E-scooters and electric motorcycles: Manufacturers rely on electricity

Vienna Motorcycles have a bad reputation in this country – too loud, too dirty. The industry has been fighting against its bad image for years. Electrically driven models could help the industry. They are significantly quieter than combustion engines and do not emit any exhaust gases locally.

Despite the advantages, battery-powered motorcycles are a barely noticeable niche in Germany. Just 1606 pieces were sold in the Federal Republic last year. In relation to the total sales of more than 143,000 motorcycles and light motorcycles, the share of electric makes is only one percent. And nothing serious is likely to change that any time soon.

“There is no Tesla in the motorcycle industry,” says Helfried Sorger, head of technology for the powertrain division at Pierer Mobility, in an interview with the Handelsblatt. The manager is responsible for drive development at well-known brands such as KTM, Husqvarna or Gasgas and considers two-wheelers with large displacements to be “hardly feasible” in battery-electric mode.

According to Sorger, this is mainly due to the enormously heavy energy storage devices that motorcycle manufacturers would have to integrate into their models in order to achieve similar ranges and performance data as with combustion engines. “Our KTM Super Adventure, a travel enduro, has a total weight of 238 kilograms today. With an electric drive, we would then be at over 400 kilograms,” explains the engineer.

However, carer believes that such a heavy vehicle can no longer be moved dynamically. “It wouldn’t be fun, and it would also be a huge challenge in terms of safety.” “That doesn’t make any sense.” A motorcycle must remain a motorcycle.

Sorger continues to swear by the combustion engine, especially for larger machines with a displacement of over 250 cc. Instead of petrol, the Austrian wants to use more synthetic fuels in the future in order to minimize emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide.

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In the case of smaller motorcycle classes, on the other hand, electric models would also have a real livelihood. “We’re very active here,” says Sorger. Pierer Mobility alone wants to launch three electric platforms for entry-level vehicles by 2024, some of which can also be driven without a motorcycle license.

The German market leader BMW is positioned in a similar way. “We clearly believe in the coexistence of electric and combustion engines in motorcycles for the future,” says the Munich-based Dax group. In cities and large metropolitan areas, power brands would quickly become established over short distances.

E-scooter sales tripled

In fact, BMW was already able to achieve respectable success last year with the new CE 04 electric scooter. The luxurious two-wheeler with a maximum range of 135 kilometers at a base price of 13,000 euros was sold 5000 times. BMW now promises to launch a new electric vehicle for urban areas every 18 to 24 months.

Apparently the demand is there. An increasingly clear electric trend can be seen in the registration figures for motor scooters and light motor scooters in this country. According to this, sales of battery scooters have risen from a measly 135 units to more than 8000 units since 2018. In the past year alone, sales have almost tripled. The share of electric vehicles in newly registered scooters is now around 15 percent.

Electric scooters are in demand

With electric scooters like the Ray 77, the battery is easier to install.

In general, the smaller and less powerful the vehicles, the more likely they are to be charged. In the case of light scooters, every fifth newly registered vehicle is electrically powered. And in the category of mopeds with a top speed of 45 kilometers per hour, the electric share is almost 30 percent.

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“Electric scooters will continue to boom,” predicts market researcher and marketing expert Werner Hagstotz. “In the case of motorcycles, on the other hand, the combustion engine is likely to remain very dominant for years to come if it is not banned by politics.” According to Hagstotz, the division of the market – booming e-scooters here, flopping electric motorcycles there – can be explained, among other things, by the different uses explain the vehicle types.

Hagstotz observes that electric scooters are mainly used as a second vehicle for commuting to work. “In urban areas, scooters are ideal for jumping quickly from traffic light to traffic light and meandering past the cars. You don’t need a long range for that.”

Aerodynamic disadvantage

Heavy motorcycles, on the other hand, are hardly ever ridden in the city and on the motorway at best for longer trips. “They are more of a hobby sports device than a means of transport,” says mobility expert Hagstotz. “Anyone who rides a motorcycle longs for winding country roads. Here, a reasonable range is a much more important issue than with scooters.”

The problem: While electric cars can increase their range on the one hand with large batteries and on the other hand with particularly streamlined vehicle designs, motorcycles have much less leeway here. Space to accommodate battery packs is limited. In addition, two-wheelers do not have a closed body; the wheels turn freely. This is a disadvantage in terms of aerodynamics. Especially since the passengers, unlike in a car, do not sit inside but outside.


“This results in completely different air flows, which in turn can affect consumption and range,” explains Reiner Brendicke, General Manager of the German Motorcycle Industry Association (IVM). Every kilo of additional weight due to larger batteries is tricky. And charging stations in rural areas, especially along scenic routes around mountain passes and lakes, are even harder to find than in cities.

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Brendicke therefore assumes that battery-electric drives will take much longer to establish themselves in motorcycles than in cars. “The modern combustion engine is very popular and has a practical use.” Nevertheless, there are a number of companies that have specialized in battery-electric two-wheelers.


The Swedish manufacturer shows its electric model.

The best-known provider is Zero Motorcycles. Since its founding in 2006, the Californian company has sold over 20,000 vehicles. The focus is on the premium sector. With its e-bikes, Zero promises instant power, little to no maintenance, a range of up to 360 kilometers and a charging time of just one hour. That has its price. With increased charging power, the company’s top model, the Zero SR/S, costs more than 30,000 euros.

Expensive battery cells

Today, fully electric motorcycles are often twice as expensive as petrol ones. The reason: The classic lithium-ion battery cells from major suppliers such as CATL, LG or Samsung – as used by car manufacturers – are only suitable to a limited extent for use in two-wheelers.

The motorcycle industry works primarily with so-called power cells instead of conventional energy cells, explains KTM engineer Helfried Sorger. In terms of application, these are most comparable to batteries in power tools such as drills, which use high charging and discharging currents. However, power cells are per se “significantly more expensive” than energy cells, says Sorger.

The synergies within the company’s own vehicle portfolio are also limited. You can’t just take the combustion engine out of an existing model and replace it with an electric motor. Entirely new, tailor-made solutions are needed, says Sorger. One result: “Unfortunately, the earnings situation for electric motorcycles is not yet great.”


Motorcycle manufacturers usually generate the highest profit margins with large machines. They make up almost 54 percent of new registrations for motorized two-wheelers in Germany. In order to be able to hold on to their combustion cash cow for as long as possible, the industry is promoting the use of synthetic fuels.

“Especially for the existing fleet, e-fuels make a lot of sense,” emphasizes IVM Managing Director Brendicke. If the fuel is produced using green energies, petrol engines can theoretically be operated in a climate-neutral manner. But the strategy carries risks. “Where is the electricity for this supposed to come from in Germany?” asks mobility expert Werner Hagstotz. Importing e-fuels from windy countries like Chile would incur high additional costs. “It will take a long time before this pays off.”

Chinese on the rise

In contrast to electric cars, the EU has so far not provided for a de facto ban on combustion engines for motorcycles in the coming decade. But that could change. Regulations and technical developments from the passenger car world usually spill over into the motorcycle industry with a time lag of five to seven years. Established two-wheeler manufacturers should therefore not take too long to equip their fleets with battery-electric drives.

As in the car industry, numerous Chinese suppliers will also try to gain a foothold in Europe by offering premium versions of their electrically powered motorcycles, predicts industry insider Hagstotz. Western brands such as BMW, KTM or Harley Davidson are still benefiting from their good image. “But the Chinese are catching up.”


The four Japanese volume manufacturers Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki could come under pressure as a first step. China is the largest two-wheeler market in the world. In the Far East there are more than 200 different providers such as Lifan, Hajoue, Zonhshen or Loncin. And when it comes to electric drives, the Chinese have been active much longer than Western brands, and not just in the passenger car sector.

When it comes to battery powered motorcycles, the cards are being reshuffled. Fears of relegation germinate. According to industry circles, there is a serious risk that individual suppliers from China could soon overtake their Western competitors technologically. “Then it gets uncomfortable.”

More: EU Commission prepares ban on new combustion engine trucks for 2040

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