Business

Demand for electric bikes in Japan still brisk 25 years after Yamaha Motor's first model

JIJI

Electric bicycles are enjoying brisk demand as they mark the 25th anniversary this year since the first model was released in 1993.

According to government data, sales of electric bicycles in Japan in 2016 grew 15.3 percent from the previous year to 539,529 units, breaking the 500,000 threshold for the first time. Sales in 2017 may have reached 600,000 units.

The market is growing as the customer base expands from the elderly to younger child-rearing generations and with the arrival of electric sports bicycles. Electric bicycles now account for about 10 percent of all bicycle sales here, excluding bicycles for toddlers and unicycles.

Since the world’s first model was released by Yamaha Motor Co., electric bicycles have shown a great deal of evolution, including in price and battery strength.

Customers can now easily find models priced at less than ¥100,000, while early models would typically sell for around ¥150,000.

Many early models were powered by lead storage batteries. Battery capacity has increased significantly since nickel-metal hydride batteries came into use, followed by lithium-ion batteries.

Models have become lighter, and a wider variety of designs are available.

The domestic market, over 90 percent of which is jointly controlled by Panasonic Corp., Yamaha Motor and Bridgestone Corp., will face competition this year from new entrants Shimano Inc. and Germany’s Bosch.

Shimano makes assist systems that are mounted on bicycles sold in Europe and elsewhere.

Bicycle seller Miyata Cycle Co., based in Kawasaki, plans to launch a sports bicycle with a Shimano system in February. Bosch’s systems will also be mounted in models of other makers.

Expressing hope that electric models will attract more men and couples who go cycling together, Mitsuyoshi Sunakawa, a Yamaha Motor official, said the market could grow to 1 million units a year with attractive products.

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