It’s no surprise that the demand for green transportation has surged, given the state of natural resources and scientific evidence that electric over gas-powered vehicles can significantly reduce pollution.
On top of that, amidst a global pandemic, the powersports industry has skyrocketed sales as consumers look for alternative modes of transportation that are both affordable and safe, as opposed to mass public transit.
“At the onset of the pandemic, a lot of the lenders and financers of our dealerships were really doom and gloom. They were saying that so many dealers would be at risk and we’re going to see a lot of long-term closures, but I’ve only seen one,” said Dan Quick, director of communications at Zero Motorcycles. “We’ve done some reforecasting for the year, but we’re still on pace in most categories. We’re out pacing where we were last year at this point and over the past three or four years. We’re still enjoying the fact that electric is an outlier in powersports and they’re continuing to grow at a rate that traditional powersports have not been able to replicate.”
Zero Motorcycles, the electric motorcycle manufacturer, combines the best aspects of a traditional motorcycle with advanced technology and their Z-Force electric powertrain.
“Our sales and dealer development teams have relayed to me that our stocking model is very favorable among dealers,” Quick explained. “We have a non-stocking model, where all of our floor models are demo models. We don’t have dozens of models like your traditional gas motorcycle manufacturer; we have nine. We’re not trying to sequester square footage and tie up the dealer’s capital in inventory. That gives dealers the element of agility and flexibility that I don’t think they’ve had with a lot of other lines.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Zero’s product line is thriving, with two models specifically outpacing the rest. “We’re seeing an increased interest in the lower price point vehicles like the FX and FXS bikes. Those have been remarkably popular.”
With the climate change conversation being led by young activists like Greta Thunberg, consumers are taking notice and looking to make a difference in how they commute.
“A lot of places around the world have seen a light switch of improved air quality by going electric and people have reacted positively,” Quick said. “There are the obvious benefits for the environment in having an electric vehicle over an internal combustion engine, but we want everyone to ride our motorcycles because we’re confident that we’ve created an exceptional, effortless motorcycle that just needs to be experienced. Once you’ve felt that, it’s something that a lot of people have a difficult time going back to a traditional gas-powered motorcycle.”
According to Quick, Zero riders can be generalized into a few categories that drive their interest in going electric: enthusiasts, returning and tech-type riders.
For the enthusiast, these riders have a garage full of gas-powered motorcycles and are interested in adding something new to their fleet. Slowly, that electric motorcycle moves to the front of the garage and their favorite non-electric bikes drift to the back.
Returning riders may have had an event that paused their riding experience, maybe they started a family or laid a bike down but are looking to get back into riding regularly. For this group, the aspect of going green drives their decision and Quick described it as “the prestige of being on a premium motorcycle.”
The last group are the technologically savvy riders. This group is probably the smallest, by absolute figures, but punch out of their weight class as far as their impact and visibility. The emerging technology has an appeal to a certain type of rider and is something that can be attractive to a lot of consumers.
For the tech-savvy rider, app connectivity is something that seals the deal — linking the cell phone in their pocket to their motorcycle so they’re able to know if their bike is fully charged, if it was moved without their knowledge or if they want to learn about their lean angles and riding style based on the data that is collected on the road.
“I think from a behavioral standpoint, connectivity is something that we’re increasingly not just comfortable with, but almost even expecting,” Quick said. “I think people are integrating their devices in more and more aspects of their lives for good. As a result, we have some really cool opportunities, both on the horizon and also immediately available to our riders.
“In 2014, we were the first company to launch a Bluetooth-connected app to our motorcycles. When we launched the SR/F, we were the first gas or electric motorcycle to have a fully connected bike. So not only is there a Bluetooth connectivity module, but a cellular connectivity module. By actually putting the motorcycle into the internet of things onto the network, the opportunities to have real time information sent back and forth to your motorcycle really mushroomed from there, like telemetry.”
For riders who are familiar with Tesla, the operating system that drives Zero Motorcycles is something that is constantly evolving.
“Our operating system has the potential for a variety of new functions to be introduced to the motorcycle riding experience by way of the app; we have the opportunity to do some very exciting things. You can already see corollaries in automotive, like performance upgrades on a Tesla that are really just firmware or software additions. We have a lot of blank canvas ahead of us that we get to populate with some pretty exciting stuff.”
For those first-time riders looking to get into the powersports industry, jumping on a motorcycle can be a deterring factor for someone who isn’t as comfortable with the throttle as an experienced rider.
UBCO, the New Zealand-designed two-wheel electric utility bike, is bridging the gap between bicycling and motorcycling, offering new riders an opportunity to level up while going green.
“With UBCO, dealers can introduce electric to a whole new rider group,” said Ethan Ralston, president & CEO of UBCO. “The beauty of electric is with the way these bikes are set up. You can have zero riding experience and you can get right on an UBCO 2×2. It only takes about five minutes to learn how to ride.”
All UBCO bikes are all automatic. They function like a motorcycle with a throttle and brakes on top in a sleek and lightweight package.
The UBCO ride is completely silent. That, of course, is a benefit of electric, along with having little maintenance.
“The beauty with electric is that they’re nearly maintenance-free and there’s not a lot of moving components,” Ralston said. “So, if you had to actually work on something, a lot of customers will just do it on their own if they’re comfortable with it and if they’re not, they could go back to a dealer who would be able to provide maintenance.
“I always like to tell dealers that we’re going to attract new riders into their store, because new riders might have been intimidated by motorcycles,” Ralston explained. “Maybe they didn’t pass their motorcycle safety course because they were on a larger bike that was top heavy. This is an option where riders can start out, and it’s why riders like it. And once that rider is comfortable, they can upgrade to a bigger bike down the road.”
Along with powersports doing extremely well during the pandemic, the bicycle and e-bike segment is increasing at a dramatic rate.
“With or without COVID-19, the segment is going to be growing. It’s still pretty early to be an adopter of anything electric. If you see a lot of the statistics and numbers, electric motorcycles are continuing to grow,” Ralston said. “And with the pandemic going on, people are trying to do more things from home. I think the benefit of e-bikes and the electric market is that there are additional opportunities for lightweight vehicles. You can ship them directly to someone’s home and you can work with local dealers to get these products to customers.”
With over 50 UBCO dealers in the U.S. right now, demand for e-bikes is expected to increase with the continuation of advanced technology.
“Five years from now, I see the market increasing. There’s going to be more people who come into the market, more players and more models. We’ll probably see the most innovation going on in the electric side; you don’t see that as much from all the bigger gas-powered OEMs, which control the market.”
In light of innovation, Zero’s Quick agreed that the market is moving in the direction of electric, “We’re constantly innovating for future products and we’re very excited about what is on in the market right now,” Quick added. “We will continue to roll out new products that are not just intended to be the best electric motorcycles available at that moment in time, but they are designed to be able to stay there with new innovations and new updates well into the future.”