News Article

China Is Taking Over Japan’s E-Bike Market

Sales & Trends

TOKYO, Japan – Last year’s Market Report Japan reported on the already for years ongoing drops in sales of regular bicycles. The only good news was the Made in Japan e-bikes as their 2017 sales increased in numbers as well as in value. Viewing the now available January to September 2018 statistics on production and imports of bicycles and e-bikes, it shows that Japan made e-bikes are faced with rising competition out of China.

China Is Taking Over Japan’s E-Bike Market
After regular bicycles China is now also taking over Japan’s market for e-bikes. – Photo Jo Beckendorff

Data on Japan’s bicycle production (including e-bikes) provided by Japan’s Bicycle Promotion Institute (JBPI) indicates a slight drop in units and in value when compared to the same period in 2017. So, no surprising news here. But what is striking is that both production data on units as well as on value dropped to the lowest level of the last 15 years for the January to September period. 2018 nine months production total dropped by 4.1 percent to 623,500 units while their value dropped by 1.9 percent. The only good news is that average value per produced unit increased 2.2 percent to JPY 63,469 (509.36 euro). However, these numbers show a strikingly different picture when e-bikes are filtered out of these production and value totals.

Local production fell in units and value to lowest level in 15 years

Home production relies heavily on e-bikes

When singling out e-bikes from Japan’s domestic bicycle production then a 10 percent drop comes to light in the first nine months of 2018. JBPI divides Japan’s overall unit production into 144,058 light cycles (Japan’s low-priced version of a city bike; down 13.8 percent), 421,888 e-bikes (up 0.5 percent) and 57,510 “others” (down 8.7 percent).
These figures bring to light the fact that e-bikes dominate Japan’s production with a 68 percent share. But that e-bike production isn’t riding uphill like before. And the small 0.5 percent unit production increase isn’t because of a saturated home market. The stopped growth in e-bike production is caused by a dramatically increasing e-bike import from China which come with serious competitive prices.
As it stands now; China has been able to conquer a significant share of the market which has been dominated by local producers. Until now Japan’s e-bike producers rolled their products into their home market only and faced close to zero competitors. These times have changed.

Bicycle-only imports

Next to Japan’s production of regular bikes also the imports of this category dropped to the lowest levels of the past 15 years. While total imports (excluding e-bikes) dropped 9.9 percent to 4.76 million units, the import value decreased by 2.3 percent.

The import of regular bicycles is almost completely controlled by China with a 97.5 percent share in units and 86.2 percent in value. What’s left comes from Taiwan with a 2.2 percent unit market share and a 11.7 percent value market share as well as “others”.

Japan’s e-bike import skyrocketed last year

New e-bike category

Until now e-bikes have been categorized as part of Japan’s “Other motorcycles“ category that next to e-bikes also included e-wheelchairs or e-step-scooters. Now the Japanese government created a new category under the name “motorcycles with electric motor for propulsion”. E-bikes are now included in this category and with that JBPI is able to track the e-bike import flow.
That import amounted to a total of 234,246 e-bikes, according to JPBI. That import comes almost solely from China. 98.2 percent or 230.115 units were imported from China with the remaining 1.5 percent or 3,630 units from Taiwan.
What’s striking even more is that Japan’s e-bike import skyrocketed last year. Import grew by 81,9 percent in units and 81.6 percent in value. Import from China increased by close to 80 percent. With that it looks like that after the market for regular bicycles China is now also taking over Japan’s market for e-bikes. And with that pushing out domestic producers.
The huge import growth from China contributed to the rise of Japan’s e-bike market in the January to September 2018 period compared to 2017. Sales were up by 19.6 percent in units. What this boils down to is that Japan’s e-bike market grew nearly one fifth. However, as said, Japan’s bicycle and e-bike producers are not benefitting from the e-bike popularity as Chinese exporters are taking over also this part of Japan’s two-wheeler market.

Export of abandoned bikes

Japan does not export new bicycles and/or e-bikes. But what it does bring to other (in particular underdeveloped) countries are so-called abandoned bicycles. They are widely around in Japan’s biggest cities as the newly imported bicycles from China are sold as such low prices that the smallest defect results in the fact that they are left behind by their owners. Such abandoned bikes are exported by Japan in big numbers; some 2.23 million bicycles collected by the police, are declared as exports and donated to so-called third world countries. While this number was steadily increasing over the last years; in the first nine months of 2018 for the first time a 5.6 percent drop is noted.

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