News Article

USA E-bike Market Bigger than Expected

Sales & Trends

HOLLY RIDGE, USA – With a population of more than 316 Million people, buying about 15 million normal bicycles most years, and a demographic that is shifting to an older, but active generation of baby boomers…the USA seems a natural market for electric powered two wheelers.

USA E-bike Market Bigger than Expected

The European market, about 742 million people, buying about 20 million bicycles most years, is both larger, and buys fewer bicycles per capita than the USA. However, much of Europe regards a bicycle of any type as transportation. As well as for sports, fitness, and recreation. This is a cultural norm and in such cultures e-bike markets grow more quickly. The USA is almost universal in regarding a bicycle as a device for sport, fitness, and recreation. For the USA, transportation is a car. Transportation use of bicycles in the USA occurs in two general forms:

1. Low cost transport for people who cannot afford a car (or cannot drive due to a DUI conviction).

2. Transport in places where parking, and traffic congestion are problems – large cities like Boston, New York, San Francisco, etc.

E-bikes are transportation devices for almost all buyers. Yes, there are new models that may be contenders to replace or supplement mountain bikes, and there is fun and recreation in riding, or in the technical gadgetry of a new e-bike. But for most e-bike buyers, transportation is the primary intended use. In the USA, transportation is usually an automobile. And cheap, used, cars are widely available. Adding to this cultural preference for autos is the resistance of the ordinary bicycle dealer who often has a background as an athlete, and regards e-bikes as “cheating”. As well as the dealer being aware that they are not well equipped to explain, support, and service such bikes. The result has been that the rate of growth of the USA e-bike market has disappointed many people.

The total sale of e-bikes in the USA has been difficult to calculate. There has not been a uniform way to describe imports of e-bikes in the US Customs records. There is no HS number assigned to e-bikes, and so importers often choose between various 8700 series numbers in the “other” category, or declare the bikes as parts, or toys. Written descriptions vary widely: Ebike, electric bicycle, low speed electric assisted bicycle, pedelec, electric bicycle parts, and on and on.

eCycleElectric (eCE) and the Electric Bicycles World Wide Reports (EBWR) have worked on estimating the USA e-bike market for about 19 years. Methods used by eCE and EBWR have varied. Attempts to organize self-reporting by the industry were unsuccessful. And searches of customs records turned out to be a learning process as detective work uncovered a myriad of ways to be confused or misdirected about e-bike imports. Anecdotal reports were often inflated or deflated.

For the last three years, eCE has subscribed to Import Genius, a service that provides access to US Customs databases. We quickly learned that searches confined to HS numbers or to a few descriptions led to only part of the imports. So we developed a list of all known brands, and known major suppliers to USA brands. And all the search terms that we could find that would yield results. We checked on consignee addresses, and tried to detect logistics companies and trading companies that were involved. We were surprised by the results, as it seems the USA buys more e-bikes than was generally believed by the industry. Last year, we announced that the USA e-bike market had roughly doubled to approximately 158,000 units imported. We then endured a great deal of criticism from a variety of sources that stated we must be wrong. And observed a number of conflicting reports about the USA market size.

This is easy to understand – a casual search of import records would probably give the researcher the idea that only 60-80,000 units were imported during 2013. And this is often the result that we hear promoted. So we checked our work again. We bought more services from Import Genius, looked again and compared, and then found even more bikes.

This is what we found

Searching under electric bike, electric bicycle, electric bikes, electric bicycles, e-bike, e-bikes we found: 136,943 units adjusted for duplications. Then there are the gray items with ambivalent descriptors. They came from OEMs that build e-bikes, and the unit numbers compared to the weight of the shipment seem a lot like e-bikes. Next we took a look at the parts purchases of companies that assemble e-bikes in the USA, from parts mostly imported from China.

That group includes some companies that sell complete bikes, and some companies that sell DIY kits or just sell parts. So we took the total weight of those parts and divided by 60 lbs, as we thought that 60 lbs of e-bike parts was pretty close to one e-bike, one way or another. Total for vague descriptions and parts: 94,546. Raw total for USA market in 2013: 231,849.

Now we know that we have accidentally included some units that are not e-bikes. And we get accused of being too optimistic. And we want to be conservative.

So we used an adjustment factor: 25% reduction in the total to adjust for our possible mistakes. That gives us an adjusted total of 173,886 units of e-bikes imported into the USA or parts that were assembled into e-bikes in 2013, more than our original claim.

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