REUTLINGEN, Germany (BRAIN) — As goes the electric bike market in the Netherlands, so — eventually — will go the rest of Europe. That is the crystal ball prediction of Claus Fleischer, head of the Bosch division that produces its wildly successful mid-drive e-bike systems.
Fleischer believes that e-bikes eventually will account for one of every three bikes sold in the European Union, a ratio now achieved only in the Netherlands. “In the long run, we predict that in each country, when the markets are mature, every third bike which is sold will be an electric bicycle,” said Fleischer, senior vice president of Bosch eBike Systems.
Until then, Bosch predicts that e-bike sales will continue growing at a rate of about 15 percent a year.
As a major player in the e-bike market, Bosch has a vested interest in seeing the category grow. But Fleischer’s outlook is worth noting because the company is famously meticulous about its product development process, which includes extensive market research.
If Fleischer is correct, e-bike sales should be robust for years to come.
According to 2015 statistics, published recently by the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry (CONEBI), e-bikes accounted for 6.5 percent of all bikes sold in the 28 EU member countries. CONEBI reported that total e-bike sales rose by 19 percent to 1.357 million from 2014 to 2015.
But the European market is far from uniform. Three countries accounted for 70 percent of all e-bike sales, with negligible sales in 16 other countries. Germany, the continent’s biggest economy, accounted for 40 percent of all e-bikes sold, followed by the Netherlands, at 20 percent, and Belgium, at 10 percent.
The trend line is a welcome counterpoint to total bicycle sales in Europe, which rose by only 2 percent from 2014 to 2015 but have been mostly flat over a longer period. Europeans bought about as many bikes in 2015 as they did in 2005.
Fleischer said the demographics of e-bike buyers are also changing. While the typical buyer remains someone who is 50 or older, “we see that we are enlarging the group of potential buyers to a younger crowd,” Fleischer said.
He refers to them as “entry-level” e-bike buyers, who he said are responding to e-mountain bikes and more stylish urban and commuting bikes.
Fleischer said there is also a notable uptick in sales of e-bikes with trailers and e-cargo bikes to young urban families who use them in lieu of a second car. “It has been on the margins, but you can see it really as an urban trend,” he said. While these types of buyers may not yet move the numbers, “it’s really visible in the bicycle shops and on the roads,” Fleischer added.
Electric mountain bikes are the fastest-growing segment of the European industry, and no company typifies that growth more than Haibike, a brand of Germany’s Winora Group. Haibike was one of the first to launch an e-mountain bike line, and it has paid off in spades: Sales of Haibike-branded bikes have grown tenfold over the past six years, according to the company.
“E-bikes are more than 70 percent of our annual turnover at the moment,” Winora CEO Susanne Puello said in an email, adding that the “numbers are constantly growing.”
Puello said Winora, which is owned by the Accell Group, is not worried about market saturation. “Parts of the European market will slow down in terms of growth within the next years, but there are new potential markets coming up,” she said.
Outside of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, Puello said France and the U.K. are especially promising European markets for e-bikes.
France is currently Europe’s fourth-largest e-bike market according to CONEBI, while the U.K. is eighth. Although there are some inconsistencies concerning the U.K. market statistics, the CONEBI numbers show e-bike sales there were 35,000 to 40,000 in 2015.
Richard Peace, a British writer who covers the e-bike market, said the country’s two largest retail bike chains have embraced the category. Halfords and Evans, which together account for more than 40 percent of U.K. bike sales, carry several e-bike brands in their stores and recently introduced private-label models. “It’s quite significant that they’ve both chosen, in 2015 and 2016, to a launch their own brands of e-bikes,” Peace said.
As mainstream retailers, their embrace of e-bikes may signal a shift in the market away from online vendors or stores that only sell e-bikes, Peace said.
Their house brand bikes aren’t at the bottom of the price range, either. Evans’ new Pinnacle Lithium Ion commuter, built around a Shimano STePS drive, retails for £2,200 ($2,860).
Peace said he expects transportation-oriented bikes will be the most popular e-bike categories. Sales will probably be concentrated in urban cycling “hot spots,” such as London, Birmingham and Leeds, where governments have invested heavily in cycling infrastructure.