HONDA SHOWS ELECTRIC BENLY AT TOKYO
March 24, 2019 Filed under: Honda
IS HONDA GETTING SERIOUS ABOUT ELECTRIC SCOOTERS?
This week Honda showed off an electric version of their Benly scooter at the Tokyo Motorcycle Show.
Hopefully this signals the start of a more serious electric effort from Honda, but I’m skeptical. Eight years ago Honda had their EV-Neo that was a reasonably good electric scooter for the time, but they never did anything with it and instead let e-Bikes continue to encroach on their small scooter sales, as has the rest of the scooter market.
Last year they showed off an all electric version of their PCX, which they said is production bound, but since then only a few have actually trickled out to customers hands. More problematically, it’s a low effort model because they are shoe-horning an electric powertrain into an existing scooter rather than starting with a fresh design where they can optimize for electric (e.g. using the batteries as a structural component). The PCX Electric doesn’t show a lot of progress given the 7 years between the EV-Neo and PCX electric.
Now Honda has taken their Benly utility scooter that is normally powered by a 110cc engine and tossed in the same electric motor and removable/swappable batteries they are using for their PCX Electric. Again, it’s nice to see a bit of interest in electric from Honda, but retrofitting other models isn’t going to be compelling for customers. For one, it fills up the underseat storage area with batteries.
I also think Honda (and others) are taking the wrong approach with swappable batteries. Improving fast charge technology has killed the rationale for battery swapping. Modern batteries and chargers can now charge at a rate of 300 miles in 20 minutes (and this is improving all the time). An electric scooter with a good range (e.g. 200 miles) and fast charging could conveniently charge at home overnight for day to day use so there would be no need to seek out swap stations, and on rare occasions when you road trip over 200 miles you can fast charge. After 200 miles you’re ready for a 20 min break anyways. Battery swapping is clumsy because you don’t own your entire machine, and you’re reliant on proprietary network that might not be around in 10 years. If a fast charge network fizzles out, at least you can still use your scooter, whereas some swapping companies like Gogoro even disallow you charging your own machine so you use their network more.
Hopefully Honda has something better in the works because their strategy over the last couple years of retrofitting gas models with swappable batteries isn’t going to cut it in the future. If they want to be successful with electric scooters, they need to get serious with a dedicated platform for electric.