Last year, the car industry in Germany had a turnover of more than 150 billion euros. Compared to that, the business with bicycles and e-bikes rather miserly: 7 billion euros. And yet the car industry is getting more and more involved in the cycle industry. Company take-overs, investments and the foundation of own brands: In recent years, the cycle industry has experienced a major transformation through the car manufacturers.
The car industry is looking for new business fields and making corresponding investments, while at the same time the cycle industry is growing. According to the managing director of the association, the cycle industry is characterised by medium-sized companies and seeks new capital for innovations, for example. For this reason there is a match between the two branches.
“There is an absolutely clear commitment of Pon to bicycles”, says bicycle expert Dirk Zedler from Zedler-Institut. The bicycle companies would continue to operate as before after the take-over by the Dutch giant; however, with sharper brand profiles now. And Zedler continues, “the automotive industry works in a very structured way, and the bike sector can learn a thing or two from them.
The Ludwigsburg native has been a bicycle expert for almost 30 years. He has seen car manufacturers come and go in the bicycle market. Because the ambitions of the car makers of getting involved in the cycle sector are not new: As early as in the 1990ies, nearly all car brands had bicycles in their product range. “They got, however, a bloody nose in those days”, says Zedler. “Back then, bicycles were just fashion and sports equipment, a life-style product like a leather handbag or sun glasses.”
Sales had stopped then and the bicycles often went with the purchase of luxury limousines as free gifts. Now, e-bikes are booming - the time seems to have come for the rehabilitation of the car manufacturers. “Pon and the Pierer Group are two examples showing that something has changed now compared to former days: The companies have a clear strategy to also serve the bicycle market”, states Zedler. “They seriously intend to earn money with their investments.”
Criticism of the automotive industry’s entry
Marketing and sales: These are the spheres the automotive sector is above all thinking of, says bicycle expert Zedler. What they do not think about is the use by customers. “Bicycles need to have a high usability for people who want to travel from A to B. Selling a 5,000-euro e-bike is not enough: We also need safe roads and appropriate facilities for parking at train stations. The mobility alternative bicycle must be understood as a whole. But here I do not see any strategy of the car manufacturers.”
The accusation that is being voiced from parts of the cycling industry: They are not behind our goals and may hinder them. There would be two hearts beating in the chest of the car industry, states Zedler. Should a new roundabout be built or the cycle path extended? “The automotive people are caught between two stools. They would lack the strategic approach”, thinks Zedler. And Wasilis von Rauch from the German association “Zukunft Fahrrad” is convinced: Strengthening the bicycle as central car alternative for short and medium distances is not in the interest of car manufacturers - at least as long as they are not forced to do so.
In fact, according to Zukunft Fahrrad, no company from the automotive sector is organised in the interest group - only one insurer offering accident and breakdown cover for cars and bicycles.
One major exception is the automotive supplier and electric motor manufacturer Bosch: The business manager of the e-bike division has been on the board of the industrial association of two-wheelers in Germany ZlV since spring.
The commitment of the associations is extremely important: They fight in Berlin and Brussels for the establishment of the bicycle as an equivalent means of transport. “For the cycle sector it is of major importance to implement their own interests and to emphasize their own aspects, for example with the Eurobike Show, the strong leading trade fair.
The more stake holders of the automotive sector will come, the more difficult independent positioning will become”, states von Rauch. Dirk Zedler also criticizes: “The companies that are now grabbing market share are doing harm to all the companies that have been on the market for a long time and are committed to the change in mobility. At the same time the car manufacturers would underestimate the complexity of the bicycle market and the supply chains. “The automotive industry is often on their high horse, but they should listen to the cycle industry and slow down.” “For our industry it is now important not to let the overarching goals be diluted”, says von Rauch. The car manufacturers could, for example, call for small e-cars in cargo bike format also be allowed to ride on cycle paths. “We stand, however, very clear for a healthy, active mobility.”
And Porsche’s goals? The automotive group wants to establish the brand in the e-bike segment ‘in the long term and sustainably’, says the spokesperson. However, the core business “will remain the development, production and distribution of sports cars”.
Author: Max Wochinger