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UK E-Bike Market: 2014 Bumper Year?

Sales & Trends

LONDON, UK – The latest import figures from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) suggest around 49,000 electric bikes were imported into the United Kingdom for the 12 months ending July 2014. Also figures for the first seven months of 2014 are well ahead of previous years. Are e-bikes finally taking off in the UK?

UK E-Bike Market: 2014 Bumper Year?

Up to July 2014 a total of 28,275 e-bikes were imported into the UK compared to 15,772 in the same period of 2013. This represents a growth of close to 80%! And when comparing the 2014 first seven months import total to the figure for that period in 2012, imports more than doubled! The question is where the huge July influx of more than 10,000 bikes, several times the monthly average, is pointing to?

Imports: sales indicator

Whilst there is no UK industry or dealer association that compiles electric bike sales in the manner of Germany’s ZIV, electric bike imports are registered at the port of entry with their own commodity code (there are next to no electric bikes manufactured in the UK so import/arrivals figures could be taken as one indicator of UK electric bike sales).

In the past UK electric bike sales statistics have been somewhat of a mystery but a clearer picture in recent years is emerging. An independent study by transport magazine A to B from 2008 suggested that around 15,000 units were sold that year. In 2009 BEBA (the British Electric Bicycle Association) suggested annual sales had grown to around 20,000. The annual European Bicycle Industry & Market Profile (BIMP) for 2012, released by COLIBI, suggested UK annual EPAC sales were around 30,000, although HMRC figures reported 2012 imports and arrivals at over 39,000.

Such figures suggest a small (by continental European standards) but relatively robust market, especially when anecdotal evidence is taken into account.

Views on the market

Bike Europe asked Tim Snaith, co-founder of 50 Cycles and exclusive importers of Kalkhoff and Focus EPACs into the UK for his view on the UK market: “We weathered the 2008 crash surprisingly well, partly because this coincided with us taking on Kalkhoff for the first time and we have continued to grow since. Pressures on fuel and transport prices might have helped. As we moved upmarket, it seemed those customers able to spend on big discretionary purchases were still willing to do so, perhaps insulated from the financial shock.”

Premium bike purchases certainly seem to be on the up, with 50 Cycles expanding their retail outlets steadily. From a single warehouse and showroom plus online and telesales ten years ago

three more high street style showrooms have followed, with more outlets planned, most likely in London. 50 Cycles also picked up International Distributor of the Year from Kalkhoff for the third time this year.

Budget end of the market

However, the vast majority of sales remain in the hub motor, budget end of the market, says David Miall of the Freego Wisper group, who also import the Bosch-powered Riese & Muller blueLABEL ranges. The group’s FreeGo brand, made in China to their specifications and sold by FWG in the UK (and other markets) is far and away the highest seller by volume and the most affordable at GBP 799 to GBP 1,799 (1,025 euro – 2,308 euro).

Miall told BikeEurope he had some concerns over the HMRC figures, “Form anecdotal evidence, I would consider the HMRC figures to be a little higher than stated. I feel there may be another, cheaper group of products other than the Pedelec included in their numbers, especially as the figures seem to suggest an average buying price of in the region of GBP 170 (218 euro). My own estimates for e-bike sales in the past years are: 2011/2012 – 22,000 units; 2012/2013 – 25,000 units while for this year I expect to reach 30,000 units.”

Sceptical note

When digging deeper in the figures from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs it becomes clear that the 49,000 electric bikes that were imported for the 12 months ending July 2014 came into the country for an estimated value of GBP 7.4 million. This boils down to GBP 151 (193 euro) per imported e-bike.

A little cheap to say the least. Too cheap?

Phillip Darnton, Executive Director at the Bicycle Association, expressed an even more sceptical note about the accuracy of the figures and prospects for more dramatic growth, based on the fact the UK still has its own legislation on the statute books relating to electric bicycles.

“This is a very inexact science indeed,” says Darnton. “Our members’ view is that only about 20,000 e-bikes were actually sold in the last 12 months. The figures are not directly reconcilable – but equally HMRC are not reliable either, since they depend on the accurate coding of goods leaving the Far East, and this is not always the case (there are many reasons why codes may be inaccurate – from deliberate evasion of tariffs to simple miscoding).”

Darnton added: “For as long as the regulations in the UK are unclear about what is a “legal power assisted bicycle”, it seems to us unlikely that this market will grow very substantially or very quickly. The government’s Department for Transport are in the process of introducing regulations which will be in line with the EU regulations for electrically assisted pedal cycles.”

Halfords UK: Explosion of People Rediscovering Cycling

Britain’s biggest bike retailer recently reported on an “explosion of people rediscovering cycling” in the UK which is bringing the car accessories and bike retail chain an unprecedented year of growth for its cycle business.
Halfords UK (operating completely independent from Halfords NL) reported a 21.3% increase in its first quarter like for like sales this year including a 35.1% increase in premium-bike sales. Transport for London recently revealed that bikes make up 24% of vehicles on London roads during rush hour. Halfords has designed a new cycle store format to reflect the London cyclist called “Cycle Republic”.

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