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The transition to electric bikes in China: history and key reasons for rapid growth

Abstract

Annual electric bike (e-bike) sales in China grew from 40,000 in 1998 to 10 million in 2005. This rapid transition from human-powered bicycles, buses and gasoline-powered scooters to an all-electric vehicle/fuel technology system is special in the evolution of transportation technology and, thus far, unique to China. We examine how and why e-bikes developed so quickly in China with particular focus on the key technical, economic, and political factors involved. This case study provides important insights to policy makers in China and abroad on how timely regulatory policy can change the purchase choice of millions and create a new mode of transportation. These lessons are especially important to China as it embarks on a large-scale transition to personal vehicles, but also to other countries seeking more sustainable forms of transportation.

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Notes

  1. Several interviewed e-bike companies noted there are many more than official estimates because many operate without a license. One company estimated that only 24 e-bike OEMs in China actually have a license while another company mentioned many don’t even have a trademark.

  2. One e-bike company initially started assembling e-bikes using their and their neighbor’s home.

  3. China carried out a national electric facilities improvement project which decreased the electric price in rural areas (Xinhuanet).

  4. Small children often stand on the foot platform while another passenger sits behind the driver. Site observation shows SSEB carry cargo and passengers more often than SSEBs.

Abbreviations

AGM:

Absorptive glass mat

BSEB:

Bicycle style electric bike

E-bike:

Electric bicycle or scooter

LPG:

Liquefied petroleum gas

OEMs:

Original equipment manufacturer

SSEB:

Scooter style electric bike

VRLA:

Valve-regulated lead acid

Wh:

Watt-hours

2WV:

Two-wheel vehicle

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge Joan Ogden, Dan Sperling, Jack Johnston, Andy Burke, Ed Benjamin, Frank Jamerson, and anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful review of this work. The authors would like to thank the ITS-Davis Hydrogen Pathways Program, the Hong Kong Fok Ying Tung (Huo Ying Dong) Education Foundation, Project No. 94027, and the ITS-Berkeley Center for Future Urban Transport-A Volvo Center of Excellence for financial support. We would also like to thanks the Tongji University College of Automotive Studies, Yang Xinmiao, Chen Weijun, Guo Yijun, and the many manufacturers that granted us interviews, factory visits, and data, in particular Angel, Lantian Double-cycle, Luyuan, Sanben Aurelia, and Small Antelope.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Weinert.

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Weinert, J., Ma, C. & Cherry, C. The transition to electric bikes in China: history and key reasons for rapid growth. Transportation 34, 301–318 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11116-007-9118-8

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Keywords

  • E-bike
  • Electric bicycle
  • Electric scooter
  • China
  • Two-wheel vehicle