The Big Five motorcycle manufacturers are said to have 10-or-more-year-old electric bike prototypes tucked away in their R&D halls, industry-reknown UTV maker Polaris now offers its venerable, class-leading Ranger UTV in your choice of equally-performing gas, diesel and electric models, and companies such as Motoczysz, Zero, Brammo, and others have catapulted the electric motorcycle out of its home-brew oddity and commercially produced scooter-only domain and into the powersports sportbike (and even superbike) mainstream. Wow! Can the extinction of gas-powered motorcycles be very far away?
First and foremost there is eBike technology leader Motoczysz' Isle of Man TT Zero EV competition winner, EV technology-proving, Bonnevile record holding, non-production 161 hp, 160 mph, 150 mi range E1pc, a variation of which Jay Leno not long ago videotaped for his online show. Then we have the 6-speed, 54 hp, 100+ mph, 121-mile-range production Brammo Empulse, which Motorcyclist magazine likened to a Triumph Street Triple in ergos, feel, and overall character (largely due to its clutch and transmission), if not power. And finally, though a car, supremely significant is Road and Track's April 2013 declaration that the new 416 hp Tesla S electric car out-accelerates a 640 hp Viper SRT! Taken together, and especially happening in such a short time, these make the future of powersports look very new, very fresh, and quite interesting indeed! The bikes look even better. eBikes, once as utilitarian as a wheelbarrow full of batteries, actually are beginning to appeal now rather than repulse. What a time we live in!
What this means for the traditional powersports industry, that has witnessed the eBike evolution from crude, backyard-invented forklift motor powered hopefuls and piddly, 30/50 (mph/mile range) ambitiously-marketed eScooters, is hard to say. Those of us who have lived our whole lives in this industry are feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension. There is the excitement that something really new, really world-changing, and good for society and well-being, is happening that will mark the lives of all who come after us. And we know this is inevitable, not to mention a good thing. But there is also apprehension in that we who depend on the industry for our livelihood don't really know where we are going to fit in when this brave new world arrives. Maybe those of us committed to vintage restoration should find a way to put the word "Armageddon" into our dbas.
It's interesting that this revolution within the internal combustion gas engine passenger vehicle industry is happening at the very same time as a slower but equally encouraging evolution of how powersports companies do business. Like businesses everywhere, powersports dealers are finally understanding that their business focus really is people, not machines. Customers and culture, not major units. It's interesting because once the eVehicle begins to significantly displace its far-more-complex internal combustion forerunner, much of the industry's service infrastructure will dissolve, leaving fewer, more efficient, less man-hour intensive service scenarios remaining, and thus a shift will take place toward service as it really is -- serving people, nurturing human relationships. This is of course what the best dealers are already doing. But one day the energies that the average shop owner presently puts into running an incredibly complex workshop will be freed to be leveraged toward better meeting their customer's needs, and more and more, dealers and repair shops will be tuned into customers instead of merely tuning motorcycles.