Lies, Damned Lies, & The MIC’s Electric Range Estimates

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Rewind a few years ago in the electric segment of the motorcycle industry, and you found a landscape where manufacturers published wildly inaccurate numbers relating to speed, range, and power. The situation of over-promising and under-delivering was so bad, virtually any figure quoted, whether it was made with the best or worst intentions, was immediately called into question. The issue of course stemmed from the fact that OEMs were unable to deliver motorcycles with specifications that were remotely acceptable to a savvy motorcycle market. 20 mile ranges? 15hp available continuously? 60 mph top speeds if you’re downhill, tucked in, have a tailwind, and add five to the speedo’s reading? Yup, those were the good old days.

As the industry matured, so did our expectations, and it looked like some sanity was going to come to fruition as the MIC began pooling interest on developing a standard to rate the various performance specifications of electric motorcycles. An industry group setup to look after the best interests of the OEMs and other business in the motorcycle industry, you only need to follow the cash to see whose best interests are really being served by this group.

So, it should not surprise us then that the latest “standard” from the MIC, which establishes criterion on how the highway mileage of an electric motorcycle should be rated, is doing a downright scandelous disservice to consumers and the industry itself, as the proposed standard massively overrates the highway range of electric motorcycles.

Let us consider the marketplace right now. In essence, we have two manufacturers that claim ranges on their top street models to be over 110 miles. The caveat to that figure is that it only applies to around-town riding, done at 25 mph or less. I assure you, a veteran motorcyclist will kill themselves with their own shoelaces out of sheer boredom before completing the four hour plus journey with the requisite throttle control to achieve such a figure. Nevertheless, the range estimate is more or less accurate in its measurement of city riding, and I would only argue that instead of touting that figure as “the range” of an electric motorcycle, that instead more emphasis should be given to its city-only nature.

This is partially where the MIC’s highway range standard comes into play, as the current electric motorcycle offerings get significantly less range on the freeway than they do on city streets — and when I say significantly less, I mean they get about 1/3 of the distance to a full charge. This also happens to be where the madness, and downright shadey nature of the EV OEMs/MIC comes into play.

If I told you a motorcycle gets 70 miles on the highway, how many miles would you expect it to actually get in real life? 70 should be the answer, right? Maybe 65 might be ok, since we are all used to a little padding with the EPA gas mileage estimates we see plastered on the windows of new cars. What if that figure was more like 40? Yes, over 40% less than what was promised. That sounds like crazy talk, right?

I wish I was pulling these numbers out of thin air, but I’m not.

These were the stated and real world numbers I experienced on the Zero S ZF9 I rode for three weeks straight. In a few months, the Brammo Empulse R will be hitting city streets, and those paying close attention to its claims and realities will find a similar game being played with its range figures.

But wait, isn’t the MIC supposed to be rounding up the general lawlessness that has been going on in the electric motorcycle sector? Sure, if you call rubber-stamping this sort of behavior, and then turning around and calling it a standard sounds like some well-thoughtout industry governance — because that is exactly what is going on here with the MIC’s highway range rating system.

You see, instead of coming up with a “city” range rating that measures an electric motorcycle over a city course, and then also having a highway range rating that actually measures the mileage of electric motorcycles as it would travel at the posted highway speed, what the MIC’s new standard does is take the enticingly high city mileage figure, and have it account for 50% of the “highway” mileage figure. Shut the front door.

The reality that this creates is that the “highway” figure is really a “50/50 mixed use” range figure, while the “city” figure remains fairly accurate. So the next time you go down to your local motorcycle dealership to buy an electric motorcycle, the dealer can look you in the eye and “say, well it’s rated to do 70 ‘highway’ miles,” though in reality you will only get about 60% of that range he just sold you on.

But that isn’t how the electric motorcycle manufacturers see the situation. Bringing up the issue during the MIC meetings, the electric motorcycle OEMs argued that in reality when a motorists goes on the freeway, they travel to it via city streets first, and therefore that city mileage should be taken into account with the highway mileage rating.

Let me clear my throat for a minute as I pretend to cover up my utterance of the word “bullshit” in response to that. From a consumer’s point of view and understanding, there is no reasonable argument as to why a “highway” mileage rating should rate anything other than pure highway mileage — plain and simple. There should be a range estimate for basic around town riding, and a range estimate that only counts how far an electric motorcycle travels at 65 mph on a freeway. If the consumer wants a mixed-range estimate, they can portion out those two values in a manner consistent with their own personal riding style.

As I have come to understand from those sitting in on the MIC calls about this subject, it was Zero Motorcycles that lobbied heavily for the inclusion of the city mileage figure in the new MIC highway mileage standard — though to its credit, Brammo did little to disagree with the idea.

The reasoning for this is simple, both of these companies need to start moving some product ASAP (Zero’s management has some serious marching orders from its financial-backer Invus to improve sales or see top-management get the axe), and that’s not going to happen while electric motorcycles continue to get dubious range figures when compared to their cheaper ICE counterparts.

So, instead of building motorcycles that cater to the actual demands of the consumer, the electric motorcycle OEMs, through the MIC, have instead decided to just fudge the numbers when it comes to measuring the range of electric motorcycles.

The move is short-sighted at best, as it not only continues the trend of electric motorcycle companies touting figures that cannot be backed up in reality, but it makes matters worse because that very same behavioral pattern of over-promising and under-delivering is now getting the rubber-stamp approval by the leading trade organization in this industry.

Does anyone at these companies or within the MIC not realize how this is going to end poorly for everyone involved…not to mention the consumers who are being mislead? Well, there was one guy, but he got RIF’d.

About three years ago, when requests were first being made by the MIC for individuals interested in joining the EV taskforce, I shot off an email expressing my interest in “being part of the solution, and not the problem” when it came to how the industry was going to handle electric motorcycles entering the marketplace. In listing my credentials for inclusion in the taskforce, I made mention of how A&R was one of the leading voices on this industry sub-segment, and that I also happened to have a Juris Doctor and MBA in my academic arsenal.

In response, the MIC sent me a form letter requesting $10,000 to join their special club. You would think that a well-organized think tank would welcome the inclusion of an “outside” opinion, and that having a consumer-minded individual would be invaluable asset to helping foster the EV movement in the motorcycle industry. Nope, they just wanted my money. I declined to pay them the ten grand.

In the end, it is going to be informed consumers that put pressure on the MIC to adopt practices that fall back within the bounds of basic ethical standards. Ask questions the next time an electric motorcycle OEM starts quoting range figures. Ask them if that range is city, highway, or mixed use. Ask them what methodology was used in getting those figures. Ask them if the highway figure quoted it pure highway miles, or combined with city usage. See if they sweat.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved