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March 01, 2012

Electric bike production could catch up to motorbikes in 2015 with 70 million units

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%, electric-powered units will close the gap by 2015, both producing 70 million units individually.

Most of these are low-powered units of 200 watts fitted with reusable lead acid batteries, typically costing RMB 2,400 yuan (less than $400), the average monthly pay of a Chinese worker. They are no-frills utility vehicles chugging steadily at 20 km an hour.

The workforce typically travels 50 km a day (about 9000 miles per year) on single charge usually from home to workplace, and are said to save 150 million worker hours each day. By contrast, the US bike market is 82% for recreation with low average bike runs of 1,000 miles per year, against 12,000 miles per year driven by the American car user.

There have been about 500 to 600 million non-powered bicycle riders in China. Converting almost that entire number to electric bicycles by 2020 would see environmentally friendly transportation that has good in city commute speeds. Folding electric bikes are compatible with trains and buses.

New Envia batteries with 400 Wh/kg energy density and costing only $180/kWh could reduce the weight of batteries on electric bikes by three times.



A new product category of electric scooters rapidly became popular that catered to the more sophisticated user byoffering a higher speed of 50 kmph and longer charge life of 80-100 km. As speeds rose, so did the number of accidents. Some municipalities like Shenzhen have banned the electric two-wheelers for six months with the intent to introduce registration and licensing for higher-powered ones.

Meanwhile, the advent of high-speed units and the hybrid version powered by lithium and lanthanum batteries have also spurred interest of global majors. Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Peugeot, BMW and Volkswagen are all readying new models that will hit the market this year.

At Delhi's Auto Expo 2012, Indian manufacturers Hero Electricals, Lohia Auto and TVS Motor also displayed both electric-driven as well as hybrid versions. However, the huge subsidy support and scalable volumes of China may be difficult to match for Indian producers.

Considering that there is no support infrastructure like bicycle lanes throughout the nation, the future and growth of the Indian market looks less certain, unless the government becomes proactive.

With the global demand growing rapidly, it may take a few years for others to catch up with the Chinese who have developed infrastructure and a huge domestic demand. China expects to produce 75 million units per year by 2020, with 500 million electric two-wheelers on road.

This will mean that a third of China's population will be empowered with their personal transport for daily commuting and would not need state-funded subsidised mass transport.

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