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Battery Swapping Goes Big

The Japanese big four – Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha – are setting up a new company, Gachaco, Inc, to offer standardised swappable batteries for electric motorcycles and scooters. For smaller machines it could address the biggest drawback of battery-powered bikes – lack of range, and slow charging.

The Japanese manufacturers agreed standards for such a system back in 2019, but are now teaming up with Japanese energy company Eneos to offer a network of battery swap stations across Japan. The first stations will be in Tokyo, with other Japanese cities following in autumn 2022.

The ‘Gachaco’ network will use Honda’s existing Mobile Power Pack. Being small and light enough to be swapped by hand, the batteries clearly wouldn’t suit a big performance or touring motorcycle but would be suitable for scooters or 125cc-equivalent motorcycles, many of which already have lift-out batteries.

It might be new to Honda et al, but a nationwide battery swap system is already well established in Taiwan. Scooter manufacturer Gogoro had opened over 2200 swap stations by the end of 2021, with more to come this year, especially in more remote areas. Users pay a monthly fee (fixed or variable tariff, as with a phone) which enables them to roll up to a station and swap their low battery for a fully charged one, 24/7. Ten scooter manufacturers use the Gogoro system, including Yamaha, underlining the point that standardisation is the key.

Jim Freeman, Chair of the BMF, said: “That’s fantastic news, it addresses several issues at once. If you don’t have access to convenient home charging, for example. Then there’s the longer journey, where you don’t necessarily want to hang around at a recharging station, never mind carting cables or adaptors around. The key is the standardisation across platforms, which has the potential for a Betamax/VHS situation. Having a giant ‘big four’ solution sounds very much like an ‘Intel inside’ operation, a standardised power system offering a myriad of differing hardware configuration options. Which system will become the ‘standard’ is still open, from the look of things, but it’s interesting that Yamaha are involved with Gogoro in Taiwan, but are with the other Japanese OEMs in the domestic market? With any luck, when we get access to this solution, it’ll be a mature tech.”

Words by Peter Henshaw

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