Kawasaki Is Electrifying Its Motorcycles, And One Of Them Is A Wild Parallel Hybrid

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As Americans put away their motorcycles for the winter, riding is only getting hotter out in Italy. At the EICMA Motorcycle Show 2022 in Milan, motorcycle manufacturers are putting out their best ideas for the future. Kawasaki rolled into the show with prototypes declaring ambitious plans for an electrified future. Team Green didn’t just bring a prototype for an EV, but a prototype for what sounds like a fascinating hybrid and even a weird hydrogen-powered motorcycle.

Last time we checked on EICMA, we looked at the Velocifero Jump. That electric motorcycle has specs like a Honda Grom, but comes with a striking design and hopefully a low price. But the Jump really isn’t doing anything new. One company with a few fresh ideas is Kawasaki, and to call them ambitious would be an understatement.

Last year, Kawasaki announced that by 2035, it wants all of its new motorcycles sold in Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, and the United States to be electric. And before that target date, Team Green said that it wanted to introduce more than 10 electric and hybrid-electric vehicles. These are ambitious goals, especially considering that the company doesn’t have a single production electrified motorcycle. But Kawasaki has been developing its ideas for the future. A 2015 patent filing suggests that Kawasaki’s electric ambitions are over seven years in the making. Prototypes have been seen testing since 2019, and now, we’re being given production dates.

Electric Motorcycles

110822 Kawasaki Z Bev 23my 0321 Sl1 Stu1

 

The first is the Kawasaki Z BEV. Set to enter production in 2023, this little naked motorcycle is built to comply with European A1 license regulations. That means that it’ll have no more than 14.8 horsepower on tap (11 kW). It’s not going to do a wheelie and a burnout at the same time, but should be enough power to keep up with local traffic.

Next is the Kawasaki Ninja BEV. This motorcycle is more of a sportbike, fitting for its Ninja branding. It has aggressive styling like a Ninja 400 and like the Z BEV, this one is also coming out in 2023.

110822 Kawasaki Ninja Bev 23my 0322 Sl1 Stu1

Kawasaki says that this one is also built to comply with A1 license regulations, so I wouldn’t expect much different performance from the naked Z. Put another way, these will have the performance of a 125cc, maybe 150cc motorcycle. As reported by Electrek, Kawasaki Motors president Hiroshi Ito seems to be positioning both motorcycles as commuters:

European A1 license compliant, they will bring exciting ‘good times’ to daily commuting. They each have a large battery capacity of up to 3.0 kWh with two 12 kg battery packs that are easily removable.

I love to read that these will have lightweight, removable battery packs. As of now, apartment dwellers with street parking cannot charge an electric car at home. But you could with a motorcycle with removable batteries. So it’s always awesome to see that a motorcycle manufacturer is thinking about how you will charge its bikes.

Now here’s where things get real fun.

Hybrid Power

110822 Kawasaki Ninja Hev 23my 0369 Stu1

Next up is the Kawasaki Ninja HEV. This is a hybrid-electric motorcycle that Kawasaki plans on putting in your garage really soon. Kawasaki has been tight-lipped about specs, but describes operating parameters not unlike a Toyota Prius. The motorcycle’s gas engine can work with an electric motor for propulsion, just like a hybrid car. And there will be an EV mode, again, like a car. Eyeballing that engine, it looks like a roughly 400cc unit, but again, there’s nothing official on it.

This one has really caught my attention because it’s pretty novel in the motorcycle world. The automotive industry has enjoyed mass-market hybrids for more than two decades. You could walk into the dealerships of multiple brands and drive out with a hybrid. That hasn’t been the case for motorcycles.

110822 Kawasaki Ninja Hev 23my 0369 Det1

Back in 2009, Indian manufacturer Eko Vehicles claimed to invent the world’s first hybrid motorcycle. Its ET-120 was claimed to use a 70cc engine paired to an electric motor developed with U.S.-based Emerging Vehicle Technologies Inc. It reportedly got 282 mpg with help from a lead acid battery. While I could find spec sheets published online, I couldn’t find a single production example.

In 2019, Honda claimed the title for “the world’s first hybrid system for a mass-production motorcycle” with its PCX Hybrid scooter. This is something that motorcyclists can buy, and there are reviews for the thing. Honda designed the PCX Hybrid as a parallel hybrid, where a lithium-ion battery feeds what it calls the ACG starter, which both starts the gasoline engine and provides an assist:

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Honda

Yamaha has a hybrid scooter, too. Though, like the Honda PCX Hybrid, you can’t buy it in the United States. This is to say that hybrid motorcycles are still pretty new, and Kawasaki’s interpretation isn’t being put into a scooter. Kawasaki first showed off the Kawasaki Ninja HEV in 2020, and it plans to put them into production in 2024.

I saved the weirdest for last.

Hydrogen

110822 Kawasaki Hydrogen Motorcycle Prototype Rf 221102

Kawasaki also rolled out its Hydrogen Motorcycle, a hydrogen-combustion sport-tourer. It’s based on the Ninja H2 SX, but with bodywork dialed back. That in itself is pretty neat, as the H2 SX is known for its supercharged 998cc inline four making 197 HP. Kawasaki hasn’t said much about this one, but its engine is said to be based on the H2’s, but running on direct-injected compressed gaseous hydrogen.

If hybrid motorcycles are rare, hydrogen motorcycles are practically unicorns. There have been a number of concepts and prototypes over the past two decades, but I can’t find a single production hydrogen motorcycle on the market.

110822 Kawasaki Hydrogen Engine 3

The Kawasaki Hydrogen Motorcycle is the only one without a provided production date, and given hydrogen’s failure to catch on in the States, I wouldn’t hold my breath on seeing it here. However, given recent news that Kawasaki and Toyota are joining efforts on hydrogen technology, it seems that Kawasaki is serious about this.

One thing’s for sure, Team Green has some exciting stuff in the works. The electric motorcycles seem like fine steeds to get around on, and that hybrid is genuinely amazing. And as further good news, these motorcycles appear to be coming to America. While Kawasaki has not officially announced markets or even prices for these new motorcycles, Kawasaki has filed two 2023 VINs with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that match the two electric motorcycles. If this isn’t a fluke, that means that soon, you’ll be able to buy a sporty electric commuter with removable batteries.

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15 Responses

  1. That Kawi Z BEV is basically the same specs as the old Zero XU, so it’s good for 60 MPH top speed and 20-30 miles around town. Mine was an absolute delight for commuting and errands back when I did such things, and would be perfect in Europe or Japan.
    The fairing might actually help with range some.

  2. How fricken heavy is a PHEV motorcycle?

    I am a pretty small guy weight-wise. I’ve ridden a handful of bikes now and I’m always more confident on lighter bikes. My ’80 400 is really slow (esp. at altitude), but I’m faster than my buddy on his massive ~2L Harley in the mountains because I can chuck it into the corners with soooooo much more speed than he can stomach. And having ridden that beast, I wouldn’t have the confidence either…

  3. So the one hybrid motorcycle that you all threw some efficiency claims out for was the one that doesn’t really exist. How did the Yamaha and Honda ones pan out compared to their straight-ICE brethren?

    Short version: when MCs /have/ tried hybrid, has it been worth it?

  4. Has there been anything about their off road EV motorcycles? I for one would like to see what they can offer in agricultural bike class as their current Ag bike is very good. Also a few EV scooters would have to in there as well from Kawasaki surely?

  5. BEV and Hybrid options make a lot of sense for specific types of riders, but I have a hard time understanding hydrogen for a motorcycle. Not only are there all the typical issues with using H2 as a fuel, such as the need for very high pressures to achieve a sufficient density for appreciable storage/range, H2 refilling infrastructure, limited tank life (metal embrittlement or composite thermal & stress-cycling), and safety of these tanks & components over time, but H2 as a combustion engine fuel isn’t even zero-emissions. While there are no CO2, CO, or unburned hydrocarbons produced, H2 engines can still make NOx out of the oxygen and nitrogen in the air since H2’s adiabatic flame temperature at stoichiometric and a bit lean is more than hot enough for the dissociation reactions that produce NOx. It’s also more costly and complex to catalytically store and reduce NOx on its own without any hydrocarbons (comparable to a diesel engine that always runs lean) – the three-way catalyst on most gasoline vehicles is relatively cheap and easy to use in comparison to the much more complicated and pricy SCR & LNT systems on modern diesels.

    H2 can make sense for heavy-duty, over-the-road trucks that operate from a depot or run between depots that could have dedicated H2 infrastructure, need the energy density due to the heavy loads and long distances, have the space on-board for the tanks and the aftertreatment, and have a more strictly followed maintenance cycle. A motorcycle has none of these factors working in its favor…

  6. The idea of an EV motorcycle makes sense as an around the city option. Having removeable batteries works for not having to redo the entire electrical system in my house.

    For Winter/long term storage, add a trickle charger like do on the toy car that is put away makes great sense as well.

    As I don’t have a garage, I can see renting a storage unit short term, put this in without the battery, and pick up when the weather is better.

    1. Hybrids will likely sell to the people who are range-conscious, though I can’t imagine it will be efficient enough to make up for the likely higher price tag. And if it is a PHEV, it could be an electric commuter and still work well for the long rides.

    2. I reckon it’s the same reason that hybrid cars still have relevance with some buyers. You get great fuel economy and low emissions in city environments, but still have the ability to go long distance, fill up quickly, go places with a bad charging network, etc, etc. It seems that Kawasaki wants to cover multiple bases here with EVs, hybrids, and hydrogen.

      What will be interesting to see is if motorcycle buyers catch on to hybrids like car buyers did.

      1. I think the relative efficiency of motorcycles will make a hybrid a tough sell, especially given the number of riders who aren’t ever going to put the miles on to make up the cost. But if they can find a sweet spot, giving enough efficiency gains without too much added cost, I do think there will be a reasonable audience.

    3. I wouldn’t take an EV bike cross-country, as yet – sure, there are chargers, but a part of bike touring is leaving the interstate and beaten path behind, and those are the places least likely to have anything but gas support architecture.

      That, and the hybrid will still probably be cheaper than an EV bike – the ICE, basic frame, wheels, and controls are certainly existing designs that have already been amortized, and a small electric motor (either series or parallel) and tiny battery won’t add too much to the cost. Aside from a few engineering and packaging issues to be solved, it likely won’t be all that much fancier than a normal bike.

  7. I still think hydrogen vehicles in the public’s hands is a very bad idea. Aside from the lack of infrastructure, problems with hydrogen embrittlement, and the high pressures involved, it’s a -in my definitely not highly-informed opinion-a piss-poor energy storage solution.
    Even worse, if there are masses of hydrogen vehicles on the streets, someone is going to try to turn theirs up to 11. What’s a power-adder for hydrogen? Oxygen, maybe? The resulting video may be entertaining, but the actual event won’t be fun for those in the immediate vicinity.
    Mini-rant over: carry on.

    1. It’s one of those technologies that seems like it should work once we solve the problems:
      Sure, we can’t make hydrogen fuel all that efficiently now, but maybe if we keep trying…
      Sure, hydrogen compressed enough to be useful as a fuel means that catastrophic failure is truly catastrophic, but we can create tanks that are safe and light soon…
      Sure, hydrogen fueling stations will be a huge undertaking, but they’ll pay of if…

      It SEEMS worthwhile: faster to fuel than EVs, get rid of the ICE emissions, etc. But it only works out if we solve a bunch of engineering problems that may not be as easily solved as people hope.

      1. Safe hydrogen storage has been pretty much solved for a while – look up metal hydride hydrogen storage. The metal hydride (commonly magnesium or sodium-aluminium) fills the storage tank as a compressed powder that binds to the hydrogen like a sponge and actually stores more hydrogen per volume than just compression because it’s essentially being stored as a solid. It’s storage-stable for months and you just need to warm the tank slightly to re-release the hydrogen. It’s not perfect – the metal hydride powder ‘wears out’ eventually but making replaceable makes that a relatively easy thing to deal with. I saw a demo years ago where they shot a metal hydride tank full of hydrogen and aside from the hole nothing else substantial happened to it. The biggest problem seems to be the the US government used to (don’t know if they still do) classify hydrides as some kind of national security sensitive materials (I think they used them for fuel cells on submarines) so they were very difficult to get and that of course makes prices higher. So, the tech and engineering are there, it’s just money and red tape in the way.

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