Why Are Car Companies, From Porsche to Jeep, All Selling E-Bikes Now?
Electric bicycles, a transportation trend, are now available from a variety of automakers
BMW sells one for $3,260. Mercedes-Benz sells another for $4,500. Jeep paid to get Bill Murray and a groundhog to pose on one, now they’re selling it for up to $7,400. Then a week ago, Porsche announced it was getting in on the action, and Porsche being Porsche, these suckers break into five-figure territory.
We’re talking about the hottest electric vehicle in town — not cars, but e-bikes. While EV sales as a percentage of all car sales stayed relatively flat in 2020, electric bicycles boomed. Even though traditional bikes flew off shelves and a pandemic shortage was declared, e-bikes saw larger growth year-over-year. And it appears automakers, as well as motorcycle brands, want in on the action.
Is it a bellwether of the electrification coming down the automotive pipeline? Is it a branding trend? Or are these strategic partnerships, like Volkswagen and Trek back in the day? And most importantly, are any of them worth buying? We asked Claudia Wasko, vice president at Bosch eBike Systems, a company whose tech is built into bicycles from household names like Schwinn, Cannondale and Raleigh.
“I have seen several companies that specialize in combustion engine vehicles releasing their own electric bikes based on a pure brand licensing deal,” Wasko told InsideHook via email. “I have seen automotive companies with much-hyped projects which eventually ended up falling victim to larger corporate forces. And I have seen automotive brands which really got involved in the development aspects of the final product.”
Where each bike falls is sometimes hard to discern. Jeep, for example, doesn’t sell its e-bike on its own website; it’s available at QuietKat, a Colorado manufacturer they partnered with. Then there’s Porsche, whose high-end two-wheelers are available through the German brand’s shop and were “designed by Studio F. A. Porsche,” but still got a helping hand from e-bike company Rotwild. For a truly proprietary bike, you’ll want to look to Harley-Davidson, whose new Serial 1 e-bike brand is technically its own operation, but was only spun out after being born within the American motorcycle icon.
In fact, while upscale marques like BMW and Mercedes-Benz do have electric bicycles for sale, if you are intent on buying from this category, Wasko thinks moto brands like Harley, Yamaha and Ducati are a safer bet.
“For sure, the development of eBikes needs a dedicated and enthusiastic team of experienced bike experts,” she said. “Motorcycle companies may be superior to car companies in this aspect as they are well known for their competencies in fields like ride handling, responsiveness, mass centralization and consistent geometry.”
Maybe you’re interested in an electric bike because they’re good commuters, they’re eco-friendly, they’re fast without being reckless, or because anything Porsche signs its name to is worth a spot in your garage. Whichever it is, Wasko has some advice when comparing models.
“The three key things to keep in mind are 1) the reputation of the bike manufacturer, 2) its drive system and 3) the service network,” she explained. “Choosing a brand with staying power provides peace of mind that they will be there for service support when the time comes for a tune up.” So even if another carmaker comes out with its own electrified bicycle tomorrow, as long as its got a reputable drive system and potentially some other proven parts (and not too high of a markup), you should feel confident in your purchase.
But what happens if this is all just a fad and Jeep, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz give it all up when people are cramming back into SUVs, buses and subways after the pandemic fully subsides?
Wasko’s not worried. As she says, these companies “are actually doing a wonderful thing for the existing eBike manufacturers by helping elevate the perception that eBikes are a viable means of transportation to those who may not quite be ready to make the jump.”
Instead of e-bikes being a transition to electric cars, maybe the outcome of automakers pivoting to bicycles will be that drivers realize life’s much more fun (and less expensive) on two wheels.
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