Highlight of my e-bike Study trip to China was to speak about cargo bikes in front of an audience of policy makers and CEOs of the Chinese bicycle business. One day before the opening of the China North Bicycle fair in Tianjin this top-level conference was organized by the CBA – China Bicycle Association.
Cargo bikes are definitely not something new to a Chinese audience. However I talked about ones with electric motors (Pedelec25) and stressed the wide range of use cases they offer, just because of that additional motor: From alternative „family vehicles“, transporting kids to kindergarten to deliveries and services in inner city areas. I also used the opportunity to show the always impressive biggest cargo bike I know of, Nico Jungels 8rad (an 8-wheeler, see here for a German interview with Nico).
I thought – why would advantages such as low running costs, no congestion or parking problems and access to all inner cities not be valid for Chinese audiences? Taking into account that many Chinese cities have strict limitations of access for fuel vehicles, Beijing e.g. is closed for trucks till 10pm and no fuel scooters are allowed at any time (see this article for details).
On the other hand, in China nowadays nearly everyone wants a car as soon as the money is there – be it a private user or a company – and it is that trend that makes that all big cities in China have big traffic congestions and pollution problems. A lot of the popularity of cars has to do with the fact that people in China do care a lot about a western, „modern“ lifestyle.
Having that in mind the point I stressed most was that bicycles and in particular the use of cargo bikes is not a sign of poverty in EU-countries such as Germany, the Netherlands or Denmark: People don’t use cargo bikes because they are poor, but because it’s fun to ride them and it is a statement. It’s lifestyle: modern, smart and cool. And it makes cities more liveable.
Import and Export Perspectives
Looking at the domestic market, at first sight, the potentials for selling e-cargo bikes in China are big: Yearly 35 million LEVs are sold, there are about 200 million on Chinese roads. However the problem is price and legislation. Nearly all LEVs you see in China run without pedalling, most are e-scooters where you just twist the throttle or ebikes without the necessity to pedal. Cargo is usually transported on e-trikes. No one pedals and the law doesn’t favour pedalling. But that’s not all; the price for a cargo trike (see the fotos 17 and 18 in the series for an example) is far below 1000€, rather 500€. A European e-cargo bike will typically start at 3000€ retail price (compare this database for the German market).
So selling cargo bikes to China is only realistic in small numbers and in a high price segment. And for that purpose the products would have to become „famous“ among Chinese customers – famous for being top quality and super modern. The European and the Japanese car industry have reached that fame – many people in China are willing to pay high prices for these cars. It doesn’t seem very realistic to reach that goal for cargo bikes at the moment.
As for the other way around things are different, there is no anti-dumping policy for Chinese Pedelecs. And the price of cargo bikes is a critical limitation for their success in Europe at the moment. Chinese products thus have a potential market in the Pedelec business – until now they were not sold because the quality isn’t what the European market demands. However the Chinese industry grows fast and its companies learn fast. Simple models with solid quality and good service networks in EU countries could be sold in high numbers, giving the cargo-bike development in Europe a strong push forward. I personally do not think that this would be a bad thing – not even for European manufacturers: They could still satisfy a high price and specialized segment. And in the end more cargo bikes on the road is what brings the strongest effects for mobility and living quality in cities.
The e-Bike Tour in China and Taiwan
- Study Trip to China – general Info
- Cycling and mobility in Beijing
- Impressions from the Taipeh Cycle Show
- Visit at Tiannang Battery Production