News Article

E-Bikes Shine in Dull Japan Market 

Sales & Trends

TOKYO, Japan – First the sad news: the Japanese are buying fewer bicycles. Last year the total shipment to the country’s distributors stood below eight million units for the first time in years; 7.78 million. Imports and exports were also down. The good news is that Japan’s long-suffering local bicycle producers reached increasing unit and value sales.

E-Bikes Shine in Dull Japan Market 
There are not many bicycle categories where electrification makes more sense than on the typical Japanese Mamacharis bikes. – Photo Jo Beckendorff

According to the 2016 figures Japan’s home production increased by 4.5% to close to 940,000 units. Value-wise the increase stood even higher with 14.7%, and reached a record-breaking peak. And the Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute (JBPI) forecasts further future value increases. Average unit value of a Japan made bike stood at JPY 57,243 (€464).

Japan made e-bikes

The biggest part (some 60%) of Japan made bicycles are e-bikes (only pedal assist models). Since Yamaha presented the world’s first PAS (‘power assist system’) bike in 1993 this product isn’t as new and hot as in Europe. Nevertheless it’s actually receiving a good tailwind. This happens without any e-bikes out of Europe. That there’s no import from the EU is not only caused by different standards. It’s also due to a different history and bike culture.

Japanese bicycle producers created for example newly designed e-‘mamacharis’, which is a very popular product category in the land of the rising sun. ‘Mamachari’ is a typical Japanese mash-up of the words ‘mama’ and ‘chari’ (a less polite word for bicycle). These ‘mama bikes’ are a cultural icon and mainly used by young families as working horses that are mainly equipped with front and rear kid seats plus a wide front carrier for shopping bags. There are not many bicycle categories where electrification makes more sense than on these Mamacharis. And the ‘e’ upgrade makes them also more desirable creating a higher demand.

New Mamachari models

For some years now the most trendy e-mamacharis are the ones with long wheelbase and small 20-inch wheels. Even when quite heavy (27 to 32 kg) – the younger generation in Japan’s crowded metropoles love these new e-bikes. They are offered only by Japanese suppliers – and are exclusively sold in Japan. With this new designed mamacharis Japan’s producers have finally created something they can compete with against the flood of cheap bicycles coming from neighboring China. In particular as the 2016 JBPI market data shows that all other bicycle categories offered by Japanese makers (urban or sports models) experienced 2016 sales drops.

Bicycle imports

Last year bicycle imports into Japan decreased. All in all, a total of 6.85 million units (minus 3.8%) have been imported. According to JBPI this is “the lowest unit total over the last 15 years.” Import value dropped even further – by a big 18%. Average CIF price decreased 14.7% down to JPY 11,175 (€91,11). This amount makes clear how different bicycle products in Japan are compared to the more quality-driven European markets.

Overall the bicycle import into Japan comes from China; 96.6% of all imports. A total of 6.62 million units pours from China into Japan. Value-wise China’s share in the total import stands at 83.4%. Number 2 in the list of bike supplying countries to Japan stands Taiwan with a total of 213,965 units. In units Taiwan’s share stands at 3.1%; value-wise at 14.8%). The remaining 0.3% import share comes from other countries like Europe. It results in a value share that stands at a 7.6 times higher average CIF value than those ones out of China.

Export donations

An interesting phenomenon takes place with Japan bicycle export; as noted last year in the report of the Japan bike market. The export figures include (and in fact are based on) deserted bikes which are bicycle collected by the police. When not collected by their owners they are packed into containers and shipped mainly as donations to third world countries. These donations are declared as exported bicycles.

Up to 2015 this export increased to a record number of 3.55 million units. Last year the ‘export’ decreased for the first time and dropped – compared to 2015 – with 11.2% to 3.16 million units. There’s no explanation for this drop.

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