2013 Tokyo Auto Show: Yamaha Prepares For An Electric Motorcycle Future

Historically speaking large motorcycle manufacturers haven’t really embraced electric drivetrains, choosing instead to focus on the tried-and-tested internal combustion engine to move their products along. When they have ventured into electric drivetrains, the results have been underpowered two-wheelers barely worthy of being called mopeds.

Yamaha PES1 looks the part

Yamaha PES1 looks the part

But on the opening day of the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show yesterday, Yamaha premiered four motorcycle concepts all powered by electricity, hinting that after years of indifference, big motorcycle manufacturers may finally be taking electric motorbikes seriously.

Enter the Yamaha PES1 prototype electric street sport motorcycle, and its sibling, the PED1 prototype dirt sport bike, along with the EVINO commuter scooter and EKIDS dirt bike.

Designed with the ability to remove their battery packs for recharging,  the four motorcycles cover several major areas of Yamaha’s marketplace, from off-road dirt bike racing through to commuters and sports bike enthusiasts. But are these concepts more than just a hint at what could be in the future?

Sadly, Yamaha is keeping tight-lipped about the specifications of these four electric two-wheelers, but has said that each vehicle is powered by a brushless DC motor and removable lithium-ion battery pack. Regenerative braking also comes as standard.

At 39 kilograms, the EKIDS dirt bike is the lightest of the four concepts, with its big brother, the PED1 tipping the scales at under 85 kg. Yamaha hasn’t given the weight of the EVINO, but the PES1, with its street racer appeal, weights in at the 100 kg mark. That’s almost half the weight of many popular naked gasoline streetfighters.

Yamaha EVINO is a Vespa-style city scooter concept.

Yamaha EVINO is a Vespa-style city scooter concept.

The EVINO, built around Yamaha’s popular VINO Vespa-style scooter, has been built, Yamaha says, with an emphasis on low-speed manoeuvrability and handling in busy urban streets. As with the other motorcycle concepts, Yamaha doesn’t divulge any performance figures, but we’d guess the EVINO would offer somewhere between 50 and 125cc performance if brought into production.

From what we can tell, the PED1 and PES1 are built from the ground up as all-new bikes, with a monocoque chassis built around what Yamaha calls a “Smart Power Module.”  But what’s really got our interest piqued is the promise that both the PED1 and PES1 will be capable of switching between manual and automatic transmission, hinting that unlike its previous single-gear, underpowered city moped, these two bikes are engineered for more than getting from point A to point B without burning gasoline.

Like recent motorcycles in the Zero range, Yamaha’s PED1 and PES1 offer smartphone connectivity, allowing riders to check on their bike’s state of charge and tweak settings remotely.

Being concept vehicles, there’s no way to tell if Yamaha will turn any of these designs into actual road — or dirt– going bikes. But given the fact that each of the four designs looks like they could easily make it into production without any major design changes, we think this is the first hint that Yamaha is seriously considering electric drivetrains as an alternative for gasoline for its motorcycle range.

We know what you’re thinking: Yamaha already makes an electric two-wheeler, doesn’t it?

PED1 Dirt Bike Concept from Yamaha has all you'd expect from a race machine.

PED1 Dirt Bike Concept from Yamaha has all you’d expect from a race machine.

The answer is yes, the retro-styled, underpowered EC-03. But after spending ten minutes on one two years ago, we can tell you that the EC-03 is a two-wheeled faux-pas best confined to the history books. In fact, we’ve never even seen one in the real world, because when you compare the EC-03 to some of the other all-electric two-wheelers on the market, the strange-looking Yamaha didn’t stand a chance.

With good reason too: over the past five years, specialist all-electric motorcycle manufacturers like Brammo and Zero have redefined what an electric motorcycle should be, taking it from the realm of 50cc equivalent ‘first-time’ city commuters to fully-fledged, grown-up motorcycles you’ll make any excuse to ride. Indeed, Zero’s latest offering, the 2014 Zero SR, offers 600cc sportsbike performance, and a range of well over 100 miles, if ridden sensibly.

But while the electric motorcycle world may be evolving faster than the electric car world, the current kings of the electric motorcycle marketplace may soon have to look over their shoulders: Yamaha’s record to date with electric bikes may be laughable, but these four concepts look to be a warning shot fired directly into enemy territory. Yamaha already knows how to make winning motorbikes, and now it thinks it’s time to make winning electric motorbikes too.

Watch out: the big boys want to join the electric motorcycle party.


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