Big four's electric dream: giants link-up for swappable battery project

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Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki have put aside their rivalries to work together on developing a standardised set of specifications for electric bike batteries – with a trial starting this month.

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The ‘e-Yan Osaka’ trial, in cooperation with Osaka University, is intended to be a large-scale demo of how battery-swappable electric bikes could revolutionise urban transport by eliminating the concerns about range, charge time and finding recharging points.

It’s the first big development following the establishment of a consortium between the Japanese ‘Big Four’ in April 2019 to create a uniform battery pack and battery exchange system.

While they’ve yet to officially unveil the resulting standardised pack, it’s likely to be based on the ‘Honda Mobile Power Pack’ system seen at CES in Las Vegas in January 2018 for use in the Honda PCX Electric and Benly-e, both of which are available to corporate customers in Japan as part of a slow phasing-in of the technology.

"As a result of repeated collaboration studies among four domestic motorcycle companies we were able to collaborate with e-Yan OSAKA to verify the common specifications of replaceable batteries," said Noriaki Abe, Managing Executive Officer and Head of Motorcycle Business Operations at Honda.

"We are aware that there are still issues to be solved in the spread of electric motorcycles, and we will continue to work on improving the usage environment of our customers in areas where each company can cooperate."

During the trial, electric bikes will be loaned to students and staff at Osaka University, with battery-swap stations set up on the University’s campuses and at local convenience stores. The idea is that rather than trying to pack big, heavy, long-range batteries into a bike and to force owners to find ways to charge them at home or at work, it’s made quick and convenient to simply swap the battery for a fresh one whenever it runs low.

The test is due to run for about a year, picking out any problems with the specifications of the batteries or the operation of the system before a final, common battery design is created along with the necessary chargers and battery-swap stations.

Honda’s Mobile Power Pack has already illustrated how the firm see the idea working. It’s designed to fit multiple vehicles, including the PCX Electric and Benly-e scooters but also everything from lawnmowers to quad bikes. However, by standardising the pack across multiple brands it takes another step forward, becoming the e-bike equivalent to your AA torch batteries.

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Ben Purvis

By Ben Purvis