Electric Bicycles: A Bright Future, But A Long Road in America
Only about half as many electric bicycle companies displayed their wares this year at the 2013 InterBike trade show in Las Vegas, a development that Light Electric Vehicle Association chairman Ed Benjamin regards as "healthy consolidation." In an industry where most of the absent dealers are under-capitalized Internet marketers who often peddle inexpensive merchandise sourced by the container-load out of China, winnowing the field down to stronger, more financially-stable players is good for consumers.
The 50+ e-bike exhibitors who did show up at Interbike this year were rewarded with many more shop owners stopping by to talk and investigate their product line, strongly suggesting more and more independent bike shops are starting to take notice of what is still a relatively nascent technology.
By Benjamin's count there are now just over 900 small, independent retailers now carrying one or more brands of electric-assist bicycles. Giants like Walmart and Amazon also carry e-bikes. More places to see and test e-bikes is starting to translate into still small, but very positive sales numbers.
In the period from the summer of 2011 to 2012, some 70,000 units were imported into the United States (most e-bikes are manufactured in Asia: China, Vietnam and Taiwan, primarily). Then from July 2012 through June 2013, sales more than doubled to 159,000 units, a sales trend confirmed by comments Benjamin heard from e-bike company executives who report doing about "twice as much business this year as last." That's a trend LEVA's chairman expects to repeat itself for some time to come, following a pattern that started in Europe in 2004.
Back then, he estimates, Europeans bought somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 e-bikes. He estimates that for 2013 around 2 million units will be sold there: ten times what it was just a decade earlier.
Of course, he acknowledges, the United States is a car culture, so it may take longer here to experience that kind of growth, but a "package" of trends he and others see developing, will continue to swing the nation away from an over-dependence on the automobile. To learn what the trends are and what role, if any, carmakers will have in that future, be sure to listen to the full 35-minute discussion between EV World's publisher, Bill Moore and Ed Benjamin. Also be sure to read Benjamin's article of the legality of 'fast' electric bikes available here on EV World.
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