Article by Edward Benjamin
Senior Managing Director, eCycleElectric
Chairman, Light Electric Vehicle Association
Not long ago, I listened to an important guy at a major (traditional) bicycle company explain that his company would transition from a human-powered bike brand to an ebike brand in the next few years. Completely. One of the largest brands in the world.
That seemed surprising until I remembered that the largest bicycle groups of Europe are now centered on electric bike brands. As are the largest brands of China and Japan.
Just before I talked to him, I was examining a report that showed 223 electric bike brands in the USA in 2017. And almost 600 “importers” of electric bikes that bought 5 or more ebikes into the USA. (These are thought to be businessmen exploring the idea of starting an electric bike company).
There are more than 350 brands in Europe, and sales there are likely to soon reach 3 million units. The market is much more mature than the USA, but still wild, and growing fast. All readers of Bike Europe are now accustomed to headlines about surprising growth of ebikes in market after market in the EU and Eastern Europe.
More importantly - the gross dollars and euros from ebikes are much greater than from human powered bikes. In the USA, the average bicycle retails for under $100 USD. But an electric bike is at least $600, and more likely $1,500 minimum.
Sales are going up, so fast that it is hard to keep track. In nearly every western market. For the USA in 2017, unit sales exceeded those of Holland. And while Holland is a very small country with a very mature market, the USA is a very large market just getting started. Lots of opportunity exists.
And similar things are happening in the rest of the world. India, Mexico, Turkey, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, SE Asia, and nearly every country in the world now have electric bike markets of some size, growing fast.
Perhaps even more important than the money are the benefits to the consumers.
City dwellers can live father from work or the metro, thus in a less expensive home, and still get to work clean and rested. Air pollution, noise pollution, and traffic congestion are all reduced as electric bike use expands.
There are some troubles ahead of us.
The anti dumping and anti circumvention complaints in the EU that have been brought by a few companies may create the same barriers (and profits for the complainers) that anti dumping created for normal bicycles. In my opinion, the complaints are transparently unfair and inaccurate. But as of the moment I write this, we do not know what will happen.
The USA has entered a period of unpredictable, erratic, behavior on foreign policy and trade issues. As I write this, a 25% duty is being considered on batteries imported from China (where nearly all lithium ion batteries are produced). This would affect electric bicycles. And we cannot know if ebikes will be singled out for either exemption or even more duties.
Those of us who can, are complaining and demanding better treatment from the EU and the USA. LEVA-EU is leading the efforts to defeat the anti dumping. LEVA-USA is monitoring the situation. Annick Roetynck is leading that effort and she will be at China Cycle. (More importers of electric bikes to the EU need to join her and help.)
In the USA, the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association (BPSA) is working to harmonize state laws across the USA. This greatly helps the sale of ebikes. (More ebike companies need to join the BPSA and help.)
Bike rental / share schemes will affect electric bikes as well. In ways that are just now becoming apparent.
Share bikes seem to be ideally suited for the first and last kilometer needs of urban commuters. It is possible that share bikes will re-shape the market for transportation use of ebikes.
That would have a heavy impact on most traditional bicycle brands, and most electric bike brands.
The use of eMTBs has some troubles, for they are not welcomed on every trail, or in every wilderness. But they are a bright part of our future. eMTBs extend the lifetime riding season of recreational bike riders by at least 15 years. This is important for the affluent, but aging populations of Europe, USA, and Japan.
eMTBs are the antidote for the loss of sales of personal bikes to commuters due to share bike systems. eMTBs create an adventurous entrance to natural environments and sport riding for people of all ages.
A consumer may not care very much what bike they use to get to the market and back, or to the metro station, but I think eMTBs will remain very personal purchases.
I am confident that electric bikes are such a useful tool for the human race, that we will see today’s hectic growth continue for another 20 years. And I believe that electric bikes will replace most gasoline motorcycles, and be at least half of all “bicycles” in the world.
The future, in my opinion:
Commuter bikes in cities that have the appropriate topography and mass transit systems will likely become mostly share ebikes. The bikes will become more rugged, and less heavy. They will become more sophisticated, using the connectivity of such bikes to summon help, prevent theft, and maximize use. While fewer units will be sold, each unit will become more expensive.
eMTBs will be prized personal bikes. Consumers will lavish attention and affection on having the best bike they can afford.
Since humans continue to move into denser and denser cities, and since electric bikes are a tool that makes such a city more useful, the future of commuters is assured.
Fuel costs will continue to increase. Air and noise pollution will continue to be an issue. Traffic congestion and shortages of parking for all vehicles will continue to be a problem, world wide.
Today, the ebike business is great. The products are working well. Cost is reasonable. Sales are increasing very quickly. More and more consumers, in more and more markets are recognizing that an ebike will make their life better.
I predict that electric powered two wheelers (ebikes, emotorcycles, and the many new vehicles like mini scooters, mono wheels, etc.) will become a world market of 125 million units per year, by the year 2030. Most will be built in Asia, most will use Chinese components.
Our industry is doing great things for the human race and the environment, as we conduct our business. What we do for a living is good for the environment, good for ourselves, for our workers, and the many people who depend on our products for their living.
We are making personal transportation more affordable, and more accessible to hundreds of millions of people - soon to be billions of people.
Our bright future has arrived. Soon to be an incandescent future