Blazing Saddles

The number of electric bikes sold in Germany has doubled since 2014. While most of these are imports, the global demand for high-value German e-bikes is growing considerably and the market is diversifying.

October 2019

by Jefferson Chase

The 2019 VELO trade fair at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport featured cycling races with a legendary Raisin Bomber in the background. © Sebastian Hofer

Sometimes new trends can be hard to spot. When it comes to the German cycling market, the trend is hard to ignore. At this year’s VELO bicycle trade fair in Berlin, for instance, the hottest products were ones riders don’t necessarily have to pedal. “It’s gotten so that some visitors complain that e-bikes are the only things on show here,” said a representative for the venerable German cycle manufacturer Kreidler.

With people trying to change their behavior to live more sustainably, the bike business in Germany is booming – 80 percent of German households now have at least one cycle – and electric bikes, hybrids and pedelecs are a major part of that growth story.

The ‘Shark’ zero-emissions e-bike makes the perfect little people carrier. © GTAI/Jefferson Chase

3.1m

German households with at least one electric bicycle in 2017 (twice the amount recorded for 2014)

The turnover of e-bikes in Germany has been steadily increasing for a decade, reaching sales of 980,000 units in 2018. That was up dramatically from 720,000 the year before. Most of these pedelecs are manufactured abroad: e-bike imports to Germany reached a record 880,000 in 2018, compared with 640,000 in 2017. The value of the entire German cycling market in 2018 was estimated at EUR 3.16 billion.

hot wheels: Number of electric bikes sold in Germany

Market picking up speed

At the beginning of 2017, 3.1m German households (6.1 percent of all households countrywide) had at least one electric bicycle – twice the number recorded in 2014. The spectrum of products on sale in Germany is vast, with prices ranging from EUR 750 up to EUR 5,000 or more. David Eisenberger, communications director at German Bicycle Industry Association, says pedelecs are “a driver of turnover and innovation.”

“More than four million bicycles were sold in 2018, and roughly a quarter of them were e-bikes – an annual increase of 36 percent,” Eisenberger says. “In the long-term, a market share of 35 percent for e-bikes is entirely realistic. That underscores the significance of this category of bikes for the German bicycle industry.”

Close-up of a Bosch lithium-ion rechargeable battery that powers the pedelecs. © picture alliance/dpa

Many foreign companies are already taking advantage of this business opportunity. Cycling heavyweights like Taiwan’s Giant and Cannondale from North America have a sizeable presence on the German market. But smaller companies such as Babboe (Netherlands), BH (Spain) and Greenbikes (Israel) have also found niches for themselves.

The leading country exporting bikes to Germany is Vietnam, followed by Holland. China is subject to punitive tariffs on finished e-bikes because of illegal subsidy allegations, but companies like Bafang remain heavily engaged in the bike parts market. So why are German cycle manufacturers letting their foreign competitors get the drop on them? The answer is they aren’t. Germany also has a very healthy export market for pedelecs. 440,000 German e-bikes were exported in 2018, up from 290,000 the previous year. As a general rule, Germany exports relatively high-value products while it imports more economical ones.

The U.S. brand Lime was one of the first transport rental companies to launch dockless e-bikes in a number of global cities. © GTAI/Jefferson Chase

Geared for growth

Whether targeted at the domestic or foreign markets, many German bicycle makers are now promoting their electric models. In addition to Kreidler, German household name brands like Stevens, Hercules and Kalkhoff are now pushing sales for pedelecs on their websites and in their advertising campaigns.

There is every reason to expect the German e-bike market, both imports and exports, to keep expanding as concerns about climate change and global warming from CO2 emissions grow globally.

E-bikes and pedelecs are also a way of alleviating pressure on roads in increasingly crowded cities. Germany’s transportation ministry boldly declares on its website that “Cycling is booming” and has made the promotion of e-vehicles a major policy focus. Local authorities are taking a similar tack. Berlin, for instance, has passed a groundbreaking mobility law to encourage dramatic increases in cycling as part of the city’s push to become CO2-neutral by 2050.

Not all current or potential pedal cyclists are willing (or able) to supply the horsepower needed to travel anything more than short distances. Thus, pedelecs and electric cycles will remain an effective and stylish option for those who don’t want to break too much of a sweat getting to work, doing the school run, or going shopping.