The humble two-wheeled bicycle is creating a revolution in China and India. While green activists wonder why the Chinese electric bicycle hasn’t already taken the world by storm, in India, the Federation Of Tiny Small Industries Of India is opposing the lucrative import of cheaper chinese bicycles.
As the world goes green and nations fight over depleting fossil fuels, the bicycle is making a strong come-back. The transport mode of choice in China just a few decades ago, the bicycle is today gaining strong popularity in Europe where wide roads, traffic discipline and a serious concern for mother nature have sprouted several friendly bicycle renting companies. The ease, convenience and zero emission charges are what is prompting activists to ask, why hasn’t there been a stronger push advocating electrical bicycles? The slower cousin of a motor bike, sans the huffing and puffing, the electric bicycle allows the user to enjoy a comfortable ride powered by a rechargeable electric battery. Although the electric bike cannot zoom through traffic and make a stud look macho, the cross between a motor bike and a bicycle seems to be the ideal mode of transport for urban yuppies.
The market potential is huge too. In 1998, China commenced mass-producing electric bikes indigenously with 56,000 units made by a dozen producers. The world that year produced 42 million motorbikes, almost all fueled by fossil fuels. By 2010, China had 2,000-odd manufacturers producing 30 million units a year to feed a rapidly-growing annual global market of US$12 billion.
The world’s five largest motorcycle markets are China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Vietnam, which together have three billion people who need low-cost, eco-friendly vehicles for daily commutes that do not guzzle expensive fossil fuels. So going to work at 20 kms per hour on a 200 watt reusable lead acid battery which costs about US$400 doesn’t sound that bad after all.
Unlike other export-oriented industries, China consumes 80 percent of its own production. It has over 150 million electric two-wheelers on the road while Europe, with 18 million units, comes a distant second. India, with 2,00,000 vehicles produced, is low down on the list. Hero Motors, Bajaj Auto and TVS, all big global two-wheeler brands, have missed a trick.
The gap between motorbikes and electric bicycles is closing in too (see pic). In 2010, the world produced 60 million motorbikes that ran on fossil fuel and 32 million electric and hybrid two-wheelers. With a near average yearly growth of 20 percent, electric-powered units are expected to close the gap by 2015, both producing 70 million units individually.