35% in 2021. In total, sales of electric two-wheel vehicles increased by 25.7% in 2021, which confirms the growing interest from users.
But for larger-capacity electric motorcycles, it’s still a grimace. Between January and September 2021 (the only figures we currently have), just 16,521 electric motorcycles were sold in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, in a market of nearly 800,000 motorcycles. This represents a new record market share of 2.06. Even though this number has evolved a little since then, we are far from the 12% for electric cars or the 5-10% (estimated) for electric scooters.
So, of course, some brands are doing well, but they are still rare. Note, however, the strong sales growth in 2021 for Zero Motorcycles, which confirms its leadership position with an increase of 166.67%, and SuperSocco, which sees sales of its small cylinders increase by 130.61 %.
In addition to the numbers, there are reasons that explain the failures in the beginning of the electric motorcycle market. Objective reasons, but also more subjective reasons.
This is probably the first reason that comes to mind when we talk about electric motorcycles. Thus, a Zero SR/S, a sporty model in the range, corresponding to a thermal 750, is presented in a “long range” and “fast charge” version for around 27,000 euros. In comparison, a Kawasaki Z750 thermal with equivalent benefits costs 7,500 euros. If the price difference between the electric car and the thermal car is often pointed out, as it decreases to become in some cases very minimal, it is still abysmal in the field of motorcycles. Clearly, the electric motorcycle is not for all budgets, and it remains a luxury product, even if you take away the 900 euros ecological bonus on purchase (aid is limited to 900 euros). Rest assured, the 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 the Zero SR/S, when we talk about great range, we are talking about 365 km in the city, 182 km on the highway at 113 km/h, and 243 km combined. I let you imagine at a sustained speed of 135 km/h… Regarding the charging time, we are also very far from the scores achieved by recent electric cars, as it will take from 2.7 hours to 4.5 hours to recharge the machine in 95%, depending on the version. Please note, however, that with the 6 kW fast charge option + A Faster Charge Cypher Upgrade, the Premium version of the motorcycle will require “only” 1h30 hours for a full charge and 1 full hour to recover 95% of the battery capacity.
But is autonomy a problem? Not really. Because, unlike the car, the difference between the autonomy of a thermal and an electric one 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 motorway and a diesel combustion engine that will be able to run without problems between 600 and 900 km, that is, double or triple, the gap it’s 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 issue is, therefore, more about the availability of the terminals and especially the loading times. Aside from the price, this is probably one of the main reasons that turn off riders who would be tempted by the electric 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 provides. As much as, in terms of cars, most users do not feel passion or pleasure, and consider their car as a simple means of transport and from a practical point of view, the overwhelming majority of motorcyclists practice this discipline by choice and passion. In that passion, the pleasure of controlling the power, of hearing the engine roar (and heat up) between the legs, and of going up and down the gears constitute a mixture that the electric is still far from providing. Or maybe never again. This is one of the reasons mentioned when we ask motorcyclists the question, as 90% of them do not intend to go electric, despite the planned 2035 bans for thermal vehicles. . Well, it depends on the studies…
Regarding the look, again, if we make a comparison with the automobile, the mechanical elements of a motorcycle, much more visible, are constitutive of the overall design, and weigh more in the balance. A beautiful exhaust line, a profiled tank, visible cylinders participate in the general line, and it can be understood that a motorcyclist is not insensitive to this vision of the motorcycle. That said, even though tastes are a subjective matter, let’s recognize that most of the electric motorcycles available on the market today have a pretty successful lineup, and that an uninitiated will have a hard time guessing that they are electric machines.
Another chapter that is currently under debate, that of the performance of electric motorcycles. We won’t lie to each other, performance is in the bike’s DNA. If today the performance difference between an electric car and a thermal one can play largely in favor of the former (a €50,000 electric car is capable of accelerating and starting in the same way as a €150,000 Porsche), it is not even for the motorcycle. The difference is really negligible between a 750 thermal and an electrical equivalent. If we take the comparative example between a Zero SR/S and a Kawasaki Z750, it’s 5 tenths from 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 fail to convince a thermal rider to go electric. But the biker likes to put the handle in the corner. Not all motorcyclists, but certainly a significant part.
This subject is placed with a question mark, because it can be debated. Many motorcyclists consider that the noise emitted by their machine is a guarantee of safety in relation to other road users, and in particular motorists, because it allows them to be heard and, therefore, seen from afar. With an electric motorcycle, even equipped with AVAS (mandatory since 2021, but aimed mainly at pedestrians), we can no longer count on the hearing of motorists to recall their good memories.
All is not lost for the electric motorcycle market, but the obstacles to adopting this new mode of propulsion are greater than for the car or scooter, as the technical restrictions are still significant. Even if the legislation is likely to accelerate the movement, with a pure and simple ban on the sale of thermal vehicles in Europe until 2035, it is mainly on the side of the manufacturers that we will have to look. They will have to show creativity and be aware of the innovations that are emerging in the sector in order to be able to offer motorcycles quite quickly at reasonable prices, with an acceptable range and, above all, a charging power that allows them to recover enough to cover at least 200 kilometers in little longer than it takes to fill up with gas. And perhaps they will also have to look for ways to reproduce with electricity – and probably in a somewhat artificial way – all those little visual and auditory pleasures that tickle the motorcyclists’ senses and make their passion vibrate.
That day will likely come soon, but not for a few years. Motorcyclists will then be able to discover the other advantages of electric and the different sensations it provides.