Electric glide on easy street
Updated: 2012-08-17 08:48
By Todd Balazovic, Li Xinzhu and Cang Wei (China Daily)
China's popular E-Bikes are effortlessly rolling into Europe and US
Stocked alongside crates of fresh fruit and canned vegetables in the side room of a family-owned grocer in Arizona, Sam Hom is selling an unlikely replacement for thrifty Americans looking for an auto alternative.
The 78-year-old, Chinese-born American was the first to begin offering electric bicycles in his small community in the center of Arizona's capital, after converting half his grocer supply store, Phoenix Produce, into the city's only e-bike shop in 2006.
Some of the electric bikes produced at Chinese maker Jonway Group's plant are sold in the United States and Europe. Todd Balazovic / China Daily
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Pedals with the mettleThe idea came to Hom during one of his annual visits to his birthplace of Kaiping in Guangdong province, southern China, from where he emigrated to the United States more than 50 years ago.
"Everywhere on the streets, people were riding electric bikes and I thought, why don't they do this in America?" he says. "So I began talking to some businesses, and shortly after, shipped my first crate from China."
Using a lightweight electric motor, e-bikes allow users to switch between pedaling and electronic assistance, with an average battery range of 64 kilometers per charge, with no emissions and very little sound.
However, when Hom began importing from China more than five years ago, e-bikes were virtually unheard of in car-loving US - so much so that his wife Tracy opposed the idea.
"When he started doing this, I was really against it," she says. "I thought it was a liability for us and no one would buy them."
The skepticism was not unfounded. In his first year, he sold five. But now, Hom's business is booming and his yearly sales have increased to more than 120.
"You know, right now businesses in America are not doing so well. But Sam seems to be doing quite good," Tracy says.
With the price of one of his e-bikes at around $500, Hom's choice to go Chinese has given him a competitive edge over the European or US manufactured models selling for $1,300 or more - the price of a used car.
"The Chinese bikes are much cheaper, which is appealing to customers," Hom says.
With fuel prices soaring across the US and Europe, e-bikes are becoming an increasingly appealing option for eco-friendly commuters and recreational cyclists.
And, as the largest and oldest e-bike industry in the world, China is poised to make its mark on the industry.
As the first nation to embrace the e-bike for everyday use, China is the largest market with 30 million sold annually and more than 125 million on the streets. Here, they've taken on a multitude of roles, from family vehicle, transporting mother, father and child across town for a day in the park, to a delivery vehicle for the millions of dollars worth of online purchases delivered daily throughout the largest online shopping nation.
In the US, the numbers are significantly smaller with just 80,000 sold biannually, according to the Electric Bikes Worldwide Report, published annually in the US.