No question about it, car designers have shown that they can build awesome electric bikes, and we have seen it in a number of high quality prototypes. The challenge has been bringing these electric bikes to production.
Here is a list of 10 electric bikes made by car companies, placed in the order in which they are likely to come to market. The higher they are on this list, the more of a chance they have of being shelved, never to be ridden by the masses.
#10 Porsche Electric Bike
(2% chance it makes it to production) Of the electric bikes on the list, this is by far the easiest bike to produce being a simple conversion hub motor bike. Why is it #10 then? Porsche canned the possibility of bringing an electric bike to market, instead they focused on high-end human powered bicycles as their side product. Said Porsche about their new pedal bicycles, “Not a combustion engine. Not an electric motor. Not a hybrid.” Porsche’s electric bike was not that interesting anyway compared to the other bikes on this list. A wimpy 250-watt rear hub motor, the only special promise this E-bike had was an iphone app to give you speed and battery read out and a custom made iphone holder. This electric bike is one of a few on this list that will not be missed if it never makes it to market.
Porsche is known for whoring out their name on all kinds of products like sunglasses, watches, and luggage. We do not mind if they keep their name off of electric bikes.
#9 Ford Electric Bike
(15% makes it to production) This bike has unique U-shape and the battery slides in and out of the seat tube, so when the rider parks he can take the battery with him (and the seat). This prototype was developed in 6 weeks time to display at the Frankfurt auto show in 2011 according to a Ford spokesperson. The front wheel drive 250-watt geared hub motor looks like it was added as an after thought. Ford has no plans to bring this to market, and in this case it seems as though its just a prototype that was made to display how “Green” and “Progressive” Ford is. More than any company on this list, Ford is in survival mode and only cares about bottom line profit. Well there is no profit in making an expensive electric bike…So don’t expect Ford to bringing this bike to market unless the market completely changes.
Ford also attempted releasing an electric bike in 2001 called the Ford Think Mobility electric bike. This ebike made it to market but later went bust and is now in our ebike graveyard.
#8 Lexus Electric Bike
(20% it makes it to production) This bike is powered with the same 250-watt front-wheel geared hub motor as the Ford Bike. It supposedly can hold a 24V / 25.9-Ah battery for a very respectable 624 watt hours. Lexus has no plans to bring this bike to production, and is waiting in the wings to see how bigger guys on this list fare.
#7 Honda Step
(35% it makes it to production) Honda’s Raccoon bottom-bracket mid-drive has been a popular bike drive line in Japan. The Honda Step uses a refined version of the Raccoon, with the 24V / 10-Ah battery mounted just above it, and it can fold small enough to fit in a trunk. Honda designed the Step in 2003 and made a small number of them in order to test them in the Japanese market. For some reason Honda then Stepped out of the electric bike business…and hasn’t peeped a word about it since.
6. Toyota / Yamaha Electric Bike
(60% makes it to production) Not too much is known about this Toyota-Yamaha collaboration. Pictures of the prototype leaked out in 2011, and it is a belt drive, short 20″ wheels, short range futuristic electric bike. Because of its refined looks we would give this bike a high probability (greater than 50%) of making it to market.
#5 VW Bik.e
(80% it makes it to production) This electric bike was announced in 2010 and is just too cool not to make it to market. It folds up so small it will fit in the back of a small VW trunk. Folding bikes are really awesome and this one is a very unique design. The only thing we don’t like about it is that, in order to make it ultra-foldable this bike was designed without pedals. VW might have a problem with legalities since this would in most jurisdictions be classified as a “scooter” and not an “electric bike.” VW lawyers are working on this problem now, and VW’s people are talking to Segway’s People and presumably it will all get worked out.
#4 Audi Electric Bike (read story)
(85% it makes it to production) This is one of the finest examples of an electric bike every created. Carbon fiber design, Clean Mobile drive system with a 2,500 watt motor, advanced pedelec controls, digital read outs through a wireless android device, “wheelie mode” for doing stunts without flipping over. Audi put their top designer on this bike, and it fits with Audi’s new strategy of the E-tron which are ultra cool electric vehicles that can be marketed simultaneously in Europe, China, and the United States. Too much effort has gone into this bike for it not to be produced, and the public interest in this bike has been a home run for Audi. No electric bike has ever gotten as much attention from the mass public as the Audi Electric Bike.
Audi has made the only speed demon on this list. With a 2500 watt motor (10x that of the legal limit in Europe) we expect this bike to be capable of speeds as high as 50-MPH. Audi’s biggest problem will be that this bike is illegal in every market they are selling in…this is the only thing that could keep this bike from coming to market as-is….maybe a safe and sane 250 watt version of the beautiful bike? Ewww what a waste…please don’t do it Audi, keep this electric bike as a super E-bike!
#3 BMW Electric Bike (read story)
(95% it makes it to production) It has been announced that 200 of these electric bikes are being made to be used as athlete and organizer transports in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. With 200 of these bikes already being made, unless serious injury occurs on these bikes at the Olympic games, or there is some kind of phenomenally bad press, you will see the BMW electric bike go into production and hit dealerships probably by Christmas this year. This does not have any legal problems to be marketed anywhere in the world with its 250-watt motor…and its folding design is super practical for the average commuter. Depending on the price point, we think that the BMW bike has the potential to be the biggest financial hit on this list.
#2 Smart Electric Bike (read story )
(99% this bike is in production) Barring some catastrophe like earthquake in the Chinese factory where it is being built, or World War III…the Smart Electric Bike will make it to market later this summer. The price has already been set at $3150 and Smart dealerships are accepting deposits on this electric bike. Whether the Smart bike will survive at this price point given that it is basically a high priced but flashy Bionx conversion bike…is another question. Suave consumers will notice that they can convert their own bikes for much cheaper using the Bionx kit, and even cheaper and more powerful if they go with a BMC hub motor kit or a Crystalye. The Brabus (pictured) is a 350-watt version of the same bike in black color. (read article on Brabus here). It’s important to note that Smart is owned by Daimler AG which is synonymous with Mercedes.
#1 Mercedes Electric Bike (old school)
(100% this bike has made it to production) Yes ironically, by far the ugliest and the uncoolest bike on this list made it to #1. Why? This is the only bike on this list to make it to production back in the early 2000’s. Mercedes took the effort to build this bike as a rare purpose built electric bike, It was a complete financial flop, with very few of these electric bikes ever being sold. This bike had a removable nickel metal hydride pack built into the down tube that was as heavy as sin. This bike had a very limited range, was heavy and handled sluggishly. I actually sold a few of these from my electric bike store in San Francisco in 2003, and took a few (boring) rides on the Mercedes Bike. It was nothing I could imagine anyone buying for its $3000 price tag.
Strange Looking Electric Bikes
Can you tell that many of these bikes were only made to drop jaws at trade shows? Transporting an electric bike and displaying it on a pedestal is a cheap proposition. Most of these electric bikes were meant to be displayed, not ridden by real people.
Hats off to Mercedes for taking another swing, after failing to bring an electric bike to market the first time. Notice that the Smart bike is way sleeker and futuristic looking than the original Mercedes Electric Bike.
Purpose Built E-bikes
All of these E-bikes are rare examples of Purpose Built Ebikes (see our story) with the exception of the Porsche bike which is a hastily bolted together conversion electric bike.
Only 2 of these ebikes, the Audi and the Honda (my 2 favorite bikes) took the trouble to build mid drives, the holy grail of electric bike power systems (see our story) . All the rest are simple hub motor designs.
E-bike by country
6 out of 10 of these manufacturers are European. 3 are Japanese, and 1 is American…you can come up with your own conclusions, but it has to do with how stagnant the electric bike market is in the US where people are still attached to automobiles.
What about China? Most of these bikes if they make it to production, will be manufactured in China.
Most of these bikes lack color, and are made in either black or white. The more color in them, the more likely they are to fail. (the green Porche and the grey Mercedes are the 2 biggest failures on this list)
Car Sales and Electric Bikes
Bringing an electric bike to market for a car manufacture is a hard accomplishment, and not because of the actual production process. Not only do they need to consider liabilty, but also legality (which changes by jurisdiction) and reliabilty. Electric bikes as we all know can be a little bit finicky because of battery pack technology. A “lemon” electric bike with a looser battery could potentially tarnish an automobile manufacturers name, and effect car sales. However it seems most of the companies on this list are waiting in the wings with fantastic electric bike designs to slide in the right battery technology whenever that finally comes around. A lot of people think that 2012-2013 might be the years that a few of these companies (not just Mercedes) actually attempt their break through.
In the end all these companies are more concerned with company image than they are with selling a few electric bikes. If the electric bike improves their image then they will produce it and offer it…if it hurts their image and effects car sales negatively…ditch it.
All these companies are concerned with selling more cars, and in the end…all these electric bikes are just marketing gimmicks.