August 12, 2022

Xebotec

Transportation industry development

Why are electric motorcycles not gaining traction in S’pore?

8 min read

In a bid for a greener Singapore, sustainability initiatives have become the norm across various industries.

One of the main contributors to the cause is Singapore’s land transport sector, with its aim to reduce peak land transport emissions by 80 per cent. This explains its push for a stronger electric vehicle population to try meet the vision of 100 per cent clean energy vehicles by 2040.

In recent years, EVs have garnered popularity over the years in Singapore and buses are slowly transitioning to electric as well, but what about electric motorcycles?

Why only EV cars?

Electric motorcycles already exist in the market from over a decade ago. There were eight prior to 2015, before dwindling to just two. The number remained almost stagnant over the years despite the increase in EV cars – 1,855 cars to five electric motorcycles, making up only 0.004 per cent of the local motorcycle population.

Motorcycle population by CC rating
Motorcycle population by CC rating / Image Credit: Land Transport Authority (LTA)
Car population by CC rating
Car population by CC rating / Image Credit: LTA

According to LTA statistics, the number of motorcycles and cars are at approximately 141,000 and 641,000 in 2021 respectively.

The number of existing motorcycles is significantly lower than cars, but despite having much lower numbers, the percentage of EV motorcycle uptake in comparison to EV cars has barely made a dent in the market.

There’s just not enough of the breadth and depth of credible and viable EV motorcycle models that LTA has approved thus far that can satisfy consumers’ needs. Singapore is also a car-first market, with motorcycles being a much smaller population set compared to cars.

– James Chan, founder of ION Mobility

Headquartered in Singapore, ION Mobility is a tech-automative company that aims to create and deliver affordable and sustainable mobility.

It champions electric mobility and complementary energy storage solutions, with a mission to create and deliver smart electric motorbikes and energy storage solutions to offer a desirable alternative for motorbike riders.

Consideration for affordability

Cost is almost always a high consideration factor for most buyers. Similar to EV cars, electric motorcycles rely heavily on lithium-ion batteries, the single most expensive component of an electric motorcycle.

However, compared to EV cars with its pricey insurance, passionate riders have options in the electric motorcycle area.

SONDORS Metacycle
SONDORS Metacycle / Image Credit: SONDORS

As of this year, the cheapest EV motorcycle that consumers can consider is from SONDORS — a company that focuses on building affordable electric bicycles — at S$5,000, or the Gogoro Smartscooter 2, priced at approximately S$2,500.

Although still unavailable in Singapore, the SONDORS Metacycle’s affordable price tag means more options for the average rider. Other electric motorcycle options range from S$19,000 to over S$100,000.

Furthermore, factoring in the recent fuel increase, a full charge for electric motorcycles costs much less than a full tank of petrol.

For example, the Harley Davidson LiveWire at 150hp, 235km of range, and a 15.5kWh battery with a full charge at a Shell Recharge station is priced at S$8.35, making it S$0.55 per kWh. In contrast, the Honda Africa Twin — with approximately 100hp and a fuel consumption rate of 21km per litre — costs S$9.52 to cover 100km.

Travelling made inconvenient?

Despite potential for affordability, the beauty of riding a motorcycle is its ability to tour with ease across borders — think riding parties traveling from Malaysia to Thailand.

However, most electric motorcycles that are currently in production only offer a range of 240km or less in a single charge, with some covering approximately only 80km before flat lining. Hence, the short range limits the rider’s ultimate joy and touring ability.

Shell Recharge
Shell Recharge station allows drivers to charge their EVs from zero to 80 per cent in a quick 30 minutes / Image Credit: Electrive

Even if riders were to try and charge up their electric motorcycles along the touring journey, there’s simply a lack of charging points.

As of 2021, there are only 1,600 public charging points – this is not a large number, especially when factoring in the long charge times and overnight use. Despite the aim of setting up 60,000 points across workplaces, residences, and public areas by 2040, Singapore is still ways away from being able to offer a dense national charging network to ease a rider’s range anxiety.

When comparing charging times to simply dropping by the nearest petrol station, the shortest charging time with an electric motorcycle’s designated quick-charger is usually between 20 and 45 minutes, which puts a damper in a rider’s touring itinerary.

Motorcycles are the choice mode of transport simply due to its ease of travelling, with little to no waiting time in traffic. Yet, 45 minutes is a long-time to spend at a charge point – almost equivalent to being in a car during peak hour traffic. Combine both waiting time and lack of charging points, there’s bound to be snaking queues.

To address the issue of queues and longer waiting times, LTA has deemed EV battery swapping possible for motorcycles as of March 2022. This allows motorcycle owners to reduce the total cost of ownership with an EV battery subscription model, and it only takes less than five minutes for a battery swap, which is much faster than an average fuel stop.

energica eugene mah
Energica’s founder Eugene Mah charging the Energica EsseEasse+ / Image Credit: Energica

Despite its present inconvenience and potentially high uptake cost, Eugene Mah, Energica’s co-founder, speaks up on why electric motorcycles should be a long-term consideration. 

It’s wrong to think that a high uptake cost causes a low uptake rate. EV bikes can be competitively priced, but it just so happens that right now, the only legal ones are slightly pricier due to the charging methods.

The high cost of EV is due to the battery. Batteries take up 70 to 80 percent cost of the bike. I’m confident in time, the cost will go down as technology advances so there will be a point where prices become a lot more reasonable.

– Eugene Mah of Ifyni Pte Ltd Singapore, authorised distributer of Energica

Eugene Mah is one of Ifyni’s founders and the managing director of Mah Pte Ltd, the dealer for popular motorcycle brands that include Aprilia, Piggio, Vespa, and Triumph. Together with long-time riding buddy Randall Lee, they decided it was time to finally introduce the first two-wheel, high-performance EV in Singapore.

Ifyni — the authorised distributer of Italian manufacturer Energica’s electric motorcycles — specialises in the EV business, which includes two-and three-wheeler EV fleet sales, and potentially EV cars in the future.

Maintenance at a minimum

The cons of owning an electric motorcycle does weigh on one’s shoulders, yet in the long run, they could be more cost-effective.

Aside from the high cost of the battery, there’s little to no maintenance required for electric motorcycles. It’s manufactured to be simple and fuss-free, especially useful for those of us who want the convenience of riding without the high upkeep.

Maintenance is low for an EV. There are significantly lesser moving parts than ICE, so that reduces the number of things that fall under wear and tear. Battery and motor failure may happen, but chances are lower, or the same as a traditional ICE vehicle failure.

– Eugene Mah of Ifyni Pte Ltd Singapore, authorised distributer of Energica

Maintenance check on an ICE motorcycle
Maintenance check on an ICE motorcycle oil filter / Image Credit: Monimoto

Basically, there’s no longer a need to worry about the engine oil, spark plugs, air filters, timing belts, clutch, or the gearbox. Maintenance is kept to a minimum with focus on the electric motor and the battery, and routine safety checks on the tyres, brake pads, and hydraulic fluid.

Electric motorcycles are also water-resistant, keeping water out of its electric components. As the EV popularity grows, Singapore is working to ensure that there are personnel equipped to deal with specialised EV maintenance.

Overall boost in performance and safety

Electric motorcycles also have the upper-hand over ICE motorcycles. Motorcycles are known for the adrenaline rush they provide the rider. Yet, to achieve that, ICE engines take a longer time to reach peak power and deliver maximum torque, with both factors requiring a higher RPM to attain.

On the other hand, electric motorcycles reach its peak instantly at 0 RPM. This means electric motorcycles maintain a more consistent power and acceleration throughout the entire ride.

Its regenerative braking system also reduces the wear of brake pads and rotors by taking the energy used in the process of slowing down to recharge the motorcycle’s batteries.

ion mobility ev bikes tracking app
ION Mobility’s EV bikes equipped with a tracking app / Image Credit: ION Mobility

Similar to EV cars, electric motorcycles are also more technologically advanced than fuel bikes. Some bikes have an in-built advanced collision warning system which uses radar, cameras, and non-visual sensors to track the speed, direction, and velocity of moving objects at 360-degrees around the motorcycle.

Motorcycle accidents are exceedingly common, hence with the technological functions of an electric motorbike, it helps with rider awareness and boosts their reaction time.

Several bike brands have also produced their own mobile apps to increase a rider’s level of connectivity. Riders will receive safety alerts and suggestions on how to avoid them, and they can also track the electric motorcycle via GPS tracking on the rider’s mobile device in the event the motorcycle is stolen.

Finally, electric motorcycles are much easier to operate. There are no gears, hence riders no longer have to shift gears at traffic lights or crowded streets. Without the need to do so, electric motorcycles have become as easy to ride as a scooter.

Electric motorcycles a long-term plan

Electric motorcycles might have precedented even the most modern EV car, yet it hasn’t been around long enough to forge consumer trust. This results in dealers balking at the risk of bringing in expensive products with uncertain demand.

The low servicing requirements also present a threat to the traditional revenue model of dealers, who in turn have to look for compensatory new income streams.

“It’s a tough situation,” Eugene explains. “With lesser wear and tear, your traditional brick and mortar shops would suffer. The motorcycle industry in Singapore still heavily relies on ICE to operate. However, factoring in Certificate of Entitlement (COE), lifespan, and cost of conversion, ICE will still be around for a long time for these shops to continue operations.”

Although major producers in the motorcycle sector have not pushed hard enough on the electrification agenda to give rise to an ecosystem matching that of electric cars, it should still be considered as part of any avid rider’s long-term plan.

“I’ll never abandon my ICE bike — the sound creates a sort of soul,” stressed Eugene. “Saying that, EV is such a joy to ride. Looking at how many countries have evolved, I think we’re behind. Right now, we mainly see fleet or companies owning fleet that take up the EV bikes due to their dedicated depot or area where said EV vehicles can charge overnight.”

James is also for going electric. “Fossil fuels should go the way of the dinosaur – extinct,” he jokes.

“Our view is: climate change is a complex issue, and we all need to do our part to tackle it. We started ION with the view that transitioning some 600 million motorcycles towards electric in SEA is our way of contributing to a more sustainable future for the generations to come.”

EV motorcycles are stuck at its infancy stage in Singapore, maybe even pre-infancy. We can only hope that in time, authorities will provide a form of incentive, revised safety regulations, and a better developed swappable battery system for electric motorcycles.

With no concession or incentive for riders, the motivation continues to remain low for conversion.

Featured Image Credit: Energica via CarBuyer.com.sg