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Kawasaki to Go All Electric and Hybrid Electric in Developed Markets by 2035

The Japanese manufacturer also sets the ambitious goal of bringing 10 of these low carbon motorcycles to market by 2025

October 19, 2021

By Kali Kotoski

In a potentially seismic shift that portends the future development of Japanese motorcycle technology, Kawasaki Heavy Industries has announced a plan to make all its bikes battery-powered electric and hybrid electric for markets in developed countries by 2035.

The markets it plans on dedicating these zero carbon and environmentally-friendly motorcycle offerings include where individual purchasing power remains high like in the U.S., Japan, Europe, Canada and Australia.

“Outdoor leisure activity has been popular during the COVID pandemic. We will strengthen our environmental efforts with our sights set on post-pandemic lifestyles,” explained president of Kawasaki Heavy Industries Yasuhiko Hashimoto to Nikkei Asia, a large Japanese business publication.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries completed spinning off of its motorcycle operations this month into a separate entity called Kawasaki Motors Limited to allow for greater management flexibility. In doing so, the company is pooling the resources of its Heavy Industries operations into energy technology, like developing liquefied hydrogen carriers, hydrogen gas turbines, storage tanks, and liquefaction systems.

The separation of the entities could allow for partnerships in developing electric motorcycles, as Kawasaki Motors president Hiroshi Ito told Nikkei Asia.

“Partnerships with other companies may be possible in the future. Our company is open,” Ito said.

Following with government policies around the world to invest in clean energy and carbon-free transportation to prevent the most damaging effects of climate change, Kawasaki Motors aims to boost motorcycle sales to $9 billion annually by 2030, roughly a 2.4 times increase to current sales figures. In recent years, large corporate investment firms have poured untold sums into the promise of creating profitable clean transportation offerings and carbon-free energy through Initial Public Offerings and the buoyancy of clean energy stocks on Wall Street.

Following suit, Kawasaki has announced plans to ramp up investment for a major expansion to its North American operations. In September, Kawasaki Motors announced that over the next five years the company would spend around $265 million to increase its production capacity by enlarging its existing factory in Nebraska as well as building an entirely new plant in Mexico. The company expects the investment to produce thousands of new jobs with the expansion and the new facility is expected to be fully operational by 2023.

The problem is that Kawasaki has yet to introduce a battery-powered electric motorcycle or a hybrid electric motorcycle to market and is ambitiously planning to offer at least 10 of these types of vehicles in North America by 2025. In a runup to its 2035 goal, the company also plans on developing engines that run on hydrogen, a clean energy source that has large scientific support but has yet to achieve commercial scalability.

Kawasaki’s announcement is the most ambitious of any of the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers. For instance, Honda has claimed that it will decarbonize by 2050, although a set timeline has not been revealed. Likewise, Yamaha has committed that by 2050, 90 percent of its motorcycle products will be electric. However, the reality is that the automobile industry is taking top priority in electric and battery development, meaning that batteries could prove scarce and stymie efforts of cost-effectiveness.

Kawasaki sold 380,000 motorcycles in 2020, representing a global market share of approximately 1 percent. However, with a strong presence in Japan and North America, the company appears to be betting it all on becoming a “green” leader at a pace much more ambitious than its Japanese-owned peers.