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How Major Motorcycle OEMs Are Approaching Electrification

Ryan Citron
Mar 23, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

Honda, Yamaha, and Harley-Davidson (H-D) account for roughly two-thirds of the global motorcycle market, yet the only production e-motorcycle between the three companies is the H-D LiveWire—a $30,000 bike priced out of reach for most consumers. As discussed in a previous blog, e-motorcycles have struggled to catch on as quickly as other electric two-wheel vehicles such as e-bikes and e-scooters. While there are numerous reasons for this, one of the primary impediments has been the lack of participation from major motorcycle manufacturers in the industry’s electrification effort. As lithium ion (Li-ion) battery prices continue to reduce and range capabilities continue to improve, Guidehouse Insights expects major motorcycle OEMs to rapidly increase their involvement in electrification over the next 5-10 years. 

Major OEMs Poised to Release New Models

In February 2021, H-D released its 5-year plan called The Hardwire. The company’s plan included the creation of a new division specifically for e-motorcycle development, which should enable H-D to better focus its efforts and more rapidly develop e-motorcycle products over the next decade. In the near term, H-D is expected to roll out a mid-power, lower cost e-motorcycle in late 2021 or early 2022. 

Honda is also making significant investments in e-motorcycles. The Japanese motorcycle giant filed patents in August 2020 for electric versions of its CB125R and CB300R motorcycles, which are small, high volume bikes popular in India and other major motorcycle markets. By using existing parts and designs, Honda could create lower cost e-motorcycle solutions. The company has also been investing in and piloting battery swap programs with its PCX seated e-scooter and Mobile Power Pack batteries in Indonesia and the Philippines—this technology could be applicable to future e-motorcycles.

Yamaha has released a series of e-motorcycle concepts and patents in the past, but the company has been relatively silent over the past year or two on new developments. Yamaha has taken a more active role in the seated e-scooter market through a partnership with battery swapping platform provider Gogoro in Taiwan

Honda and Yamaha Still Have the Edge

So far, H-D has been the most active major motorcycle manufacturer in the electrification effort. If the company can execute on product quality and offer an affordable price for its upcoming mid-power bike, it could help boost the e-motorcycle market similar to how the Tesla Model 3 created mass-market potential for electric sedans. However, most global motorcycle sales are not in North America and Europe (where H-D by far sells most of their bikes). Guidehouse Insights estimates that 83% of all motorcycle sales are in the Asia Pacific region, where Honda and Yamaha dominate the market. These companies are also focused on developing smaller and lower power e-motorcycles, which are estimated to account for 90% of global e-motorcycle sales in 2021. Specifically designing e-motorcycles for the enormous Asia Pacific market will likely result in Honda and Yamaha achieving far greater e-motorcycle sales volumes than H-D over the next 10 years. 

Battery swapping— a technology that Honda and Yamaha have been far more active in developing—is also likely to play a key role in accelerating e-motorcycle adoption. On March 1, the two companies announced a partnership with Piaggio and KTM to develop international standards for battery swapping. Countries targeted by Honda and Yamaha are likely the best-suited markets for e-motorcycle battery swapping applications with high urban density rates and high percentages of households that own two-wheelers (such as India, China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam). While each motorcycle OEM is approaching electrification differently, significant opportunities exist for all given that e-motorcycles account for just 3% of total motorcycle sales.