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e-bikes Are Cannibalizing Bicycle Sales in Europe: Is the US to Follow?
The rise of traditional bicycle and e-bike sales in 2020 is well-documented, and COVID-19 has unquestionably driven a massive increase in demand for physically distanced transport options. What has been less discussed is the trend over the past 6-8 years of e-bike sales increasingly cannibalizing bicycle sales. As shown in the following chart, countries such as the Netherlands are far along in the transition from analog bikes to e-bikes. Many other countries in Europe are showing similar patterns, including major e-bike markets such as Germany, Belgium, Austria, and France.
Traditional Bicycle and e-bike Sales, the Netherlands: 2012-2019
(Source: Guidehouse Insights, Bike Europe, and Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry)
The US Is Lagging Behind
While 2020 has been a banner year for e-bike sales in the US with domestic manufacturers such as Rad Power Bikes on track to triple their 2019 vehicle sales by the end of 2020, the US has generally lagged far behind Europe. This lag is largely due to the lack of priority given to bicycle promotion and infrastructure at a national level, resulting in bicycles being treated as more of a recreational toy than a viable transportation option. Consider the following national levels efforts to promote bicycling, and so e-bikes, across Europe:
- The Netherlands built a network of 20 bicycle highways between 2000 and 2010 that it continues to extend. The country also introduced an e-bike leasing program in 2020 where residents can “get interest-free loans to purchase e-bikes, lease bikes from their employer, and get reimbursed for kilometers ridden” according to an article by Jack Sexty, editor at eBikeTips.
- Germany is building bicycle highways that will span over 62 miles, 10 cities, and four universities once completed. These highways are anticipated to remove 50,000 cars from the road per day.
- France offers e-bike subsidies as high as €500 ($580).
- Ireland uses 20% of its annual transport budget for cycling and walking, which is approximately 10 times the US’ share. Britain’s government recently committed £2 billion ($2.6 billion) for cycling and walking infrastructure.
Absent national leadership, US cities are leading the way on bike infrastructure. Major cities such as Seattle, Oakland, Denver, and Minneapolis recently announced street closures for cars, the pedestrianization of roadways, and the designation of open streets.
When Will e-bikes Take Significant Market Share in the US?
Guidehouse Insights estimates that e-bike sales in the US grew at a 25.5% compound annual growth rate from 2012-2019, though e-bikes still accounted for just 2.3% of total bike sales in 2019.
e-bike Market Share of Total Bicycle Market, US: 2012-2019
(Source: Guidehouse Insights)
2020 has added the boost badly needed by the US e-bike market. Consumer awareness of the benefits of e-bike technology has significantly increased, and unprecedented levels of interest are being shown at the city level regarding bicycle lane expansion (with potential national efforts to come). Meanwhile, new e-bike products are being released from an increasing variety of market players, and continued cost and performance improvements are expected in lithium ion battery technology. Guidehouse Insights projects that e-bike sales in the US will reach between 15% and 20% of the total bike market by 2030.