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Chinese Embracing Electric Bicycles

Chinese Embracing Electric Bicycles


SHANGHAI —  The population of China owns more bikes than any other country in the world — there’s one for every three inhabitants.

Noworkers upgrading to battery-powered bikes and scooters. Even those who can afford cars are opting for the bikes, to avoid traffic jams and expensive gasoline.

There are 430 million bicycles in China, which outnumbers electric bikes and scooters 7-1.

But production of electric bicycles has soared from fewer than 200,000 eight years ago to 22 million last year, mostly for the domestic market. The industry estimates about 65 million are on Chinese roads.

Car sales are also booming but there are still only 24 million for civilian use, because few of the 1.3 billion population can afford them. Chinese cities still have plenty of bicycle lanes, even if some have made way for cars and buses.

“E-bike” riders are on the move in the morning or late at night, in good weather or bad. When it’s wet, they are a rainbow army in plastic capes. On fine days, women don gloves, long-sleeved white aprons and face-covering sun guards.

One of them is Xu, on her Yamaha e-bike, making the half-hour commute from her apartment to her job as a marketing manager. She had thought of buying a car but dropped the idea. “It’s obvious that driving would be more comfortable, but it’s expensive,” she says.

Of course, other countries are embracing the e-bike as well.

In Japan, cost-conscious companies and older commuters are jumping on.

Australians use electric bicycles in rural towns that have no bus or train service. Tony Morgan, managing director of The Electric Bicycle Co. Pty. Ltd., the continent’s largest manufacturer and retailer of e-bikes, says he has sold about 20,000 in the past decade, priced at 1,000-2,000 Australian dollars (about $800-$1,600).

In the Netherlands, sales passed 138,800 last year.

In India, Vietnam and other developing countries, obstacles come from motorcycles, as well as a lack of bike lanes and other infrastructure.

Sales in India have risen about 15 percent a year to 130,000 units, thanks in part to a 7,500 rupee ($150) government rebate that brings the cost down to about the cost of a conventional bicycle. But they are still outnumbered by the millions of new motorcycles taking to India’s roadways.

In China, electric bikes sell for 1,700 yuan to 3,000 yuan ($250 to $450). They require no helmet, plates or driver’s license, and they aren’t affected by restrictions many cities impose on fuel-burning two-wheelers.

It costs a mere 1 yuan (15 U.S. cents) — about the same as the cheapest bus fare — to charge a bike for a day’s use, says Guo Jianrong, head of the Shanghai Bicycle Association, an industry group.

The e-bike doesn’t emit greenhouse gases, though it uses electricity from power plants that do. The larger concern is the health hazards from production, recycling and disposal of lead-acid batteries.

Lead-Acid Batteries
Although Chinese manufacturers are beginning to use nickel-meter-hydride and lithium-ion batteries, 98 percent still run on lead-acid types.

A bike can use up to five of the batteries in its lifetime. A Chinese-made battery containing 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of lead can generate nearly 7 kilograms (about 15 pounds) of lead pollution, he says.

“Electric bikes result in far more emissions of lead than automobiles. They always use more batteries per mile than almost any other vehicle,” Cherry said in a phone interview.

In China, owners are paid about 200 yuan ($30) to recycle old batteries but the work is often done in small, under-regulated workshops.

Because of the price competition among China’s 2,300 electric bike and scooter makers, manufacturers have been slow to embrace costlier, cleaner technology. But bigger foreign sales and demand for better batteries may speed improvements.

“We are trying to upgrade to lithium battery technology to be able to sell internationally,” said Hu Gang, a spokesman for Xinri E-Vehicle Group Co., the country’s biggest e- bike manufacturer, with sales of more than 2 million units last year.

The goal is to boost production to more than 5 million units by 2013, he said.

“It’s not that we’re that ambitious,” Hu said. “It’s just that the industry is growing so quickly.”

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China Continues To Rule Electric Bike Market

China Continues To Rule Electric Bike Market


China – Electric bicycles are fast becoming the transport of choice among China’s population. Last year, the Chinese bought 21 million e-bikes, compared with 9.4 million cars. While China now has about 25 million cars on the road, it has four times as many e-bikes.

A woman rides her electric bicycle past a residential block in Beijing, China
Andrew Wong / Getty Images

This is because the Chinese government has long encouraged its people to ride ebikes, and because riding regular bikes has long been the mode of transportation in rural areas anyway.

As engineers around the world work to create eco-friendly, plug-in electric cars, Chinese engineers are leading the field.

Government regulations in China limit the top speed of e-bikes to about 12 mph. However, manufacturers are building more powerful machines all the time, with speed regulators that are easily removed.

E-bikes that are basically pedal-powered machines with an electric boost are common in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but e-scooters with heavier motors and top speeds of around 30 mph, fast enough to rival mopeds, are growing in popularity.

The e-bike boom owes much to Chinese policy. The government made developing e-bikes an official technology goal in 1991. Major Chinese cities have extensive bicycle lanes, which means riders can avoid the worst of rush-hour congestion. Because local governments have drastically raised licensing fees on gas-powered scooters in recent years, In cities such as Shanghai, , consumers have had no choice but to purchase an e-bike instead.

In 2006, China had 2,700 licensed ebike manufacturers, with countless additional smaller shops. Leading manufacturer Xinri (the name means “new day”) was founded in 1999 by Zhang Chongshun, an auto parts factory executive who recognized the potential of the field. In its first year Xinri built less than 1,000 bikes; last year it churned out 1.6 million.

E-bikes are commonly used by migrant laborers. Police stations have blue and white patrol e-bikes. Delivery workers from McDonald’s and KFC also use them.

In 2008, the Chinese bought about 90% of the 23 million e-bikes sold worldwide.

E-bikes are steadily taking off around the world. In India, rising incomes mean personal transportation is more affordable for the masses. Japan has seen steady annual sales of about 300,000 for several years, and in the “cycle-crazy” Netherlands e-bikes are beginning to take off. In the U.S., where bikes are still used for recreation rather than transportation, e-bike sales were expected to break 200,000 in 2009. That’s about 1% of China’s sales.

At the end of 2012, the sale of ebikes in China was estimated to reach 28 million e-bikes — still the majority of all sales of ebikes around the world.

The New York times interviewed Li Ang, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace in Beijing (in an article published on June 27, 2012). “Although electric bikes do avoid quite a lot of gasoline usage, such bikes in China have pros and cons. They can hardly be labeled as a typical ‘green’ means of transportation.”

Safety is another challenge in China, with e-bikes zipping down sidewalks, sometimes with multiple riders. Lead-acid batteries are not adequately recycled, creating an environmental problem, and a proliferation of small e-bike makers in China makes crafting effective safety rules a challenge.

One factor affecting price is battery type. Many (though not all) electric bikes sold in Europe and the United States have lithium-ion batteries, which are more energy-dense and costlier than the lead-acid type predominant in China.

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