Honda to lease electric scooters

The EV-neo, shown Tuesday at Honda Motor Co.’s research facility in this Tokyo suburb, zipped around emitting just a calm whirring sound, with none of a motorcycle’s gritty growl.

Honda plans to start leasing the scooters — the equivalent of a 50cc gasoline-powered bike — in December and says its target market is companies that make deliveries, such as newspapers and pizza parlors. The EV-neo has a cruising range of 30 kilometers (19 miles) on one charge.

Honda, this nation’s No. 2 automaker, has a booming motorcycle division and makes popular cars such as the Odyssey minivan and Insight hybrid.

The EV-neo gives Honda a chance to push an electric vehicle, an area where it has been less aggressive than rivals such as Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., said Honda General Manager Toshiyuki Inuma.

“The motorcycle is a more nimble business, and it allows us to try out more things,” said Inuma.

Overseas plans and sales to individual consumers for EV-neo are still undecided.

Honda plans to lease the scooters instead of selling them and hopes to set a price will that will cost less than a regular bike over three years including gas prices — a range that would be about 600,000 yen ($6,000) to 800,000 ($8,000) each.

Interest in getting around ecologically is growing in Japan and government incentives for hybrids have made Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius hybrid the top-selling car for nearly a year.

Motorcycle manufacturer Yamaha Motor Co. is also planning an electric motorcycle for this summer, although pricing and other details have not been announced.

Inuma said some companies will want to send a green message by using the EV-neo.

The sales potential in China is huge, but bringing the EV-neo price down to attractive levels for such markets would be hard, Inuma said.

Honda may face stiff competition from Chinese manufacturers who already are churning out 22 million battery-powered bikes and scooters a year priced at 1,700 to 3,000 yuan ($250 to $450). Most are for domestic use but exports to other developing markets have soared.

Still, Inuma boasted the scooter is not only quiet and green, but it also doesn’t smell greasy, and may prove a hit in industrialized nations.

It takes four hours to recharge fully from a regular home outlet, and recharges about 80 percent in 20 minutes from a special machine. EV-neo goes up to 30 kph (19 mph), and runs on lithium-ion batteries from Japanese electronics maker Toshiba Corp.

Honda sold more than 130,000 traditional gasoline-powered scooters in Japan last year, accounting for more than half the market.