USA electric bike market reaches 260,00 in 2017

2331 days ago

5 minutes

eCycleElectric’s estimates 2017 electric bike sales in the USA for a minimum of 260,000 units. eCE found 215,000 ebikes imported into the USA during the 12 months of 2017, with an additional 15,000 thought to have been built from parts by various assemblers.

Knowing that we do not find all the imports, from past experience, eCE has added 10% as a likely margin of error.  This brings the totals to 263,000 for 2017. This is in line with last year’s estimates and consistent with projections. eCE base their numbers on a process described in this release.

Anecdotal evidence for 2017 suggests a 20-30% growth in imports, but this does not appear to be reflected in the import data. A more likely estimate is around 10% – 15%.

However, the brands reporting strong growth are the ebike specialist brands, primarily. There is modest growth among the traditional bicycle brands.

The number of entities importing ebikes has grown significantly – approximately 600 entities in 2017, as compared to 135 in 2016. Of these, 15% are importing at 250 units per container or more, whereas 85% are importing at less than 250 units. Of those smaller entities, 50% imported less than 100 units per container. 25% imported in quantities smaller than 20 units. This suggests that there are greater numbers of people either experimenting with importing ebikes, or in the early stages of starting a new ebike business. The vast majority of these ebikes were imported from China and Taiwan.

There appear to be about 120 -150 active brands promoting and selling ebikes in the USA. The range reflects both the rapid entrance and exit of players, and the hard-to-categorize players from crowd funding projects.

There are obstacles to obtaining exact import numbers for the USA market. In the case of import records, electric bikes lack a specific HS code which would simplify the process of searching for and determining the accuracy of individual records. This leads to a tedious process of evaluating thousands of individual records, one at a time, by hand. Such a process is subject to both human errors and definitional confusion; many products that would not be conventionally regarded as an “electric bike” may be listed as such, or in similar terms. Our figure of 215,000 imported bikes is intended to realistically encompass bikes that are either poorly defined within the record, not described with any of the 60 terms we search under, or simply mislabeled entirely. The 15,000 assembled in the USA bikes is based on data gathered through our relationships with USA assemblers, retailers, brand managers, OEMs, component suppliers, and sales reps.

One obstacle to correctly identifying ebike shipments in particular is the prevalence of “hoverboard” ride-on electric toys, which are almost always listed in import records as electric bicycles (despite having little in common with them). Our research is carefully oriented towards eliminating these aberrant entries – but there is always the possibility of our numbers being skewed as a result. We can normally detect these, as a container hold far more hoverboards than it could hold electric bikes.

An easy observation to make is that these numbers merely reflect the ebikes that entered the market, not bikes that were sold through – an electric bike may of course languish in a warehouse for years before being sold. However, as in 2016, we feel that if this were a widespread problem, grumbling in the supply side would be heard loudly and clearly. As it is, grumbling has been absent, (in fact, happy claims of increased sales are the norm) so we feel that most of the ebikes entering the market are being sold, and easily. 2017 appears to have been a smooth year of growth for ebikes in the USA in general.

We note that much smaller numbers of ebikes are reported by some researchers – in particular ones that rely on reporting from established bicycle retailers. An odd characteristic of the ebike market is that the retailers most capable of selling ebikes are often opposed to ebikes in general, and even those who embrace ebikes are usually ineffective at selling them – when compared to the ebike specialists, Amazon, direct to consumer sales, etc.

The dollars are greater than the units, when compared to normal bicycles. With the average ebike somewhere between $1,000 and $3,000, with many examples reaching towards (or even past) $6,000, this small volume represents a larger slice than is immediately obvious. The average value of a human powered bike is far less.

Thus we feel that the overall picture of the market is this: sales are steady, and in some cases, up – the successful brands are continuing to be successful, while less-successful brands are slowly being culled. However, there appears to be a burst of entrepreneurial optimism, leading many individuals and companies to experiment with starting their own ebike business, or add ebikes to their existing retail selection. Overall, the industry is healthy and growing, and we look forward to 2018 as a profitable and exciting period.

Annick Roetynck

Annick is the Manager of LEVA-EU, with decades of experience in two-wheeled and light electric mobility.

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