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E-bike sales carry German market so far in 2017

Published August 29, 2017
A panel discussed German sales the day before Eurobike opened.

FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany (BRAIN) — Germany saw cycling-friendly weather sooner than usual in 2017, which helped kick the season off early. But the amicable climate wasn't enough to boost sales.

According to figures released by Zweirad-Industrie-Verband (Germany's bike industry association), 2.6 million bikes and e-bikes were sold in the first half of 2017, a 2.2 percent decrease compared with the same period last year. Production also fell below 2016 levels, with 1.44 million bikes made here so far, a decline of 2.7 percent.

“Altogether the market is declining. Bikes without electric drives are declining in sales. That is reflected in a production decline in Germany as well,” ZIV director Siegfried Neuberger told media at a press conference held in advance of Eurobike's opening. “But e-bike sales have increased by 30 percent, which we anticipate will level the overall sales figures by the end of the year. We estimate 680,000 e-bikes will be sold in Germany by the end of 2017.”

As conventional bike sales decline in Germany, Neuberger said ZIV expected the 200-year anniversary of the bicycle would help that market. But so far this year, consumers are choosing pedelecs over traditional models. And ZIV pointed to several reasons why conventional bike sales are down:

  • There is already a high level of bike ownership in Germany, with about 80 percent of households owning at least one bike.
  • Bike quality has improved in the past few years and consumers are willing to pay for it, which also means bikes need replacing less often.
  • Entry-level models sold at big-box retailers are also declining.
  • An e-bike purchase often replaces the purchase of a traditional bike.
  • The aging population and decline in birth rates in recent decades is noticeable.

About 540,000 e-bikes were sold in the first half of 2017, and if ZIV's predictions are accurate, Germany's e-bike sales will see double-digit growth of 12 percent for the year.

While ZIV did not report accessories, components and other bike-related sales figures, it estimates that these categories have likely increased slightly this year as a result of rising e-bike sales. And, according to figures from the Federal Statistics Office, bike and e-bike exports also show some growth, up 2.3 percent from January through June, with e-bike exports rising 25 percent. Imports, however, declined by about 1.2 percent, while the e-bike share of imports hit 21 percent.

“As a supplier, I can say that pedelec sales are growing and that shows how dynamic the market is,” said Claus Fleischer, director of Bosch e-bike systems. “There are more innovations, more technology solutions. But it also promotes competition and that's a big motivation for us to bring out new technology and new products all of the time. And it brings more variety to the bike market.”

E-bikes are also having a positive impact on Eurobike, as the show continues to attract not only more e-bike companies, but also brands that manufacture everything from e-bike-specific tires to saddles and other components.

“I'd say the situation is good for us. We are seeing changes in the market, but we have a great show ahead of us,” said Stefan Reisinger, the head of Eurobike. “The whole show is booked. E-bikes offer a lot of opportunity, but we also have new players in e-mobility entering the market, including automotive suppliers thinking about opportunities in micro-mobility.”

While Germany, Austria and Switzerland remain core markets of widespread adoption of e-bikes, sales are growing in other parts of Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, Asia, and the United States. Germany, Austria and Switzerland remain core markets for widespread adoption.

“There is a circle of expansion starting with the south of Europe — (to) the U.K., Scandinavia and so on,” Bosch's Fleischer said. “But as this happens, there has to be infrastructure, regulations and things like trained service staff in place. There are many differences in every market." 

The topic of safety is also in the forefront as e-bike sales grow in Germany and globally. Fleischer said that because e-bikes can be used two to three times longer, there is an impact on accident figures, and work will have to be done to ensure the perception isn't damaged.

“We have to accompany the industry and offer safety solutions,” he said. “We are seeing innovations like anti-lock brake systems on e-bikes this year, and more innovations to improve safety are to come." 

But when it comes to addressing the decline of bike sales in general, Germany is confronting other challenges head on, including improving infrastructure and how to get more people riding.

“We have to motivate younger people and children to ride bikes. We can't lose them along the way, and they have many other options — screens, smartphones and video games,” ZIV's Neuberger said. “They are losing connection with the outside. We have a special task force addressing this today. And improving safety is a major topic. Infrastructure needs to be available and safe because many people don't cycle because they feel insecure.”

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