UK joins France in future ban of gas-powered vehicle sales

Want a sporty electric machine? You'll have to look to Zero right now, because none of the major manufacturers have bothered to build an equivalent.

The UK has joined France in setting a deadline to end the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines.

Earlier this month, the French government set off a media storm by announcing a ban on gas- and diesel-powered vehicle sales by 2040. Not to be outdone by their Gallic counterparts, the Brits have jumped on the ban bandwagon, and yesterday announced a ban on internal combustion-engined vehicle sales by 2040 (the Liberal Democrats said it wasn’t enough, and that a ban on diesel needed to be in place by 2025).

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Remember, it was only last year that the French city of Paris enacted a ban on motorcycles made before 1999. The Europeans are already restricting some vehicles with internal combustion engines, and are quite happy to announce bans on all the rest, as long as it’s set to some pie-in-the-sky date.

Which brings us to this question: Will the ban actually happen?

The answer is hard to say, but we’d guess that in Europe, yes, we’ll see a mass movement towards electric vehicles (with maybe some allowances for hybrids) in coming decades. Europeans typically commute shorter distances, have access to greater charging infrastructure, and have governments interested in this sort of change.

What about Canada? Will we see similar changes here?

That’s a tougher question, because Canadians typically travel further distances for work and pleasure than Europeans do, and we have far less access to public transit. Furthermore, we have bitterly cold winters that the majority of Europe does not experience, which would drain a vehicle’s battery even further, as charge would be drained to heat the cabin. Perhaps we’ll see some sort of urban ban on internal combustion engines, but see them continue in rural use.

And the biggest question of all: What does this mean for motorcyclists?

It’s hard to imagine motorcycles to continue running around with gas-powered engines if cars and trucks are forced to change over; in fact, motorcycles are often singled out for pollution legislation in Asian countries already.

However, electric motorcycle technology is taking its sweet time moving along. Aside from the Yamaha/Honda commuter bike project, no Japanese OEM is publicly moving battery bike tech forward. Sure, there are alleged backdoor projects, like the Mugen IOMTT effort, and there are concept bikes that appear on the show circuit, but the Japanese have all been beaten to market by the North American OEMs, hard as that is to believe.

But even Polaris’s electric bike, the Victory-rebadged Brammo Empulse, has been canceled with the rest of that brand’s offerings, and Harley-Davidson’s Livewire seems to have stalled at the ballyhoo stage, with no subsequent follow-ups to the original prototypes that made the rounds a couple years ago. Only Zero is really making much progress on the made-in-the-USA scene.

KTM has a couple of electric bikes, but they aren’t terribly thrilling, and BMW’s electric scooter doesn’t really flutter the heart strings either (and it’s not available in Canada).

In short, no major OEM has an exciting battery bike on the market, and few of them have an electric motorcycle of any kind available in developed markets. The battery bikes that are available are all hampered by limited range and slow recharging times.

A lot can happen in the next few decades, and we may also see a rise in hydrogen fuel cells take over the motor industry. But for now, you’d best enjoy your motorcycle while you can, because without significant technological changes, your bike of the future won’t compare to the one you’re riding now.

That’s not all bad; battery bikes should prove very reliable, with few moving parts, and they will be cheap to run. But with government rules enforcing the discontinuation of old bikes and forcing customers to buy electrics, how much motivation will there be to really improve the problems of range and charge time? Only time can tell.


  1. Electrics are low maintenance, simple, smooth and silent. The problems are range and price right now. The cheapest Zero is the FXS 3.3. It is $10,995 CAD which is a lot for a bike that doesn’t go as fast as a 250 cc budget bike at half the price. They do not state range at higher speeds or colder temperatures but the range is claimed to be a mere 27 km at 113 km/h. Range drops dramatically with speed on this bike so one would guess a range of perhaps 20 km or less at full speed (137 km/h) on a chilly morning. This means a fully charged battery can be run dead in about 9 or 10 minutes. Electric bikes are awesome but it’s a shame the extension cord is too short.

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