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The Growth of E-Bikes: Navigant Research Interview

Home » News » The Growth of E-Bikes: Navigant Research Interview
Axcess Electric Bikes recently conducted an interview on the growth of e-bike sales with a member of the Navigant Research team. Having newly conducted in-depth research into electric bikes and future predictions of these power-assisted vehicles, we talk to Ryan Citron, top research analyst. He contains expertise in advanced transportation technologies, and it looks like the only way is up for the electric bike industry!

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Could you introduce yourself and your role? What led you to this position?

I’m a research analyst and I initially got into electric 2-wheel research, this covered electric bikes, scooters and the electric motorcycles industry. I started working across practices including electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles. Due to changes in the company, I was able to take over this area and make a niche for myself in the industry.

What would you say to consumers looking to purchase an e-bike?

Electric bikes are an excellent option if you are commuting to and from work, as well as running general errands. My spouse and I have one car between us, so I would use my e-bike for mostly everything. What is great about electric bikes, is that with a regular bicycle, I probably wouldn’t have been able to bike to work 5 days a week because it’s a tiresome journey. Knowing that if you are really tired one morning you can ride your e-bike with complete ease is really comforting.

E-bikes actually get people riding a lot more frequently that those who just ride bicycles. So I think they are a fantastic option – especially if you are using it in a transportation based way.

It can be a great recreational tool. Electric mountain bikes have become more popular recently. People don’t so much like biking up the hills and they do coming down them. Which makes it just a little more easy.

I think they are just great fun – I love them! They are a genius invention – taking what your everyday two wheels can do and adding an extra electrical system for a powerful boost! Even just recreational bike rides, with the e-bike you can go so much farther that you would normally. There is a ton of value in this innovative technology.

What were some of the key findings from the Navigant e-bike report?

The speed at which the Western European electric bike market is growing was one of the biggest findings, which is faster than many industry insight professionals were anticipating. Around 1.6 million e-bikes were estimated to have been sold in Western Europe last year. We see the market share of e-bikes and the total bicycle market becoming pretty substantial. In Germany, by 15-16%, Netherlands 24% and Austria 21%. We conduct 10-year forecast reports and see that figure research growing by 30-40% in many countries.

What do you think the reasons are behind the growth of electric bikes?

E-bikes in Europe are evolving from the speciality recreational devices they were 5 years ago, to a standard bicycle product that has become more and more accessible to commuters. With the introduction of bicycle highways in Germany, the e-bike is fast becoming a preferred travelling choice. Work commuters don’t want to turn up to work dripping with sweat, so this is one of the main reasons that they are using electric bikes over standard bicycles.

Where is the biggest electric bike development?

China is currently the largest e-bike community in the world, with somewhere around 30 million sales each year. However, one of the key findings from the report was that we saw a decreasing number of sales due to the market being quite saturated already. China has been selling e-bikes for years, but this is only the case for the lead acid market. The lithium ion battery market, we expect to triple in the next 10 years.

What about other electric assisted vehicles?

The Chinese government are really pushing to become more involved in the European e-bike market. They are actually moving away from scooter-like vehicles that just happened to have pedals on them, as these are fairly big and clunky, so can hurt people. Although they may go a lot faster, they tend to cause a lot of problems in China. We see the lithium ion market in China as a big growing development.

What’s the future of electric bikes outside Europe?

As far as North America goes, based on some of the conversations and research we have had, low gasoline prices were hurting sales of e-bikes in the region.. I think the reduction in gasoline prices is more profound in the States because there are not nearly as many taxes as in other parts of the world. And people more so replace a car with an e-bike than they do with a regular bicycle. The market was a bit stagnant in 2015, but a lot of people see great potential for the electric bicycle – there are 15 million bicycles sold each year, so even a small piece of that could result in some impressive e-bike sales.

How do you think e-bikes have developed over the last 10 years?

They are becoming much lighter. Most great electric bikes at the moment are around 40 pounds or less, even 2-3 years ago they were a hefty 55 pounds, so shaving off 15 pounds is pretty substantial in bicycle terms.

There are also noticeable differences to lithium technology. Batteries are getting smaller and we are trying to implement higher voltage batteries. Many electric bikes are now moving towards 36 and 48 volt batteries. Consumers are becoming more interested in the drive chain. Most people think that an e-bike is the same as a chain bike, but there are actually many e-bikes in development that use a shaft drive or a belt drive and even hybrid drive frames. We are seeing a lot more options in terms of the functionality of the e-bike.

Does the pricing of electric bikes affect the sales?

I think the price has come down quite dramatically. This has a lot to do with price of lithium ion batteries dropping. We are seeing a lot more e-bikes being developed in the $1,000-2,000 (£750-£1500) range, whereas a few years ago decent quality models were around $2,000-3000(£1600-2500)+.

Thinking about the demographic, which groups use e-bikes specifically?

I guess it depends on the region. In the US, there have been a lot of baby boomers using e-bikes – people that might have a physical ailment but want to continue cycling. As I understand it, Europe, Asia and the US are places where e-bikes are selling particularly well. People are using them mainly because of the commute. A lot of young professionals who don’t want to buy a second car for the family are finding e-bikes a cheaper, easier and a more convenient way of getting around.

How have governments influenced the e-bike market? What are some of the incentives that have been set up to promote their use?

There are not a whole lot of incentives out there just yet. They have just bought one back for motorcycles in the US – but they don’t include e-bikes yet as they don’t see the electric bicycle as a replacement for vehicle trips, but a replacement for bikes. in Germany, certain companies propose that if you buy a whole fleet of e-bikes for your business, you can get some sort of credit. But, for now, there isn’t any significant consumer incentive.

Do you think cycling infrastructure across the world influences sales?

In terms of government influence in general, bicycling infrastructure is key to bike sales. I think that German bicycle highways have developed these systems where there are 4-5 lanes that are completely cut off by cars. Factors like that are what make people feel safe enough to buy e-bikes and to travel longer distances.

In the US, especially downtown and busy cities like New York – you’d have to be crazy to commute to and from work on an e-bike. I think that cycling infrastructure is crucial to people commuting with bicycles.

This leads to people to thinking about the length of the distance they have to commute and whether they might need some extra assistance. As long as people feel the safety to do it, they will. A big impediment in the States is that people don’t feel safe to ride alongside cars when there aren’t protected bike lanes. In the UK, there are also huge efforts to create more cycling lanes and areas so that people feel completely safe when commuting.

Do you own an e-bike?

I lived in Colorado for three years and I used an e-bike for most of my time there. It was great because there were bike lanes and paths everywhere. After this, I moved to New York State where I have been for the last year, and I work remotely so I really don’t need one to get around so much anymore, so I ended up selling it. I’m moving to Toronto, Canada, so I will definitely be picking up a new electric bike soon.

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