Navigant Research Blog

Purchase Incentives More Cost-Effective for E-Bikes Than EVs

Ryan Citron — March 24, 2017

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) continue to be the highest selling EV on the planet, with nearly 35 million unit sales forecast for 2017. Increasing urbanization and a desire from consumers and city officials to move away from cars for motorized transportation are opening opportunities for alternative mobility devices. E-bikes are uniquely positioned to be a primary benefactor of this trend since they are low in cost relative to cars, do not require licensing, have no emissions, and can take advantage of existing bicycling infrastructure. The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) published a report that shows e-bikes are a particularly cost-effective way to decarbonize the transport system through incentives. However, e-bikes have received little in the way of purchase incentives within most countries’ electric mobility strategies.

Germany has spent an enormous sum of money on electric cars, with unimpressive results. The country spent €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) through 2014 on R&D and added an additional nearly €1 billion ($1.07 billion) subsidy scheme in 2016. Yet, there are just 25,500 pure EVs on the road in Germany. Meanwhile, e-bike sales exploded in the country during the same period with virtually no subsidies, aside from a few small pilot projects. Over 2.5 million e-bikes are in use in Germany, and Navigant Research expects nearly 650,000 unit sales for 2017. One wonders how much higher this figure could be if e-bikes had the same public financial support as EVs in Germany.

Differences in E-Bike and EV Policy, Germany: 2016

(Source: European Cyclists’ Federation)

New E-Bike Purchase Incentives in Europe

Several new e-bike purchase incentives have popped up across Europe, providing a boost to the industry and demonstrating new confidence in e-bikes as a cost-effective way to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. France announced a $200 subsidy for e-bike purchases in February 2017, and earlier in the year, Oslo, Norway began a $1,200 incentive program for electric cargo (e-cargo) bikes. Austria has offered an e-bike incentive program for numerous years. The ECF estimates roughly 25% of early e-bike purchases in the country’s crucial market uptake phase, around 2010-2011, were supported by financial incentives. Austria has one of the highest sales rates of e-bikes per capita in Europe, third behind the Netherlands and Belgium.

The increasing number of e-bike incentives in Europe demonstrates the growing recognition by European policymakers that e-bikes can be a more cost-effective technology to incentivize over EVs within an electric mobility strategy. On average, e-bikes cost less than 8% of the price of an electric car, according to the ECF. This, coupled with the lack of licensing requirements, make adoption much easier for consumers.

Studies Show

As noted in a previous blog, a consumer survey conducted by the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium (OTREC) showed that the primary reason respondents bought e-bikes was to replace car trips—not bicycle trips. E-bikes offer enormous potential to replace cars. One study by the German Federal Environmental Agency shows that e-bikes are faster than cars for distances of up to 10 km (6.2 miles) in an urban environment. The trends in Europe in conjunction with conclusions from these studies suggest that more countries should incentivize and promote e-bikes if the goal is to reduce GHG emissions and traffic congestion in a cost-effective way.

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