A perspective on the future of electric motorcycles

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Right now electric motorcycles are selling, but not in large numbers. Sales figures are hard to find, but it appears that electric motorcycle production from all sources, including fleet sales, were somewhere around 500 units last year.

The reasons for this low volume are understandable. Electric motorcycle manufacturers are small startup outfits, with no established distribution and sales networks and little name recognition in the motor vehicle industry. Motorcycle purchasers tend to be very conservative (H-D sales are up again), gas prices have remained low, the technology has a limited and not well understood track record, purchase price is high and dealers are reluctant to take on a product that they don’t fully understand and do not have any technicians who are trained to diagnose, service and repair the vehicles. Plus, if electric motorcycles prove reliable, their minimal required servicing will cut deeply into the back-room (service and parts departments) profits, which in many cases keep the shop financially afloat. So there is not a lot of incentive for a dealer to take on a new and unproven electric motorcycle brand.

Unlike electric autos, I expect electric motorcycle sales growth to be merely incremental every year for quite a while. The only way sales would really take off is if there is a crisis somewhere in the world that would drive up gas prices substantially, or actually limit supplies as happened during the “gas crisis” of the mid-1970’s. With the U.S. increasing oil production through “fracking”, shale extraction and other efficiencies, gasoline will likely be widely available and relatively cheap for some time to come.

Still, electric motorcycle sales should increase every year as their performance and range improve, prices of components come down and the technology becomes more widely accepted and respected, but I don’t expect sales to come anywhere near rivaling gas-powered motorcycles. However, it is possible that e-motorcycle and scooter models may become more prevalent should manufacturers feel that they can provide some carbon credit or pollution off-set advantages for their regular product line. I believe that electric motorcycles might develop a larger niche market in the near future if manufacturers can bring prices down, advertise and promote them for commuting and city usage, and if one or both of the two major manufacturers, Zero and Brammo, don’t go belly up, thereby making the name brands nervous about entering the market.

Meanwhile the BMW C Evolution electric scooter has gone into mass production, but will not be imported into North America, according to my dealer (who already had a deposit on one). My guess is that the BMW C Evolution scooter will need to show strong sales in Europe before it will likely be seen here. Right now the C Evolution is about two years behind the Zero and Brammo models when comparing top speed and maximum range, but the scooter appears much better engineered, developed and manufactured than either of those vehicles. It seems to me that BMW would do better in the U.S. Market with a two-wheel electric vehicle if it was a premium sport bike, like the HP2, however it doesn’t look like BMW is going in that direction at this time.

In the long run, electric motorcycles have the potential to encroach into the popularity of gas-powered bikes, but this will require a system of readily available fast-charging stations, such as Tesla is building for owners of their cars. Unfortunately, Tesla’s charging system, which could recharge a motorcycle in 30 minutes or less, is not compatible with current electric motorcycle technology. The existing Level 2 220volt public charging systems still take hours to recharge even a motorcycle-size battery pack and who wants to stick around that long to “refuel” while on a trip, unless you are already at your evening destination and can recharge there? It is going to take quite a while before a universal fast-charging system is finally developed, adopted and available to the extent that gasoline stations are today. Until then, I believe that electric motorcycles and scooters will be very useful for local trips and commuting, while your internal combustion touring and adventure bikes will still be the vehicle of choice for crossing the county and going on long trips.


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3 comments for this post
  1. Yoann wrote the 15/05/2014

    Great analysis Richard.
    The electric motorcycle market need a very strong leader with money and a good product, like Tesla, to be on the spotlight and attract people to this kind of motorcycle. Otherwise, sales will be very confidential during the next years…

    • Car News wrote the 22/07/2014

      The marketing for these bikes has been truly horrendous which is part of the problem. Also people who ride bikes are definitely conservative and do NOT like getting out of their comfort zone.

      There are a lot of hurdles for the industry but H-D probably will put the LiveWire into production. All the response from the tour so far has been positive.

  2. Walter wrote the 17/05/2017

    Hi Richard,

    Wow, this was only three years ago and it looks like you have predicted it right. E Motorcycles are becoming more and more popular by the day and a lot of giant motorcycle companies are also developing their own electric line. I also think it is still going to get more popular in the following years.

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