May 9, 2013

Are E-Bicycle Sales Reducing Car Sales In Europe?

Fahrradmesse Berlin
The European Cycling Federation (ECF) recently said that for every car sold in Europe, almost two bicycles are sold.  Car sales in the EU27 in 2011 were 13,146,770, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (AECA), while Coliped reports that 20,039,000 bicycles were sold that year.   Additionally, ECF data shows that between 2010 and 2011, e-bicycle sales grew by 22% while car sales declined by 2%.  In 2012, car sales declined an additional 8%.  Perhaps worse news for automakers, AECA is reporting that 1Q 2013 sales were down almost 9%.

Annual Bicycle, E-Bicycle, and Passenger Car Sales, European Union: 2000-2012

(Sources: European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, Coliped, Navigant Research)
Navigant Research expects the growth of e-bicycles in Europe to continue.
According to our recent report, Electric Bicycles, the market in Europe is on track to grow to between 1.0 million and 1.2 million sales in 2013.  But the question remains: Does this mean that Europeans are shunning cars for bicycles and e-bicycles?
On its own, the sales data is not necessarily an indication of the causal relationship between car and bicycle purchases.  However, it can’t be ignored that riders in Europe are using their bikes more for transportation.  Even the French market, where all bicycle sales are down 9%, saw the smallest decline in city bicycles (-4%) while e-bicycles increased 15%.  The increasing use of bicycles and e-bicycles designed for cities or commuting clearly hits at the one of the core points of passenger cars.
Cyclists Have More Fun
Perhaps more compelling is the fact that bicycle mileage is increasing.  CBS (Statistics Netherlands) data shows that e-bicycles in the Netherlands have contributed to a 9% increase in the distance cycled, surpassing train mileage in 2011 to rank second behind cars.  The bicycle rental service OV-Fiets saw a 32% increase in round trips between 2010 and 2011, reaching 1.1 million.  While the Netherlands is often considered a somewhat special case because of its massive advantages in bicycle infrastructure, the developments there are not considered unusual in other parts of Europe.
This points to two important trends: More people are using traditional and e-bicycles than have in the past, and those that use e-bicycles are likely to travel further than traditional bicycles (3 km further, according to research completed in 2008).
Add to that the many efforts in Europe to make bicycle travel easier, such as the increasing bicycle-friendliness of trains, and the result is likely moving European commuters out of the driver’s seat and into the saddle.  This doesn’t spell the end of the European car market, but it does point to increasing challenges in getting back to the 15 million sales mark of the mid-2000s.  Or perhaps we are overthinking this, and people just want to have more fun while they commute.

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