Honda & Hitachi Join Forces on Electric Vehicle Motors

News out Japan sees Honda and Hitachi starting a joint venture that will focus on providing motors for electric vehicles. The two companies signed today what they call a “memorandum of understanding, which is the Japanese business version of getting a promise ring to start a future company together. The still unnamed joint venture will be located in Hitachinaka City in the Ibaraki Prefecture, and be initially capitalized with ¥5 billion (~$44 million). Honda Motor Co. and Hitachi Automotive Systems hope to finalize this deal by March 2017, and the new company will have subsidiaries in China and the United States – both of which will have sales and production capabilities.

US Lawmaker Introduces Bill to Close the EPA by 2018

A bill has been presented to the United States House of Representatives that would seek the closure of the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) by 2018. Proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R – Florida), HB 861 will likely be a mixed bag for motorcycle enthusiasts, as it will deregulate environmental restrictions set at the federal level, leaving states to draft or adopt their own provisions, which will likely have a fracturing effect on the regulatory market for motorcycles. But, it will also mean the abolition of EPA regulations that many motorcyclists oppose, like the blending of ethanol in our fuel, and restrictions on noise, emissions, and vehicle modifications.

KTM Invests in Heads-Up Display Company NUVIZ

Heads-up display (HUD) company NUVIZ just took a strategic investment from Pierer Industrie AG, the company behind KTM, Husqvarna, WP Suspension, and others. Today’s news is quite a catch for the San Diego based technology startup, and it bodes well for NUVIZ to bring its heads-up display technology to market. As such, NUVIZ hopes to have a heads-up display unit and connected rider system available in the first half of 2017. NUVIZ has raised roughly $9 million to date, via equity and debt, and our sources tell us that KTM’s purchase into the company has contributed to the lions’s share of that amount – upwards of $5 million, along with a seat on NUVIZ’s board of directors.

Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team Debuts

In an airplane hangar in Austria, Honda’s World Superbike team unveiled its wings…that is to say, the Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team debuted in the energy drink’s Hangar-7 facility in Salzburg today. As the name implies, Red Bull will be the title sponsor for Nicky Hayden’s and Stefan Bradl’s World Superbike title bid this year, on the updated 2017 Honda CBR1000RR SP2. This is the first time that Red Bull has been a title sponsor in the WorldSBK paddock, though the energy drink company’s livery can be seen on variety of bodywork throughout motorsport. “It’s a new year with a new bike, new title partner and new teammate, so there are definitely many changes ahead and a lot of things to look forward to,” said former MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden.

PJ Jacobsen Gives His First Impressions of MV Agusta

PJ Jacobsen will once again be the sole American representation in World Supersport this year. The New Yorker had his first taste of his MV Agusta F3 in the dry while at the Jerez test, and came away suitably impressed by the bike that has won eight races in the hands of Jules Cluzel in recent years. The 23-year-old tested the bike in Jerez last year in what was seen as a shootout for the ride, but on a damp track he didn’t get a real feel for the bike. “Today was my first day on the bike this year,” said Jacobsen. “I did half a day on the MV last November in Jerez, but it was half wet, half dry so today was good to get out there. It was fully dry so I learned a lot and I’m quite happy with it. The bike is totally different to what I’ve ridden in the past, but the team works really well and they’ve impressed me.”

Check Out the 2017 Honda RC213V

The MotoGP launch season is still upon us, and now that we have seen the teams and bikes from Ducati, Suzuki, and Yamaha – it is time for Honda to take the wraps off the team its campaigning for its title defense. Debuting the 2017 Honda RC213V at a press event in Indonesia, not much has changed outwardly for the 240+ horsepower GP bike, though there a subtle differences to be seen, if you look closely and compare it to last year’s bike. The Repsol Honda fairings cover the biggest change that we know of, as reports from the test tracks confirm that Honda is experimenting with a “big-bang like” firing order on its V4 engine, a change from the “screamer” configuration of last season, which was handful for Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa to manage.

2016 Was A Very Good Year for Husqvarna

Last year proved to be a tough year for many brands, especially those with operations in the United States, but that wasn’t the case for Husqvarna. The rebooted Swedish brand is seeing good life while under its Austrian ownership. Making 2016 a very good year for Husqvarna, the brand is reporting a sales increase of a whopping 43% over 2015’s sales numbers. That is no small feat for Husqvarna, as 2015 was already a record year for the dirt-focuses brand, where it saw a 32% increase. Of course in many ways, up is the only direction Husqvarna can go, after its purchase by Pierer Industrie AG. Still, Husqvarna’s figure of 30,700 sold motorcycles in 2016 is a marked improvement from the near 10,000 units it was producing while part of BMW Motorrad.

2017 Suzuki GSX-RR Debuts in Malaysia

Debuting this weekend in Malaysia, the ECSTAR Suzuki MotoGP team has unveiled its team and livery for the 2017 season, which will see Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins riding the update Suzuki GSX-RR race bike. Suzuki has already shown that it has a bike capable of hunting for podiums; and on its best days, it can be a race-winner as well. For the 2017 season though, the Japanese brand hopes to build upon its success in 2016. As such, the ECSTAR Suzuki team has high hopes with the arrival Andrea Iannone, hoping that “Maniac Joe” can add some more wins to Suzuki’s tally. Looking long-term too, the addition of Alex Rins could be strong investment by Team Manager Davide Brivio, with Rins being one of Moto2’s top talents.

OEMs Are Trying to Block “Right to Repair” Laws

Asphalt & Rubber readers should be familiar with how attempts have been made to use the Digital Millennium Right Act (DMCA) as means of limiting how you can work on your vehicles, including your motorcycle. These attempts first started in 2015, and were pushed heavily by John Deere and the automobile lobby. Thankfully, last year the the Librarian of Congress allowed exemptions for vehicles to be applied to the DMCA, which will be in effect for the next two years. Now, the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) – a group that represents the interests of motorcycle manufacturers in the United States – is putting pressure on state legislatures and encouraging them to block “Right to Repair” bills that would codify the exemptions made to the DMCA.

EBR Motorcycles Shutting Down, Yet Again

EBR Motorcycles is closing its doors…again. Yes, you heard that right. America’s superbike brand will be winding down its production operations, starting next week, and is looking for a strategic investor to takeover the brand. Liquid Asset Partners (LAP) attributes its decision to shutdown EBR Motorcycles to the company’s difficulty to secure new dealerships, and thus increase sales. As a result, LAP says that its production volume for 2016 and 2017 was below expectations. The company then finishes its explanation for closing EBR Motorcycles with the following line: “the combination of slow sales and industry announcements of other major OEM brands closing or cutting production only magnified the challenges faced by EBR.”

Zero Is Working on a Brammo-Killer for 2013

04/20/2012 @ 2:54 pm, by Jensen Beeler19 COMMENTS

The nearly two-year wait for the Brammo Empulse is nearly over, as the Ashland-based company is set to debut the Brammo Empulse and Brammo Empulse R in Los Angeles (and online) May 8th. It should come as no surprise then that the A&R Bothan spy network is picking up on murmurings from Zero Motorcycles, and that the Californian company is working on an Empulse-killer for the 2013 model year.

Said to be building a proper electric sport bike, as well as suitable electric dirt bike package, Zero is seemingly finally on the verge of sunsetting its current motorcycle designs for more mature motorcycle offerings, and is putting companies like Brammo and BRD squarely in its sights.

Up-Close with the 2012 Zero S ZF9

03/27/2012 @ 11:48 pm, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

While still maintaining the product line’s general aesthetic from its previous generations, Zero Motorcycles has refined and polished its electric motorcycles for 2012. This is primarily due to the Zero’s limited amount of time to further develop its 2011 models for the 2012 model year (roughly nine months says the Californian company), but still Zero has been able to revise most of the Zero S’s components to warrant this year’s models to be visually and functionally set apart from its predecessors.

This bodes well for Zero Motorcycles, because bluntly, the startup has had extremely unrefined and unpolished motorcycles from its inception to the 2011 model year (if you heard otherwise from somewhere else, they were trying to sell you something). Walking up to the 2012 Zero S, it is immediately clear that the electric motorcycle has been touched by people who understand motorcycles. Gone are the on/off switches marked in Sharpie (I wish I was making this up), though you’d be hard-pressed to find top-shelf components on the Zero line. This makes for a mixed response regarding the bike, from a visual perspective.

Living Electric: A Series on Living with Electric Motorcycles

02/22/2012 @ 12:52 pm, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

I wanted to give our readers a heads-up that we have been working on a new article series that will feature electric motorcycles. A space has been maturing at a rapid pace, we have already seen several manufacturers come out with electric motorcycles available for consumers, with several more companies coming closer to market as well.

While early-adopters have been touting the benefits of electrics for some time now, the infancy of this market has many riders remaining on the fence about the gas vs. electric debate. While we here at Asphalt & Rubber believe the future of motorcycling is through electric motorcycles, we wanted to take an in-depth look at this budding sector, and ground some of the debate that has been going on in the industry with some actual experience.

Zero Motorcycles Commences 2012 Model Line Production

01/27/2012 @ 4:38 pm, by Jensen Beeler27 COMMENTS

Zero Motorcycles has announced the full-commencement of production for its 2012 model line, which is expected to hit dealers in February & March of this year. First off the line was the 2012 Zero DS back in December, though the electric motorcycle company has recently started building the Zero S, Zero XU, Zero X, and Zero MX at its Scotts Valley facility as well. A story we broke back in November, Zero Motorcycles debuted its important 2012 electric motorcycle line up at the 2011 EICMA show in Milan, with the 2012 range being a substantial improvement upon the company’s previous offerings.

Boasting 6kWh & 9kWh battery packs, the 2012 Zeros have nearly double the available energy on board, with the styling and performance aspects of the bikes have been improved upon as well. Zero claims that the street-focused Zero S can hit up to 114 miles on that 9kWh pack (and also does a top speed of 88 mph on its new motor), making it more practical for the urban commuter. For 2012, all of Zero’s street models feature new brushless motors, and include regenerative braking, which charges the motorcycle’s batteries during deceleration.

Leaked: 2012 Zero Motorcycles Model Range Is Set to Debut Brammo Empulse Killer

11/06/2011 @ 12:53 pm, by Jensen Beeler33 COMMENTS

Our first proper leak ahead of the upcoming EICMA show in Milan is now officially in the bag, as Asphalt & Rubber has gotten word on Zero Motorcycles’ 2012 electric motorcycles. Completely revamping its model range, our sources tell us that the 2012 Zero Motorcycles will have all-new motors, battery packs, and bodywork. Talking in numbers, the battery pack options will be 6kWh & 9kWh, with prices expected to be $11,000 and $13,000 respectively. Perhaps the most compelling news (and there’s plenty to be compelled about with this news) is that Zero Motorcycles plans to have the new models under production in December, and on dealer floors by January.

Costco and Zero Motorcycles Partner in Canada

09/08/2011 @ 10:26 am, by Jensen Beeler3 COMMENTS

An article from our friends at CMG tipped us off to the fact that Zero Motorcycle has begun promoting its electric motorcycles through several Costco stores in Canada. Taking a page from Kawasaki’s playbook in working with Costco (which is itself a take on what automobile dealers have been doing with the warehouse brand for years), Zero currently has displays in six Canadian Costco warehouse stores, working as a part of the wholesaler’s Membership Benefits Program. Like the Kawasaki program, Costco isn’t actually selling Zero Motorcycles, but instead Costco members recieve a special value package if they purchase a Zero through the promotion.

If that raises your eyebrows, here is a quick primer on the Costco business model. Generally speaking, Costco keeps its company very efficient and lean by keeping very low inventories — I’ve heard it quoted that the company won’t carry more inventory than what it can sell in one to two weeks. Helping drive that turnover are the low prices that the company is known for, but instead of doing a high volume/low margin sales approach, Costco’s true bread & butter is its membership fees.

Recall: 2009-2010 Zero DS & Zero S

05/19/2011 @ 10:13 am, by Jensen Beeler8 COMMENTS

Zero Motorcycles is recalling 160 of its electric DS & S motorcycles for an issue with the front brake caliper. Because of the defect, owners may experience permanent deformation of their brake discs when subjected to high braking loads, which induce misalignment of the front brake pads with respect to the front brake rotor. Accordingly, misalignment of the brake pads in relation to the rotor may cause reduced front braking performance, which could lead to a possible crash and potential injury or death of the rider.

The pertinent models and build dates are as follows:

  • 2009 Zero S – September 2, 2009 through December 22, 2009
  • 2009 Zero DS – July 27, 2009 through December 28, 2009
  • 2010 Zero S – February 1, 2010 through March 31, 2011
  • 2010 Zero DS – January 20, 2010 through March 31, 2011

Zero Motorcycles Adds Polaris Executive to Board of Directors – But What Does It Mean?

05/17/2011 @ 10:03 am, by Jensen Beeler10 COMMENTS

Zero Motorcycles has quietly announced some interesting news: that Mark Blackwell, V.P. of Motorcycles at Polaris Industries, will be joining the electric motorcycle company’s Board of Directors. With a plethora of reasons as to why an industry veteran like Blackwell would join Zero’s board, it’s been no secret that the Scotts Valley company has been collecting seasoned industry professionals like pokemon characters, seemingly building a brain trust of people who actually know how to run a motorcycle company.

Blackwell’s addition to Zero is interesting because it could signal a relationship with the Polaris V.P. that goes beyond merely an advisory/visionary position, which is the core responsibility of a companies board. The timing is interesting as well, as Polaris has been on a buying spree, first acquiring the original American motorcycle company brand: Indian Motorcycles, and a few days later electric car manufacturer GEM. With a Polaris executive sitting on Zero’s board almost immediately after these aquisitions, one has to wonder if this isn’t a precursor to some sort of larger arrangement between the two companies.

This is What Electric Mini Moto Racing Looks Like

05/12/2011 @ 6:59 am, by Jensen Beeler6 COMMENTS

Unless you were there, you probably missed the AMA Mini Moto SX racing action last Friday in Las Vegas, which saw the debut of two bikes by Brammo, an electric mini moto the Brammo Encite, along with the full-sized Brammo Engage dirt bike. Featuring the company’s Integrated Electric Transmission (IET), Brammo took to the dirt to compete with some Zero electric bikes (Quantya seemingly abstained from the event), as well as a field of traditional gasoline-powered mini motos.

With footage from aboard Trevor Doniak’s Zero MX, we get to see what racing in the Vegas Mini Moto SX was like from behind the handlebars. Besides having a traffic jam of slower gas-powered bikes start ahead of them (it’s creepy how quiet the start for the electrics was in comparison), the old addage that “rubbin’ is racing” comes to mind as we see our protagonist hit the dirt, not once, not twice, but three times, seemingly always with a Brammo rider nearby.

We’re not saying that Doniak’s Zero was intentionally looking to take out the Brammo of Kris Keefer, thus assuring a podium sweep by Zero, but others are. Video after the jump.

The Great Distribution Experiment is Over

04/12/2011 @ 1:27 pm, by Jensen Beeler12 COMMENTS

As we write the timeline on the evolution of the electric motorcycle, the bullet points for 2011 will note a few key events, and one of them surely will be the adoption of a traditional sales distribution scheme. It’s not a sexy event, but it’s an important one in the growth of this side of the industry. You see when resourced-backed electric motorcycle manufacturers entered the scene, the idea was that a new drivetrain meant a new set of rules, and from that a new playbook was drafted. The idea of selling electric motorcycles at traditional motorcycle dealerships was abandoned, and in its place these companies tried new approaches — some clever, and some not so much.

Direct-to-consumer sales approaches, online purchasing, ad hoc customer sales leads, and even Best Buy all entered into these new models of how to get a motorcycle into a purchaser’s hands…and they all failed. It is no small feat to start a motorcycle company, and it is an even taller order to make an electric one. Not only do you have to sell your would-be-buyer on the features of your motorcycle, but you then also have to sell them on why their purchase should be an electric motorcycle, and not its ICE equivalent.

The undertaking of proving out a new method of selling motorcycles is a burden in its own right for an established motorcycle manufacturer, let alone a startup, so its failure should come as little surprise to those in the industry with this experience. It is therefore not surprising that we get news that both Zero Motorcycles and Brammo have abandoned their previous sales distribution schemes, in favor of adopting a more traditional dealer network approach.