Navigant Research Blog

Auto Suppliers Crash the E-Bike Party

Dave Hurst — September 23, 2013

Predictably, another Tier One automotive supplier has stepped into the e-bicycle market in a big way.  ContiTech Power Transmission Group, a subsidiary of Continental, is using an electric motor developed by Brose, another automotive supplier, to provide a mid-motor e-bicycle system.  Similar to the Bosch e-bike system, the Continental/Brose system is a complete package with motor, battery, and controller for e-bicycle manufacturers.  In 2012, ContiTech showed a belt drive similar to the well-established Gates carbon drive system, which is targeted toward both e-bicycles and traditional bicycles, and Benchmark Drives announced a deal to supply the Continental belt drive with its e-bicycle system.

It is difficult to get a sense of Continental’s ultimate success in the mid-motor business, since the product is not available yet.  E-bikes come with motors located in the front wheel hub, rear wheel hub, or mounted in the middle of the bike, at the bottom bracket with the pedals.  This mid-mount market is becoming very competitive.  In the few specifications released for the ContiTech model, the motor is almost a pound lighter than Bosch’s motors, but the battery pack is about a pound heavier.  Because the battery pack can be located in a rack above the back tire (or inside the frame, depending on the bike manufacturer’s choice), my personal preference would be to have any extra weight in the motor at the bottom bracket.  On the whole, though, the complete system looks fairly similar in terms of specifications.

More Expensive in Europe

Bosch certainly isn’t standing still waiting for Continental to come charging into the market.  At Eurobike this year, Bosch showed a new controller, the Nyon, that will incorporate a number of new features, including navigation, smartphone integration, and fitness tracking.  However, Bosch and Benchmark Drives are not the only current mid-mount players: another well-known manufacturer, Yamaha, also announced a new e-bike system on Giant bicycles specifically for the European market.  TranzX showed off new smaller, lighter motors; and Panasonic, which has apparently seen its market share erode, also continues to be a major competitor.

Percentage of Annual E-Bicycle Sales by Motor Location, Western Europe: 2013-2020

 EBike Sales Chart

(Source: Navigant Research)

As the Western European market for e-bicycles continues to grow rapidly (sales are expected to increase 18% in 2014 over 2013), the attractiveness of the market for automotive suppliers is increasing.  Because many (if not most) bicycle manufacturers are largely still reluctant to bring the needed engineering in-house to develop proprietary e-bicycle systems, the market remains open to systems integrators.  Additionally, the e-bicycle market in Western Europe prizes high quality, and prices have remained high compared to other regions (the average price in Western Europe is $1,697, more than $250 higher than any other region).  With this in mind, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that auto suppliers are putting their expertise and existing technology to work in this market, and it won’t be a shock when other large automotive suppliers follow suit.

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