Motorcycles

Japan’s big four announce consortium for electric motorcycle battery tech

Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha have announced a collaborative effort to introduce a replaceable battery tech standard for electric motorcycles
Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha have announced a collaborative effort to introduce a replaceable battery tech standard for electric motorcycles
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The removeable batteries of Honda's PCX Electric scooter 
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The removeable batteries of Honda's PCX Electric scooter 
Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha have announced a collaborative effort to introduce a replaceable battery tech standard for electric motorcycles
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Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha have announced a collaborative effort to introduce a replaceable battery tech standard for electric motorcycles
Honda announced last November that the PCX Electric scooter will go into production in the second half of 2019, but it won't be available for the general public
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Honda announced last November that the PCX Electric scooter will go into production in the second half of 2019, but it won't be available for the general public

A laconic statement co-signed by Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha could well be one of the most important news items of the year for the motorcycling world. The four biggest Japanese manufacturers have agreed to work together towards standardizing replaceable battery tech for electric motorcycles.

Personal mobility is on a course to abandon fossil fuel, set to make a dramatic turn towards electric drive. Several countries around the world, including some of the biggest European nations, have either announced or are investigating plans to ban the sales of new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines at some point in the next decade.

The problem with electric bikes though is that current range per charge can be disappointing, even if you go for the most expensive battery options, which would inevitably translate to costs considerably higher than the average gasoline-burning equivalent.

Charging networks can also pose problems, with some countries offering extensive coverage while the infrastructure in others seems insufficient to cater for electric personal vehicles.

All these underline an inconsistency between owning an electric motorcycle and actually being able to achieve a comparable level of practicality as the petrol-engined motorcycle it will replace.

The removeable batteries of Honda's PCX Electric scooter 
The removeable batteries of Honda's PCX Electric scooter 

One solution that has been suggested is installing charging points where one can simply leave the drained battery and pick up a freshly-charged one, which could be even faster that refueling a conventional engine. The swappable battery scheme seems ideal on paper, yet it poses one serious question: can manufacturers agree on a common battery and charger architecture, or are we looking at a complex network with several types of incompatible "battery vending machines"?

The first company to announce an ambitious replaceable battery strategy was Taiwan's Gogoro in 2015, followed by Taiwan's KYMCO with the Ionex electric scooter line and battery tech.

The lattermost, enjoying the advantage of being a well known brand name and having a wide global sales network in place, seemed better equipped to lead a replaceable battery future and, sure enough, it issued an open invitation for all manufacturers to join in and design Ionex-compatible batteries. KYMCO started rolling out Ionex-powered scooters in 2018, yet no other manufacturer has joined its cause.

Up until now, the big Japanese manufacturers have displayed endless electric prototypes, but as far as production machines are concerned all we have is a Honda PCX hybrid scooter and some electric-assisted mountain bikes from Yamaha.

Honda has also announced a PCX Electric version (pictured below) that will become available in late 2019, but it's only for Asian markets and will only be available for lease sales to corporations and rental businesses.

Honda announced last November that the PCX Electric scooter will go into production in the second half of 2019, but it won't be available for the general public
Honda announced last November that the PCX Electric scooter will go into production in the second half of 2019, but it won't be available for the general public

Even the electric EV Cub, that was so well received by the public, still hasn't been tied to specific production dates. But, just as we were thinking that the big factories are turning a blind eye on electric motorcycles, here comes this latest announcement.

The main point of the statement is that the four biggest Japanese factories are setting up a common technical base for replaceable batteries and charging stations. The target is rather obvious; it's a race to set global standards and obviously four of the world's biggest motorcycle manufacturers working together makes for a force to be reckoned with.

It's one thing going up against Gogoro, or even KYMCO, but who would dare compete against the collective resources of Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha? For most smaller manufacturers, designing compatible batteries should sound like the best idea, taking advantage of the big boys' networks.

According to Japanese press reports, the deal will initially focus on small commuter electric models, equivalent to engine capacities up to 125 cc. The same reports note that this is also the first ever attempt to set up a workgroup outside the confines of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

This would also constitute the first time that the Japanese manufacturers displayed clear intent to work on mass-produced electric two-wheelers, and this announcement could well prove to be a game-changer.

Source: Honda

8 comments
Brooke
A huge problem is that batteries that are mechanically and electrically interchangeable may have very different economic value because of remaining life. That's so say I would not exchange my new battery for one of unknown remaining life. A possible way around this would be to rent a charged battery from a service station. It would need to have a minimum known Watt hour amount of energy.
DaveWesely
In my opinion, large swappable electric batteries like this should be standardized, like AA, AAA, C, D etc. As for the expected remaining value issue posed by Brooke, that could be remedied by the consortium with a small circuit board to record history, type and expected lifetime remaining. If they do their job right, these batteries could be used for more than motorcycles - like lawn and construction equipment, extending the range on EVs or any other device that requires a significant amount of power.
TomLeeM
I think that is cool and green. The motorcycle looks more like a scooter. I prefer scooters over motorcycles. I wonder if one could use the small fuel cells similar to the one developed by Intelligent Energy for their motorcycle? It is small and compact like the batteries used in these 'motorcycles' (scooters)?
CAVUMark
Taiwan is the first place in the world where electric scooters should be introduced. Hurry.
JimFox
Sensible comments. Standardisation [or lack of] has bedevilled industry since the industrial revolution- think of Engineering calculations & units; Imperial/ Metric; AC/DC; rail gauges; power sockets; pipe & plumbing fittings; bolt thread variations & thousands of other examples.
Heard it here
@Brooke agree with your concern about swapping a brand new battery for a 'used' one which could be of very varying quality. I think the solution is that when you buy an electric vehicle that uses standardised replaceable/swappable batteries it should be purchased without a 'new' battery. Vehicle is bought and you start off buy getting one from the exchange system (vehicle vendor can have some on site for convenience). From then on you're just swapping. As Dave says, there could be a circuit board that rates the various quality and you only pay for the capacity it can give you. Ie paying the same price for a battery that will give you 50% of the range of the other makes no sense. Prices could be tiered non-linearly to reflect lower capacity batteries have lower convenience as you need to swap more often. Plenty of ways to make this work and for more than just motorcycles (agree again with Dave here).
sugamari
i'm ok with swappable but not for the way Brooke imagines. i agree that no one wants to trade their good batteries for unknown quality batteries. the interchangeability would be strictly for charging one at home to get a good overnight trickle charge on each battery. standardizing them is good except the government should be issuing the standard, not the companies who are going to be vested. monopolies can be shared. governments only reason for existence is to protect us from those corporate moneygrabbers. well, that and making good roads. :)p
Daishi
Not that it would be a huge challenge but they would have to build a few different formats for the different types of motorcycles that use them. I could see 3rd party partnerships where when you buy the vehicle the first battery you drive out the door with is already one you don't own. It eliminates the problem of trading in something you own with something crappy off the rack and might help reduce the sticker shock of buying an electric motorcycle/scooter because the up front costs wouldn't be as high if you are leasing the battery. It would be hard to find footing in the US but in countries where commute by scooter is more common it could have better odds.
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