News Article

E-Bikes Positive Note on Japan Market

Sales & Trends

TOKYO, Japan – The Japanese bicycle market still continues to face difficulties. Last year bicycle sales even slipped onto a 12 years low, while the country’s bicycle production in value and units declined. Only bicycle imports remained stable. Only the e-bike category saw an uphill ride in value and units.

E-Bikes Positive Note on Japan Market
Most cheap bicycle imports out of China are sold through larger chain store giants giving Japanese IBDs hard time. - Photo Jo Beckendorff

According to the Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute (JBPI) last year’s home production reached a total of 890,587 units. For the first time in 12 years the production volume dropped under 900,000 units. On the other hand, the market value reached a 12-year record. The average value of a ‘Made in Japan’ bicycle which were almost exclusively sold on its home market is JPY 62,714 (473 euros). For the first time in history the average unit value exceeded JPY 60,000 (458 euros.

Nippon bicycle production

When taking a closer look at the production of bicycles in Japan, it is remarkable to see how important the e-bike is for the country’s bicycle industry. With a total of 568,025 units last year’s e-bike sales reached again a market share of 63.8 percent on Japan’s total bicycle production. In value, this market share is as high as 84.6 percent. Compared with 2016 Japan’s e-bike sales increased 3.7 percent in volume and 9.3 percent in value. When talking about e-bikes and Japan the market is limited to pedal-assist bicycles (pedelecs) only.

The second largest category is light cycles, the low-priced Nippon’s city bike with front basket, drum brakes and single or three gears. The production dropped by 17.7 percent to 239,921 units and 14.8 percent in value. In 2017 the market share of these locally produced light cycles was 26.9 percent in units and 11.5 percent in value.

Third category is ‘others’ which includes kids and juvenile bikes, 20-inch wheel-sized and smaller mini cycles, MTBs and special bikes like recumbents). The category ‘others’ reached a production volume of 82,641 units last year, which is 17.3 percent less in volume compared with 2016 and 20.4 percent less in value.

Sports e-bikes the next hot thing?

The question is whether the sports e-bikes with will the market its next push in Japan just like it did in Europe. At the moment Nippon’s e-bike market is relying on nothing else but the everyday pedelecs especially used by young mothers (with two child seats and basket) and older people. Nevertheless pedal assist pioneers Yamaha and Panasonic seem to realize that they somehow missed the early stages of the European e-bike hype. Therefore they are now introducing their first Japan-Made sportive e-bikes.

Both companies are not only selling e-bike kits but also pedelecs under their own brand names. Perhaps Yamaha and Panasonic were forced to change their strategy thanks to last year’s market entry of Bosch eBike Systems’.

Nippon bike imports

Japan’s bicycle import was flat last year at 6.778 million units. Compared with the previous year this is a slight 1 percent drop in units and 1.1 percent drop in value. In 2017 the average CIF value JPY 11,170 (85 euros).

The Japan Bicycle Promotion Institute underlines that while Japan’s bicycle production data includes the higher priced e-bikes the import numbers don’t. The country’s national import statistics labels e-bikes as a separate motorcycle category which includes mopeds, cycles fitted with an auxiliary motor, motorcycles with or without sidecars, e-bikes etc.). Since e-bikes/pedelecs are not named explicitly this motorcycle category has not been included in this report. With a total of 6.613 million units China’s bicycle imports holds a strong market share of 97.6 percent in units and an 87 percent in value. Only one country is name in Japan’s bicycle import statistics: Taiwan. With 148.367 units, Taiwan has a market share of 2.2 percent in unit and 11.1 percent in value. The remaining 16,841 units come from a variety of countries. The average CIF value of China made bicycles was JPY 9,963 (76 euros) while the ones out of Taiwan valued JPY 56,767 (432 euros).

What can we expect from the Japanese bicycle market future? Currently the high-valued e-bikes keep up total turnover of the nation’s bicycle sales. More alarming is the decline in total shipment which could mean that Japanese are riding their bicycles less often while the national government is investing substantially in the improvement of the cycling infrastructure including parking space and roads.

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