Manufacturers like Harley-Davidson Inc. and BMW Motorrad are making big plays to introduce high-performance electric motorcycles to the U.S. market over the new few years, but people might not be running to their nearest dealership right off the bat.
“For electric motorcycles, the first thing that’s going to have to take off is that consumers need to be more aware that they exist,” Gleb Mytko, global industry analyst and author of the Global Motorcycles study for the Freedonia Group, told Powersports Finance.
It’s Marketing 101 that consumers need to be aware of a product before they can buy it, but electric motorcycles are not prominent in the U.S. when compared with the rest of the world. Electric motorcycles are more commonplace in Europe, which saw 118.5% year over year increase in total registrations in the first quarter of 2018, according to Visordown.
U.S. consumers also have pre-existing notions of what an electric motorcycle can and can’t do, but the technology has improved over the years to the point where the bikes can enter the market.
“The way that new technology has developed, [e-motorcycles] are no longer the same thing,” Mytko explained. “They are much more capable, much more performance oriented than they [originally] were.”
One comparable example can be found in diesel engines, he added. Diesel engines had a bad reputation in the nineties but were able to transform over a long period of time (until Volkswagen’s auto diesel emissions scandal came along at least.)
“People are still thinking about electric motorcycles as a small, not very exciting mode of transportation,” Mytko said.
Another challenge facing e-motorcycles in the U.S. is that it targets a different audience than a traditional combustion motorcycle. For example, e-motorcycles are quieter, which might not sit well with riders who prefer the roar of the engine. They are also aesthetically different and might not fit the definition of a “classic” bike.
“A lot of times [electric bikes] have futuristic designs,” Mytko explained. “Much of the motorcycle culture in the U.S. can appear to favor the more classic look. Think of Harley as a classic motorcycle whereas these open up kind of a new target audience because they look and sound different. They are much more futuristic, which appeals to a kind of style, but, until you see one in person, it’s kind of hard to get that.”
However, targeting a new crowd has its advantages. E-motorcycles are cheaper on average than combustion engines, require less maintenance, and are better for the environment. OEMs have been trying to target new riders as motorcycle sales dwindle, so a cheaper and perhaps less intimidating option could appeal to beginners.