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Ticking time bomb

The UK motorcycle industry is united against government plans for internal combustion engine phase-out. The MCIA, MAG and NMC all have concerns about the imminent end to new petrol-powered two-wheelers.

UK government plans to end the sale of all new petrol, and diesel-powered vehicles are continuing apace. The Department for Transport announced its consultation on outlawing new petrol motorcycles and scooters over the summer holidays, with a closing date of 21 September for submissions on the policy. That policy currently means no more new mopeds or 125cc bikes by 2030 at the latest and the phasing out of all new petrol motorcycles and other L-class vehicles by 2035.

It’s fair to say that the response has been fairly negative across the UK bike industry. At one end is the normally rather considered MCIA, which despite claiming to be “fully supportive of the government’s net zero ambitions, for example through the L-Category Action Plan,” now says it is “disappointed with the announcement to phase out all new non-zero emission motorcycles by 2035.”

The National Motorcyclists Council, a lobbying group with extensive communication links to the government and much of the UK transport policy establishment, goes even further, calling the plan a mistake. “The government is making a mistake by trying to force the pace of motorcycle decarbonisation and must not ignore the voice of motorcyclists as proposals are developed,” is part of the NMC’s statement on the consultation.

And the Motorcycle Action Group was uncompromising in its response. MAG chair Neil Liversidge said: “MAG totally opposes the proposed ban on the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs), whether it be from 2035, the originally mooted 2040, or any other date. MAG likewise opposes any policy that leads to increased fuel costs or the reduced availability of fuels for ICEVs.”

There are a series of complaints about the plans which, on the face of it, seem to be a straight carry-over from the plans for cars, despite serious differences in the potential for electrification. It’s relatively straightforward to accommodate a £10k, 500kg battery pack the size of two or three very large suitcases inside the structure of a family car. With current technology, doing the same job on a £10k middleweight performance motorcycle is essentially impossible.

The MCIA wants more time for the 125cc+ phase-out. It agrees that electrifying low-cost, low-powered urban mobility machinery like 50cc-equivalent mopeds is plausible at the moment and is content with the 2030 cut-off for those. But it’s against banning 125cc bikes in 2030, as well as the 2035 date for larger machines.

Tony Campbell, MCIA chief executive, said: “We recognise our environmental contribution will increase as other transport modes phase out and so support the decision to phase out L1 vehicles by 2030. However, we do not support the decision to include L3e-A1 [125cc bikes], which, even with an ICE powertrain, are significantly more environmentally efficient than some electric cars.

Compelling case
“The government has not considered the complexities of the L-category sector in terms of what is and isn’t feasible when it comes to phasing out the other key segments of the market. We put forward a compelling case in our Journey to a Brighter Destination document for the continued support of large-capacity leisure motorcycling and why it needs to be treated as such in the consultation. Its minimal emissions, low mileage, important contributions to the economy, sport, tourism and mental health benefits are all reasons why a fairer, progressive and more bespoke approach is needed to phase out new non-zero emission motorcycles.”

The NMC outlined a variety of concerns with the proposals. Its executive director Craig Carey-Clinch said: “The government’s ambitions in this area are clearly running ahead of what may be reasonable to deliver. Successful transition in any field requires those affected to be content with changes proposed. In the case of zero emission motorcycles, particularly in the premium market segments, current product availability, price point, the current state of electric bike technology and rider acceptability, suggests that much more will need to happen before a reasonable target date for full zero emission new production can be established.

“The NMC is also disappointed that the government sees alternative fuels as only a stepping stone to full electrification. The move towards net zero is a matter which is too technologically detailed to restrict it to battery electrification only. Imposing specific technologies means limiting choice and therefore creating a constraint on innovation. Automotive manufacturers (and the aviation industry) are making significant investments in developing synthetic fuels, which have the potential to allow ICE technology to continue while being part of the move towards decarbonisation. Other technologies such as hydrogen-powered vehicles are also part of the development of new technologies.”

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