In the United Kingdom, the term “electric vehicle” brings up visions of a Tesla or another similar car, but in Asia, the war for EV dominance is being fought on motorcycles. When you visit most Asian countries, you’ll notice that motorcycles swarm and buzz around everywhere. It’s not uncommon to see a two-wheeler carrying a full family in Taiwan, Cambodia, India, or Indonesia, as it functions similarly to a family automobile but is significantly more economical.
In reality, Asia accounts for more than half of all global motorcycle sales, and it is unusual for a family in some nations not to own one.
Take Thailand, the country with the highest per capita motorcycle use. 87 percent of households have at least one motorcycle. These are often scooters, with the rider sitting with his or her feet squarely in front.
Thailand is closely followed by Vietnam (86 per cent), Indonesia (85 per cent), and Malaysia (83 per cent) in terms of motorbike-owning families. In major markets China and India, the rates drop to 60 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively, but still eclipse the UK’s 7 per cent.
The vast majority of motorcycles in Asia are still powered by gasoline, but transportation experts suggest that a significant shift to electric versions is now underway.
“We see immense scope for growth [in sales of electric motorbikes], especially in Asia, for the following reasons,” says Arushi Kotecha, an automotive analyst at global research group Economist Intelligence Unit.
“The first, is personal disposable incomes, especially outside China, in markets like India and southeast Asia, still remain low on average, which makes cars unaffordable. And, especially at a time like this, when food and fuel inflation is so high. That would add to the direct cost of owning a petrol vehicle. Which is why we think that the switch to electric [motorbikes] will be much faster.”
According to Kotecha, sales of electric motorcycles in Asia might triple or quadruple by the end of this decade, with global demand increasing by the same amount.
Meanwhile, according to one forecast published earlier this year, global sales of electric bikes will more than quadruple from $15.73 billion in 2020 to $30.52 billion in 2030.
China now dominates global production of electric motorcycles, the majority of which are scooters.
NIU Technologies, situated in Beijing, is one of the largest manufacturers, having released its first models in 2015. The firm’s director of global strategy, Joseph Constanty, described the company as “if Tesla and Vespa [a well-known Italian scooter maker] had a kid.”
He claims that while electric motorcycles were previously available in China, they were powered by large lead acid batteries.
Constanty says that NIU was the first in the country to sell electric motorcycles powered by the same modern lithium batteries as in a Tesla or your smartphone.
“So, we really were the first in the market in China, and pretty much globally at that point. And we were able to dive into the space, he says.
Electric motorcycle sales in China are being fueled by government subsidies and promotion as a means of combating urban pollution. However, in other nations, such as Cambodia and Laos, the business is starting from scratch.
Tu Le, founder and managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a Chinese automotive intelligence organisation, says there are “still a lot of problems to work out” before electric motorcycles can be widely used in Asia. One critical factor is the requirement for numerous charging stations, which makes them a more difficult option in remote locations.
While major Japanese motorcycle manufacturers such as Yamaha and Honda are already producing electric models, the Asian market is being led by smaller players.
Gogoro from Taiwan is one such company. It has developed a solution to the problem of riders needing to stand around while their bikes charge, in addition to a range of electric motorcycles.
Instead of charging stations, Gogoro customers in Taiwan may just drive to one of over 2,200 battery stations and exchange their batteries for free. The outdoor stations are supposed to be able to resist typhoons and the blazing heat of Taiwanese summers.
Gogoro intends to make this battery-swapping hardware and technology available to Asian partners. Hero in India, Gojek in Indonesia, and DCJ and Yadea in China are examples. Gogoro is also working on a collaboration with Yamaha.
(Adapted from BBC.com)