Electric glide on easy street

Updated: 2012-08-17 08:48

By Todd Balazovic, Li Xinzhu and Cang Wei (China Daily)

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"In Europe we must have an EUC (End User Certificate). Every one of our models must meet the standards outlined there," Liang says.

"The biggest difference between Europe and the US, is that in Europe you must have this certificate. But in the US there is no such certificate required."

Instead, the vehicles must be registered with the US Department of Transportation, he says.

While many of its products are sold overseas, Jonway is probably not a brand name many Western riders will recognize.

With most overseas exports, the receiving company buys the Chinese-made bikes or components and re-brand them as its own, marking up the price along the way, Liang says.

While Chinese e-bikes are cheap - on the streets of Beijing one can be purchased for around 1,400 yuan ($220, 180 euros) - the low price tag does not always attract interest from retailers. In Europe, the relative success of the industry is due to the popularity of luxury design e-bikes, selling for upward of 3,000 euros.

"The thing in Europe that's happened is bike shops have discovered they can make a lot more money selling electric bikes because they're higher price-point," says Frank Jamerson, author of the Electric Bikes Worldwide Report and a former General Motor Co employee involved with the development of the automaker's first electric car, the EV1.

"So they're promoting them very strongly, and the market is therefore accepting it."

Seeing the potential of this new trend, luxury car manufacturers such as Audi, BMW and Smart have released their own versions of futuristic-looking electronic bikes in the past two years.

At the second annual Asiabike expo in Nanjing, e-bike maker Citybug displayed a stylish new white and green framed electronic bike to crowds of eager onlookers. With price tags starting at 5,000 yuan, the bikes are selling at several times what the average Chinese consumer would pay. But its factories in Dongguan and Shenzhen are not targeting Chinese, says Citybug's sales representative He Rui.

Designed and priced to appeal to "emerging e-bike markets", she says 80 percent of sales go to Germany, with the rest mostly to other parts of Europe.

But for Chinese manufacturers in the US, price continues to be paramount.

Taking advantage of China's low manufacturing costs, Chinese brand Taotao is adopting a more direct approach to selling in America.

But regardless of price, consumers should pay attention to the true value of e-bikes, both economic and ecological, Jamerson says. "People need to focus on the value. Compared to a $30,000 car or a $40,000 electric vehicle, for short trips these just cost pennies to run."

Contact the writers through toddbalazovic@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 08/17/2012 page10)

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