For those of us who love bikes (and perhaps other vehicles), it’s an interesting time to be a rider. OEMs in the automotive world are scrambling to introduce electric vehicles in time to meet fast-approaching, climate-focused deadlines around the world. 

Some established motorcycle OEMs are following suit, with others sure to follow in the coming years. There are also startups galore—mostly offering low-speed boutique commuter options, but that’s also what some riders want. New combustion engines, by and large, are mostly on their way out. Change is fast approaching, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. (After all, the instantly-available torque generated by electric motors is pretty compelling stuff.)

As we feel the effects of climate change more keenly than ever before in 2021, the environmental nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation issued a new report with some vital information in July. It’s titled A Global Comparison of the Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Combustion Engine and Electric Passenger Cars. While it doesn’t specifically call out motorbikes, the information contained is still useful and relatable to our niche.  

The study examined life-cycle assessments of greenhouse gas emissions from passenger cars in four major regions: China, Europe, India, and the United States. These are the four regions where the most passenger cars in the world are currently sold. Powertrains included were internal combustion engine vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles.  

Key takeaways from the study include these things: 

  • Regarding existing technologies, only battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet Paris Agreement goals. The Paris Agreement goal limits global warming to below two and preferably closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius as compared to pre-industrial levels. The ultimate goal is a climate-neutral world by 2050. 
  • Internal combustion engine vehicles currently have no realistic pathway to become decarbonized enough to make the necessary change to our current climate trajectory. Additionally, the study found that hybrid electric vehicles only reduced life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent as compared to plain old ICE cars.  
  • Regarding biofuels and biogas, positive changes range from the negligible level to an approximate maximum 9 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, as compared to conventional fuels. This segment won’t likely make much difference within the lifetimes of 2021 or even 2030 cars, due to many factors including high production costs. 
  • To meet the Paris Agreement timeframe, given the average passenger vehicle lifetime of 15 to 18 years, the ICCT says that registration of new combustion engine vehicles should be phased out in the 2030 to 2035 time frame. That’s in line with the deadlines that many governments have already declared prior to the release of this report. 

For a deep dive into each of the four regions involved in this study, with detailed breakdowns of all the ICCT’s findings, check out the link in our Sources.  

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