by Micah Toll
Gas-powered scooters, much like fine wines, thin cigarettes and fresh baguettes, are one of those quintessentially European sights. But now that might be changing (for scooters, at least). And EVs could be the cause.
New figures report that sales of gas-powered scooters and motorcycles dropped by 6.1% in the first quarter of 2018, as compared to the same period in 2017. The largest decline in sales has been attributed to smaller scooters and mopeds below 50cc.
Sales of scooters and mopeds under 50cc have dropped by 40.2% over the same period. In France, which is the largest moped market in Europe, sales dropped even further by 41.5%.
One of the biggest factors affecting the drop in gas-powered scooter sales is the simultaneous jump in electric scooter sales.
During the same period, sales and registrations of electric mopeds, motorcycles and quads in Europe increased by a massive 51.2%. The total volume of these two-wheeled EV sales is still much lower than gas-powered scooters, but the trends indicate that small EVs are catching up to their ICE-powered cousins.
Even more impressive, sales of large electric motorcycles, which are classified separately due to their higher power levels, showed a 118.5% increase compared to last year. In France alone, large electric motorcycle sales have leaped 228% higher than last year.
While many gas-powered motorcycle riders appear to be switching to electric motorcycles, as represented by the large increases in sales each year, the smaller increases in electric scooter sales may be a result of riders switching to electric bicycles.
Many electric bicycles are nearly capable of the ranges and speeds of sub-50cc mopeds and electric scooters. In addition, electric bicycles do not require a driver’s license, insurance, inspections or parking permits. Due in large part to such benefits, sales of electric bicycles in Europe have grown steadily year after year, and are poised to reach over 2,000,000 units sold in 2018.
Some European countries are taking steps to further facilitate the shift away from gas-powered scooters and towards electric bicycles. In 2017, France alone saw a 50% increase in electric bicycle sales, likely driven in part by a national incentive program offering €200 (~$240 USD) to anyone who purchased an electric bicycle.
Even without government sponsored grants and credits, other European countries still experienced big growth in electric bicycle sales in 2017, including a 25% increase in Italy and a 19% increase in Germany.
Germany is the EU’s largest e-bike market, and saw over 720,000 e-bike sales in 2017.
What we are seeing was largely inevitable.
Gas scooters have long been convenient ways to zip around crowded European cities, and for decades no one questioned their few disadvantages due to lack of a better alternative. But now that we have electric bicycles, scooters and motorcycles, the only thing holding back mass adoption of these e-alternatives is largely their cost and range.
Both the cost and range of light electric vehicles have made massive strides over the past few years. Industry forecasts show these trends are set to continue. I think that in a few short years, we could see more e-bike and e-scooter sales in Europe than gas-powered scooters, especially as a multitude of cheap Indian electric scooters begin entering the market.
The bigger question is “when are Americans going to wake up to two-wheeled commuting?”
Despite being commonplace in European culture, scooters and mopeds never caught on to the same large degree in American cities – even where the climate allows it. They have a small, dedicated fan base – yet still make up only a tiny percentage of all vehicles on the road. But as urban centers become ever more densely populated, perhaps we’ll see more electric scooters and mopeds on our side of the pond as well.