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Published on November 6th, 2018 | by Michael Barnard


Yamaha’s Electric Motorcycle Plans Are Based On Its Kando Strategy

November 6th, 2018 by  

Kando is a Japanese word for the simultaneous feelings of deep satisfaction and intense excitement that we experience when we encounter something of exceptional value. It’s core to Yamaha Motor Company’s brand strategy, and is integral to its diverse product line. While many think of Yamaha as a motorcycle manufacturer, it is much broader than that.

Yamaha core competencies and spread of products courtesy Yamaha Global Brand Strategy

Despite a common refrain in the motorcycle-oriented EV community that the Japanese manufacturers aren’t doing much for electric motorcycles, Yamaha’s electric two-wheeler roots run deep and are likely more on target than legacy European and North American brands.

Yamaha’s first electric pedal-assist bicycle from 1989 image courtesy Yamaha

The thesis this series is investigating is one of motorcycle industry disruption by three trends. The first is the rise of electric drive trains, the second is the shift in purchasing demographics to younger generations, and the third is the increase in urbanization. The combination is leading to electric bicycles and bicycle-based electric vehicles becoming dominant.

Yamaha had its first electric pedal-assist bicycle in 1989 and on sale in Japan in 1993, 25 years ago. It’s sold over 2 million electric bicycles globally and an additional 4 million drive units to third-party bicycle manufacturers. A combination of range concerns, fitness desires, regulation, and simple product extension have made electric bicycles an excellent fit in many markets.

The second thread the series is looking at is the potential for electric scooters to grow to dominate the increasingly urban market. As range concerns are addressed by cheaper, larger, and lighter batteries, performance increases, and urban areas become even denser, most urban use cases are easy to address with motor scooters. There are multiple products on the market today which look like scooters with pedals or bicycles without pedals, leading to the observation that the differentiation is blurring.

Chart by author

In an earlier article on the success vs failure of Zero and Alta motorcycles respectively, an analysis of use cases for different vehicle types was explored. This has been extended to a more complete categorization of two-wheel vehicles and with the added viability of purely electric options at this time.

It’s unsurprising that electric mountain bikes top the list along with dual-sport motorcycles. They provide more utility across more use cases, while often foregoing peak performance in a given category. However, the viability assessment tells an interesting story. From this assessment of Yamaha’s product line, the company has had pedal-assist road bikes for years, it has electric mountain bikes, and it has sold a wide range of electric motor scooters including the Frog, Mest, Eccy, Passol, EC-02, Passol-L, Pocke, Seated Electric Scooter, and now the Evino. The company is working in the highest viability spaces and has been for one to two decades.

Yamaha EC-03 electric scooter from 2010 image courtesy Yamaha

As the product tree shows, Yamaha is also able to work across multiple lines of effort, sharing knowledge, experience, and engineering talent. As one example, Yamaha has been making increasingly competent and powerful electric outboard motors for boats for years, starting with trawling motors but now with completely adequate small boat outboards. Similarly, it has a line of electric wheelchairs and electric assistance devices for those with limited mobility.

In a perhaps odd misstep, Yamaha’s first electric motorcycle is a trials bike, the TY-E. To achieve similar weight to gas trials bikes, it is carbon fiber, and with no price point, it’s going to be expensive. However, it’s best thought of as a one-off experimental platform for a specific form of racing, something Yamaha has been doing very successfully for decades.

And trial riding is thrilling. Watching an elite athlete such as Toni Bou dancing his bike across absurd obstacles and making it look easy is a treat, a treat that presently comes with shrill noises and smoke. Trials motorcycling has strong potential as an indoor demonstration sport in malls and other enclosed areas with electric drive trains.

But how important is an electric motorcycle to Yamaha when you can buy its YDX Torc electric mountain bike today for $3,500 USD?

Yamaha YDX Torc electric mountain bike image courtesy Yamaha

As the use cases vs viability assessment shows, this is currently the broadest utility sweet spot for viable electric two-wheelers. The price point isn’t out of range of other mountain bikes, but getting to trailheads is much easier when the bike is helping with the hills. It’s easy to cross-purpose as an urban commuting and errand machine. Similarly, its pedal-assist road bikes and scooters are well aligned with high utility and viability.

Yamaha Motor Company has been building motorized two-wheelers since 1955, when it was formed as an arms-length division of Yamaha Corporation. It now has 109 subsidiaries in the UAV, marine, mobility assistance, and other segments, selling the products of its 55,000 employees in most countries in the world. It’s been exploring electric two-wheelers longer than most companies, and its product line today is well-aligned with the current urban demographics.

While bikers who yearn for the kando of a Yamaha electric motorcycle are still waiting, this is a company with a long-running commitment to leading electrification in the two-wheel and other spaces. Yamaha will deliver a motorcycle when it can do so with a capability set and price that make sense, and it will do a very good job of it.

[Note: We reached out to Yamaha Motor USA asking for comment, but haven’t heard back yet at the time of publication. This article will be updated if/when we receive a reply.] 

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About the Author

is Chief Strategist with TFIE Strategy Inc. He works with startups, existing businesses and investors to identify opportunities for significant bottom line growth and cost takeout in our rapidly transforming world. He is editor of The Future is Electric, a Medium publication. He regularly publishes analyses of low-carbon technology and policy in sites including Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Post, Quartz, CleanTechnica and RenewEconomy, and his work is regularly included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews have been published in dozens of news sites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. Much of his work originates on Quora.com, where Mike has been a Top Writer annually since 2012. He's available for consulting engagements, speaking engagements and Board positions.

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