UK government statistics reveal huge increase in e-bike imports

LONDON, UK – The British embraced cycling in 2020 as their new mobility trend to move around, particularly in urban areas. Covid made many people decide to take a bike instead of public transport for commuting. The latest UK government figures make clearer the extent of the e-bike sales spike in the country.
The latest UK government figures make clearer the extent of the e-bike sales spike in the country. – Photo Bike Europe

The UK’s largest cycling retailer, Halfords expected “unprecedented levels of demand were fuelling the positive trend in cycling sales” when announcing their latest financial results. The UK’s largest cycling retailer, posted updated results for the five-week period to 25th September showing 46% growth in cycling sales compared to the same period last year. E-bike and  scooter sales were cited as a reason for the growth.

2020 e-bike imports

In the ten months to October 2020 statistics, the UK government reports some 50,626 e-bikes entering the UK from the EU and 74,691 from outside the EU, adding up to a total of 125,317 units. This represents a staggering 23.6% increase on the 2019 total of 101,362. For 2019, the UK government statistics show some 42,437 e-bikes entering the UK from the European Union and 58,925 from outside the EU countries. This makes a total of 101,362 imported e-bikes. That represents a staggering 50.6% increase on the 2018 total of 67,300.

Whilst the 2020 e-bike increase may not be a surprise given the effects of the pandemic, the 2019 increase was even greater, with pre-Brexit stockpiling being perhaps the biggest surprise. Taiwan has taken a firm leading position as e-bike supplier for the UK with a total of 31,487 units representing a market share of 25%. Compared with the latest EU e-bike import statistics, the UK market presents some notable differences. In both the EU and the UK, Taiwan is the leading supplier which is not surprising as the country is rapidly shifting its bicycle industry to e-bike production. However Switzerland and Turkey are important e-bike suppliers for the EU while they do not show up in the UK statistics at all. For the EU, Vietnam is an important source for e-bikes ranking 2nd in the top 10. In the UK, Vietnam only holds a market share of 5.3%.

Bicycle imports lag behind expectations

While the UK enjoyed a cycling boom last year, reports soon came in of bicycle shortages. Supply chain constraints in combination with rising demand were often mentioned as the main reason for these problems. The UK government statistics clearly shows a slowdown in bicycle imports between January and October despite the scramble for bikes caused by the pandemic.

While the UK imported a total of 2,823,474 in 2019, this number had dropped to 2,103,410 units in the first ten months of 2020. Taking into account BBC reports in November warning for a kids-bike shortage for Christmas and the usual imports graphic throughout the year, the total import volume for 2020 will not reach the same level as in 2019. Both imports from the EU as well as from outside the EU dropped dramatically. In 2019, EU countries still shipped 427,313 units to the UK while between January and October 2020 this volume dropped by 36% to 273,907 units. The imports from countries outside the EU declined by 23.6% from 2,396,161 in 2019 to 1,828,503 this year.

Shortage in supply to meet demand

It is remarkable to see the drop in import volume while key stakeholders in the UK reported a boom in demand for bicycles. But these were not available. During the initial outbreak of Covid, many bicycle and component production orders were cancelled. Within a month it was obvious that bicycle sales were rising rapidly, and these cancelled orders were re-ordered again as Shimano Europe president Marc van Rooij explained last week. This not only had an impact on Shimano, but the whole supply chain was impacted, resulting in long delays.

Local bicycle production in the UK is too limited to facilitate the reported market expansion. In many cities cycling lanes were quickly created in the middle of the pandemic to give people to possibility to travel while they did not want to use public transportation. But the industry was apparently not in the position to distribute the necessary bicycles. A missed opportunity.