Do retailers of two wheeled electric powered vehicles have the power to shock the personal transportation market in the UK?

By Will Laing, International GIS Analyst, Cross Border Retail and Leisure

In an age when Tesla is finally hitting its manufacturing targets and Harley Davidson is about to debut its first electric motorcycle, the rise in e-bikes and e-scooters should be considered more electrifying news. Whilst the popularity of e-bikes has been demonstrated in neighbouring European countries such as Germany and Holland and the electric scooter craze has taken off in the States and China, here in the UK we have been less than supercharged when it comes to riding on electric motorised vehicles.

The e-bike

e-bikes differ from traditional bicycles as they contain a battery and an electric motor which assists riders once they are pedalling. Early e-bike models first entered the UK market from the far east and many of early adopters expressed disappointment with the cumbersome bicycles. These budget bike models contained weak batteries which left riders pedalling additional weight puncturing the initial interest in them. However, newer premium models, mostly produced inside the EU, have been more impressive and have left riders feeling proud to pedal.

What now for e-bikes?

Halfords described 2017 as “the year of the e-bike”, experiencing a sales uplift in excess of 200%, and electric cycles helped ease pre-tax losses at bike specialist Evans Cycles, in an otherwise muted market. This year has also seen the unveiling of several e-bike only stores in London (Velorution) and Glasgow (Love e-bikes) to name a few. Ride to work e-bike schemes steered by the likes of Ride Electric, a North Shields electric bike company, also have ambitious expansion plans in the future as it continues to establish partnerships with local businesses. Brompton Bicycle, the popular fold up bike, has released the e-Brompton to give commuters an extra surge as they take on London’s Cycle Superhighways. Even the car manufacture Cooper Car Company has recently released a slick looking e-bike, the Cooper E, which demonstrates the diversity of interest in the sector.


The e-scooter

e-scooters are the battery powered alternative to the old push or ‘kick’ scooter that is propelled by a rider pushing off the ground. The e-scooter has gained notoriety in the States with overzealous e-scooter sharing start-ups showering sidewalks with the electric vehicle. However, this mode of transport has proved popular and the US authorities are trialling methods to ensure the e-scooter is given a fair ride.

The e-scooter problem

e-scooter retailers face a completely separate challenge when it comes to convincing commuters to purchase the electronic rides. e-scooters are currently outlawed on both roads and pavements in the UK. The Department for Transport, which manages the road regulation in this country classes e-scooters as motorised vehicles, which require break lights and a number plate as well as being subject to tax, driver licenses and insurance in order to allow users to ride on the road. On the pavements a 183 year old law designed to prevent “any horse, ass, sheep . . . or carriage” from using the public walkways restricts the ability for users to weave in and out pedestrians.

Despite the legal status of electric scooters sales are on the rise. Scooting is about to open its second store with the new format based in Brighton. Their first store in London recorded sales of around 300 e-scooters in the past year. A quick Google search returns a stack of websites stocking the electric vehicles. Furthermore, even some traditional cycle retailers are broadening their offerings, with e-scooters appearing in their shops.

Should we gear up to see electric powered vehicles retailers take over our high streets? Maybe not just yet, but sales of these modes of transport will certainly continue to rise. Both a continued consumer appreciation of eco-friendly alternatives as well as improved battery technology combined with escalating fuel costs will put people off driving cars. As Sainsbury’s starts to trail an e-bike delivery service, it is clear the brakes on e-bike sales are slowly being released as they become more normalised. The current sales of e-scooters might be a strange anomaly considering their legal status, however, if amendments to regulations allow e-scooters freely wheel down our roads then this should power a considerable surge in their demand.

William Laing works as an International GIS Analyst within the Cross Border Retail and Leisure team based in London. His key responsibilities involve providing actionable insight to assist clients in the delivery of their real estate strategies, whether that be in the form of new market entry, national expansion or micro-locational studies. He provides analytical support to the UK retail teams and their clients on matters such as regional economic data, GIS analysis, demographic profiling and retail impact studies.

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