The growing popularity of the electric car and truck is clear, with consumers worldwide being encouraged to ditch their internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in favour of electric alternatives. But in markets with heavy congestion, poorer economies, and other drivers, many are purchasing alternative electric vehicles with two or three wheels to suit their needs.
The transportation sector contributes around 20 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the number of people buying vehicles is increasing as population numbers and the level of disposable income increase. For this reason, governments around the globe are pushing consumers to shift to electric, offering financial incentives, such as tax breaks, for making the switch. While this is working in markets such as North America and Europe, other markets are interested in different types of EVs. In countries across Asia and Africa, many people get around using less conventional vehicles, such as motorbikes, scooters and auto-rickshaws.
In fact, most of the world’s population uses bikes, scooters and other small vehicles to get around, and consumers are now looking towards electric alternatives. In India, in 2023, over half of all new three-wheeled vehicles sold and registered were battery-powered. And there are now many startups worldwide developing their business around the growing demand for small EVs. Several major automakers are now offering electric alternatives of small vehicles, such as motorbikes. For example, Honda recently announced the aim of selling four million electric motorcycles a year by the end of the decade.
However, there are some challenges to the rollout of small EVs. For example, in Mexico, the government continues to subsidise oil rather than batteries, making it attractive for consumers to continue purchasing ICE vehicles. In a country that battles with heavy congestion and high levels of air pollution across its major cities, the government must support consumers in shifting to electric alternatives. In Mexico City, Econduce – an electric moped-sharing service, has gained in popularity showing the potential for market growth if supported by favourable policies.
In Kenya, there are around 1.3 million boda bodas (bicycles and motorcycle taxis) across the country, approximately 1,500 of which run on electricity. One startup, ARC Ride, created a service that allows consumers to use an app that unlocks a locker containing a fully-charged lithium battery. Motorcycle taxi drivers can leave their discharged battery in another locker and take the new one to travel a further 90km. There are currently 72 swap stations in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, with more being established. Felix Saro-Wiwa, head of sustainable growth at ARC Ride, stated, “We are interested in a solution that’s going to enable mass electric transport.” Startups such as these are partnering with creditors to offer consumers cheap loans to enhance accessibility. William Ruto, Kenya’s president, hopes to increase the uptake of electric motorcycles to 200,000 by the end of 2025.
Around 70 percent of the vehicles in India are two-wheeled, mainly scooters and motorbikes. Another 10 percent of the market is made up of autorickshaws (or tuk-tuks), demonstrating the significant potential for the development of the small EV market. Around 90 percent of India’s 2.3 million electric vehicle fleet is made up of two- and three-wheelers. A $1.3 billion federal plan was launched to encourage EV manufacturing and give financial incentives to customers purchasing EVs, which has driven consumer awareness and supported EV sales.
While the initial investment may be high, many of India’s taxi drivers are quickly seeing the benefits of going electric, as the cost to run these vehicles is typically lower than ICE alternatives. Some cities in India now have interactive maps showing where EV charging hubs are located, allowing for easy charging. N.C. Thirumalai from the Bengaluru-based think tank, Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy, believes that the development of domestic mining for critical minerals, such as lithium, could help drive down the cost of EV development in the future and help boost sales in the Indian market.
While running a small EV in India may be cheaper than using fossil fuel-powered vehicles, this is not the case everywhere. The high price of electricity restricts many countries from effectively developing their EV markets, particularly in low-income populations that could benefit from this technology. For small EV producers to succeed in the markets where motorbikes and scooters are the most popular, governments must introduce financial incentives or electricity subsidies to boost consumer uptake. This could help reduce pollution are provide consumers with access to clean transportation for commuting or business needs.
Although there is a growing awareness around the rise of the electric car and truck, the growth of the small EV market is less known. The transport fleets of many countries around the world continue to be made up predominantly of two- and three-wheel vehicles, showing the huge potential for the mass rollout of small EVs. However, for this to be successful, governments must introduce favourable policies and ensure that the cost of electricity is more affordable than fossil fuels to drive consumers to make the shift.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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