Green scooters put zip back into urban commuting

Motorbike maker Yamaha has unveiled an about-town electric scooter that is aimed at fashionable and environment-conscious commuters.

The EC-03 is due to go on sale in Japan in September at the very affordable price of Y240,000 (€2,136) and will be released in Europe and Taiwan in 2011, the company said, although there are no plans to start selling the vehicle in the North American market yet.

Described as a "smart minimal commuter," the scooter recharges from an ordinary domestic electric socket, with the energy stored in lithium-ion batteries, and has a maximum range of 43 km on a single charge.

Because it is electric, the EC-03 produces zero emissions and is very quiet, making it ideal for urban environments at night, Yamaha said.

The scooter is something of a halfway creation between increasingly popular electric bicycles - which use a small motor to help the cyclist - and motorbikes with an engine capacity of around 50cc.

That market, however, has been suffering in Japan's economic downturn and the declining interest among young people in Japan in motorcycles.

In early July, Honda Motor Co. announced that it was slashing the price of its entire range of vehicles - some 45 models - by between 10 and 30 percent as it tries to arrest an alarming decline in sales.

The price of its cheapest model the Super Cub 50, which has a displacement of 50cc, will fall by Y40,000 (€356), the company said.

Aware of the growing interest in electric scooters, Honda announced in April that it would also be entering the market with the EV-neo, which is also an environment-friendly, electric-powered vehicle.

The EV-neo is scheduled to hit Tokyo's streets in December, although Honda only plans to lease the scooters and is targeting companies in the delivery industry - such as pizza restaurants or newspapers - and small business operators.

Japan's motorcycle manufacturers have traditionally enjoyed a major slice of the global market for two-wheeled vehicles but are coming up against growing competition at the lower end of the engine displacement spectrum from electric bicycles.

Companies in China including Zhejiang Leike Machine Industry Co., Sonik Holding Group Ltd. and Taizhou Jiaojiang Zhiwei Motorbike Manufacturing Co. have been quick to jump on that slice of the transportation market, partly because they are cheaper and easier to build, and there are already an estimated 20 million electric bikes on the roads of China.


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