e-bike sales set to enter ‘warp speed’

Earlier this week, the UK retail supermarket chain Sainsbury’s began rolling out its Chop Chop e-bike delivery service to 20 cities around the country. The service was initially launched last month in London to deliver supplies to the hundreds of thousands of of the capital’s inhabitants who suddenly found themselves prisoners in their own homes when lockdown was imposed in March. It is anticipated that the roll-out will allow it to delivery groceries to some 3.2 million of the chain’s customers within an hour of an order being placed.
Sainsbury’s confidence in Chop Chop’s e-bike fleet is just one of several indications that what was little more than a niche form of transport until a few years ago a familiar sight in towns and cities around the world. Between 2006 and 2012, e-bikes represented less than 1% of global annual bike sales; as recently as 2013, only 1.8 million e-bikes were sold across the whole of Europe, while US sales totalled no more than 185,000. But the market began to grow soon afterwards, thanks to a combination of improvements in lithium-ion battery technology, pricing, power, and the growing shift away from gasoline-powered to zero-emission vehicles. Some analysts now expect e-bike sales to enter warp speed sooner rather than later.
Commuting cyclistsIn a recently published Deloitte Insight report, the professional services network predicted that global e-bike sales could top 130 million e-bikes over the next decade as the fear of infection prompts commuters to shun public transport systems and turn to safer – and healthier – ways of getting to and from work. “Electric bicycles are good for you,” says Bosch eBike Systems CEO Claus Fleischer. “The motion of cycling, moving the legs — even without any actual force — requires energy, raises the heartbeat, and keeps the joints flexible.” Fleischer believes it is entirely possible that as many as 50% of all European bicycle sales over the next five to seven years could be of the electrical variety.
Economics and urban planning suggest he may well be right. The coronavirus crisis will surely result in an increasing proportion of the workforce working from home for at least part of the week, and investing in an e-bike may well work out cheaper than buying an under-used season ticket or paying the full fare once or twice a week.
It may also prove a cost-effective alternative for the full-time commuter and certainly a more desirable one from the city planner’s point of view. From New York to Tokyo and from London to Sao Paolo, government officials are struggling to work out how to safely reopen their commercial centres in an environment where an understandably health-conscious public  is more likely to jump in a car than risk infection in a crowded train or bus. They fear that traffic will grind to a halt, and that this gridlock will  interfering with emergency vehicles, as well as reversing the advances many cities have been making toward reducing carbon emissions during lockdown. e-bikes may well provide them with a solution that is both ecologically sound and  reduces the burden on their country’s healthcare services.