Battery-swapping technology reverses the vicious circle that larger batteries bring for bikes, where more kWh means more weight, a bigger motor, bigger brakes, and stronger suspension, all adding even more mass and bulk to the mix. Provided a widespread network of battery-swap stations is available (a big ask, admittedly), allowing dead batteries to be replaced with fresh ones in a matter of seconds—faster, cheaper, and cleaner than even filling a petrol tank would be—then stopping regularly to do it becomes less of a chore.
If you can reduce a bike’s range to, say, 50 miles, but make the battery swap process fast and easy, you reap the rewards everywhere else. The battery, motor, brakes, chassis, and suspension parts can all be reduced in size and weight without a loss in performance, adding efficiency all the way. Since the batteries are essentially leased rather than owned by the customer, it means bikes using them can be substantially cheaper, and fears of batteries getting weaker with age are also set aside, as the packs used in the battery-swap network can be kept up to a minimum standard.
Even better, as technology improves, new batteries with greater capacity or less weight can be developed to meet the same physical size and connection standards, giving a boost in performance or range to all the bikes using them. A growing number of motorcycle manufacturers have already spotted the potential. While battery-swappable bikes can already be bought—for instance, the new Maeving RM1, Honda’s Benly e and Gyro e, or Yamaha’s NEO’s scooter—the step change will come with the introduction of standardized batteries and a network of battery-swap stations.
The alliance of companies working toward that goal is already substantial and growing fast. As long ago as April 2019, the Japanese “Big Four”—Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki—established a working group to hammer out a standard battery specification. Two years later, in March 2021, the results were in, and that standard was set out in a technical paper for the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan.
In September 2021, a similar consortium was set up to do the same in Europe, this time including Honda, Yamaha, KTM (owner of the KTM, Husqvarna, and GasGas brands), and the Piaggio Group that owns Vespa, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Gilera, and Derbi, as well as the currently dormant Laverda.
At the time, Piaggio’s chief of strategy, Michele Colaninno, said: “Swappable batteries give the right answer to speed up the recharging time of vehicles, offering an additional valuable choice for users.” Stefan Pierer, CEO of KTM’s parent group, Pierer Mobility, added that “together with our partners, we will work to deliver a swappable battery system for low-voltage vehicles (48V) up to 11-kW capacity, based on international technical standards.”
As Pierer suggested, the swappable battery specification set in Japan, which the European consortium is also targeting, is for 48-volt battery packs, essentially reflecting an ecosystem that Honda has already established with its Mobile Power Pack e swappable batteries, revealed in 2018. Those batteries are used in several Japanese-market Honda scooters, including the PCX Electric, the Gyro e, and the Benly e, but are also intended for use in an array of other equipment from snowblowers to power walls. Like other standard battery types, they can be used single or grouped together to increase performance or durability. Swedish manufacturer Husqvarna’s e-Pilen—a near-production concept bike shown in 2021—also uses three removable battery packs that appeared to be very similar to the Honda 48-volt design, which could potentially be used to power the robotic lawn-mowers, chainsaws, trimmers, brush cutters, and garden tractors it makes.
Standardizing the battery is just the first step, though: The much bigger task is to set up a network to supply, charge, and swap them. Earlier this year, in April 2022, the original Japanese battery swap consortium of Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki teamed up with ENEOS Holdings, Japan’s largest oil company, to establish a new company, Gachaco, tasked with those jobs.
This “battery as a service” for electric motorcycles and scooters is intended to eliminate the worries of charging times and range, which are seen as the big roadblocks in the path to EV domination in the two-wheeled market. Honda’s Mobile Power Pack e will be the standard battery used, with exchange stations to be set up across Japan starting in Tokyo this fall, at convenient spots like train stations and ENEOS filling stations, which immediately give access to a nationwide network.
Since the European battery-swap consortium is likely to adopt a similar set of specifications, thus allowing the same Honda-designed pack to essentially become a global standard, the Japanese model is one that’s likely to be rolled out on this side of the world in the next year or two.
With it, we could expect to see a rapid growth in the number of motorcycles on the market using standardized, swappable batteries. Most are likely to be at the smaller, cheaper end of the market, equivalent to 125-cc petrol-powered machines making no more than 11 kW (15 hp) of continuous power (although peak power can be substantially higher) and complying with European learner laws, therefore eliminating the need for a full motorcycle license and allowing anyone with a valid CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) certificate, obtained with just a day’s training, to use them.