Greg Archer from the Transport & Environment analyses the impact of electric mobility on the future of motorcycling.
The Mobility Revolutions: how will electric, connected, autonomous and sharing impact on 2 wheels?
Our current transport system is profoundly unsustainable producing more than a quarter and a growing share of Europe’s CO2 emissions. It is the dominant source of air pollution causing the deaths of almost half a million citizens annually. Cars dominate personal mobility and these are grossly inefficient too, typically using just 1-2% of the energy in the fuel to move the person. Economically, congestion imposes an annual cost of €100 billion reducing GDP by 1%. This cannot go on, but fortunately, it does not need to. Four megatrends: electrification; connectivity, automation and sharing are likely to become dominate in the next 10-20 years with the possibility, but no guarantee, that they will collectively deliver more sustainable mobility. But how could these megatrends collectively impact on the use of motorcycles and other powered 2 wheelers (P2W’s) and can the industry respond to seize the opportunities and manage the risks or become even more niche?
In the next decade all vehicles will be progressively electrified and work in tandem with modernised, smart grids that will be increasingly powered by renewables. Electricity will be entirely decarbonised by 2050 and the steep reductions in the price of wind, solar and batteries create the conditions for an electro-mobility revolution. That’s not just electric cars but also trains, bikes, scooters, motorcycles, vans and, ultimately, hybrid and electric trucks that could be recharged through overhead lines. These vehicles will support the grid by providing a flexible source of storage and demand – charged mainly at night when demand is low.
The electrification revolution is being driven largely by a phenomenal fall in the price of batteries and increase in their performance. In 2010 a battery pack cost around €1000/KWh, the price is now below €200/KWh and is forecast to halve again by 2020. At the same time energy density has improved by a factor of 5 and is forecast to be an order of magnitude better than 2010 levels by 2025. The writing is on the wall for the infernal combustion engine as total costs of ownership become lower for electric vehicles. Furthermore as costs fall and performance improves 400km and more range vehicles become affordable making recharging and range anxiety much less of a barrier.
Improved technology will also impact on the P2W industry. Electric scooters will become increasingly affordable with the market is already growing strongly in China. Electric scooters for commuting purposes are already viable but as range improves a longer range uses also become practicable. But for longest trips and high performance motorcycles the weight of batteries are likely to remain prohibitive and hydrogen fuel cells or possibly battery swap solutions could provide a viable alternative.
The car industry is now gearing up for the transition. Nissan-Renault is the world’s biggest supplier of electric cars, but in recent months billions in investments have been committed to by Volkswagen Group and Mercedes, while both have teamed up with BMW and Ford to develop a fast charging network that will charge the car while you have a cup of tea. Other manufacturers have similar plans. By 2025 most carmakers are forecasting sales of 20% or more electric models with exponential growth in the second half of the 2020’s. As exhaust pipes disappear from cars there is a danger the motorcycle industry will look increasingly dated and polluting unless it responds with a similar shift to zero emission solutions.
But one of the key unanswered questions is whether Europe will be an centre of the electrification revolution and that vehicles, battery packs and cells are manufactured here; or whether Europe will remain a small market compared to China and the US and largely import vehicles from these countries. VW has just announced a €11.8bn investment in electric vehicles in China and Volvo conformed its electric Polestar brand will only import vehicles from China. The same challenge faces the European motorcycle and P2W industries. Can it scale up production of new electric models in the EU, and export these to neighbouring markets; or, will it be imported vehicles that dominate sales in the EU impacting on jobs?
Together with electromobility vehicles will also become increasingly connected, communicating with one another and road infrastructure so that traffic lights will turn green instead of red as we drive towards them! This could improve efficiency and help reduce urban congestion and emissions by 5%. But connectivity is a double edged sword; we will need to ensure that the road space created by the connected car efficiency is not lost through more vehicles driving on the road. This presents an opportunity for motorcycles if some road space is reallocated to P2W and cycle lanes.
As connectivity increases cars will become autonomous. Driverless vehicles integrate well with electric cars and 10-20% energy savings could be possible if driving efficiency is optimised. With more than 90% of accidents caused by human error, automation will dramatically lower crash rates this could have a significant effect on the perception of motorcycles as an acceptably safe form of mobility and may encourage both more users and additional policy support.
Lower costs and smoother flowing traffic will also draw more traffic onto the road so whether mobility is genuinely more sustainable will depend upon whether vehicles are largely shared or owned. If we don’t share, we may become trapped in our mobile offices or cinemas vehicles become. Traffic jams of single-occupant cars will be worsened by driverless vehicles. So we need shared vehicles to displace our inefficient, expensive private ones that anyway sit unused 95% of the time.
Mobility in 2030 will be very different from today and the rapid changes present both risks and opportunities for the motorcycle and P2W industries. The clear benefits of 2 wheels over 4 for many trips could become even stronger and some of the limitations, like safety, become less of a barrier. But it is clear that such changes will need huge investment in technology and innovation that a much smaller P2W and motorcycle sector will struggle to finance compared to companies focused on 4 wheels. Change will happen very fast and so the sector must evolve rapidly, or be overwhelmed by competition.