When are we going to see the first major motorcycle manufacturer produce a motorcycle powered by one of the new alternative technologies? We’ve posted here many times about the Star Twin turbo diesel, the ENV hydrogen motorcycle, various electric powered scooters and motorcycles, but other than one offs built in someone’s garage or small companies trying to get ahead of everyone else, none of the major companies have actually tried to produce and sell one.
If I were betting on any one company with a chance of building one, Honda would top the list. They’re the biggest, of course, and few other companies have the resources available for serious R&D in some of the high technology drive systems. Honda’s auto division is hard at work and currently producing hybrids and they have lots of other auto manufacturers breathing down their neck trying to take the lead in alternate technologies. Adapting what they already know for use in a motorcycle would make their transition easiest by far, at least for hybrids.
Electric motorcycles could be built by far more companies if they had the desire. Electric motor technology has made unbelievable progress in recent years. You don’t need the automotive R&D to get a serious motorcycle going, but we’re still only seeing small companies actually trying to produce them. Battery technology is a factor here, too.
The ENV hydrogen fuel cell motorcycle is supposedly going to be produced next year. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen but they do have a bike that runs. Unfortunately, performance is low compared to any other motorcycle and range is short, but for quick commutes in the city it might work. I think the technology has a way to go before a larger company would be interested since large numbers make production feasible. If you’re only going to sell a few hundred, forget it. Here, too, Honda would be my candidate for the breakout company some time in the future.
Roush is going to produce, along with Arctic Cat, their diesel ATV, but they still don’t have quite the same space and weight considerations as a motorcycle would. On the other hand, ATV’s are smaller than cars so they could be a test bed for reducing the size of these technologies for eventual use on two wheels.
Diesel motorcycles have been around for a long time but performance kept them in the curiosity category until Star Twin started people thinking again with their turbo based on the VW Lupo 3 cylinder engine. Now that’s a real contender as a viable motorcycle with a non standard powerplant. Performance is certainly there and with the high mileage, the possibility of using biodiesel and the ease of actually producing one, I would be surprised if some larger company wasn’t already working on this.
What are the possibilities that a car company will do it first, maybe other than Honda? Actually, why not BMW, who are already in the motorcycle market, or even someone else. Motorcycles aren’t that difficult to build and if the bike worked really well they would get a huge response, probably lots of sales and think of the positive press. Someone would get a promotion for that one if they could pull it off.
Customer interest could play a part, too. Toyota has recently begun to look more closely at plug in hybrids after a small company modified a Prius to run a little differently and allow plug in recharges. After saying they were not interested and discouraging the practice, the response to the conversions have them looking again. Maybe if a sufficient number of customers or potential customers kept asking for a turbo diesel, for instance, one of the bike companies would get the ball rolling. You never know.
So who is it going to be and which technology will get there first? Lots of us would like to know.