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Is Sales of Regular Bikes Finally Stabilizing?

Sales & Trends

BRUSSELS, Belgium – A small but significant growth showed the 2017 import of conventional bikes into the EU 28 member states from countries outside Europe. Was this a first sign of a rising demand for regular bicycles? Import figures for the first nine months of 2018 do not show continued increases. However, neither are big drops indicated by the Eurostat data. Is it implying a stabilizing sales trend for conventional bikes despite the further rise in e-bike popularity all around Europe?

Is Sales of Regular Bikes Finally Stabilizing?
Is Eurostat import implying stabilizing sales trend for conventional bicycles despite the further rise in e-bike popularity all around Europe? - Photo Bike Europe

Eurostat data on the January to September 2018 import of conventional bikes into the EU 28 member states shows a 1.8 percent drop to 4.9 million units. Compared to the big downward trend this import showed in the past decade, this 1.8 percent drop can be considered as minor. Is it an indication of a EU market for regular bicycles that has hit rock bottom as being pressurized by e-bike popularity? Or are there other market trends that come into play here?

Taiwan production shifted to Cambodia, Bangladesh and Tunisia.

Downward trend stopped

What most definitely has hurt sales of regular bicycles is the e-bike trend. And there’s more to come as this trend is only in its early stages. E-bike market share in the total EU market for bicycles is currently estimated at some 15 to 20 percent. Experts are propagating that it will flourish to over 50 percent with all bicycle categories being electrified. Will this further projected growth mean that the total volume of the bicycle market will continue to fall, like what happened since 2008? In that year the total import of regular bicycles from countries outside Europe stood at close to 9.5 million units. Nine years later, in 2017 the import totaled 6.7 million bicycles. This accounts for a close to 30% drop!

As said the 2017 import figure showed some recovery as it increased by 1.3% to a total of 6.7 million imported bicycles. In the first nine months of 2018 that plus was again overturned into a drop. The conventional bike import into the EU was down by 1.8 percent. So, a limited drop to in units to a total of just below the 5 million units mark. That decline was limited despite the fact that in 2018 the sales of electric bicycle showed a big growth in various EU countries. It leads to the conclusion that the downward trend in import (and with that probably also in sales) of conventional bicycles has been stopped.

Import value wise

Value wise the 2018 import showed a drop, but not as hard as in 2017. In that year the US dollar dropped significantly in value (some 13%) against the euro and as Far East procurement takes place in US dollars this seems the obvious reason. By the way; hedging can provide the solution here which is now also available for smaller companies. See the separate report on this elsewhere in this print edition.

After years of stable import values of between 165 and 170 euro on average per imported conventional bicycle, it dropped noticeably in 2017 to 156 euro. In the first nine months of 2018 that value drop stood at 2.7 percent to 159.15 euro on average per imported bicycle.

Taiwan’s bike export to EU

In 2017 Cambodia became EU’s biggest bicycle supplier. In 2018 the country confirmed its leading role as it managed to further grow its export of conventional bicycles to the EU. And by no small means as Cambodia’s export grew by close to 10 percent to some 1.2 million units.

In the January – September 2018 period 770,000 regular bicycles were imported from Taiwan; down a huge 20.7 percent on the 2017 total of the same period. For the whole year of 2018 Taiwan’s regular bike export to the EU will probably stay below the one million units mark. Ten year ago, in 2008 the EU imported close to 3.5 million bicycles from Taiwan!

Three obvious reasons

As for the reasons behind this huge drop; there are three obvious ones:

  1. The first is shown in the table of EU’s biggest supplying bicycle countries. Here Cambodia stands now firm on the top position. However, all the bike makers in Cambodia come from Taiwan and still have their HQ’s there. Next to Cambodia there are other Fareast countries where currently Taiwan bike companies are based which export to Europe; like in the Philippines. So, production has been switched from Taiwan to other countries in the Fareast.
  2. Next to these countries Taiwan production has also shifted to Bangladesh and Tunisia. In particular as from these countries bicycles can be imported into the EU without having to pay any import tax.
  3. Reason number three for the huge decline in bicycle export from Taiwan to Europe is in the fact that the bike industry in the country is switching to e-bike export. Since 2015 that export to Europe has tripled. And in the first nine months of 2018 again a 67 percent growth was recorded by Eurostat. A total of close to 155,000 electric bicycles came from Taiwan. Compared to the 770,000 regular bicycles imported by the EU countries the import number for e-bikes still is small. But value-wise e-bikes form a much more profitable and interesting export product.

Import from China up big

What is also especially striking is that the import from the Peoples Republic of China increased by 15 percent. This despite the 48.5 percent anti-dumping duty levied on them, next to an import tax of 14%. In the first nine months of 2018 a total of 540,000 conventional bicycles were imported from China. It is said that this import growth is caused by bicycles destined to be used for public bike rental schemes that have popped up in Europe’s biggest cities which are operated by Chinese companies.

Or is there more to this sudden import growth? That question is likely to be answered by the review of the anti-dumping measures that are currently in place for regular bikes imported from China. This review is taking place now and must be concluded before June 1, 2019 as by that date the European Commission must announce whether it will again impose anti-dumping duties on the import of regular bicycles from China.

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