“We are producing a lot of rubbish in the bicycle industry,” claimed van Vliet in his presentation at VeloCity 2001 being held in Edinburgh and Glasgow all this week.
“We produce children’s bikes, for instance, which do not stop in the wet.
“What the cycle industry wants is a low price and quick delivery but we should appeal to people’s intellects not just their wallets.”
Pointing out that he was the only representative of the bicycle industry at Europe’s premier conference for cycle advocates, he complained that the European bicycle trade was more interested in volume than quality products, or effective marketing to increase the number of cyclists.
“The mountain bike is dead. We have to develop something completely new. We have to react to needs, not what we want to sell [to people].”
To an audience made up of 45 cycle advocates from around the world (the conference as a whole has 500 delegates from 42 countries with half of the delegates giving talks of their own), he outlined Shimano’s plans for marrying electronics to future bicycle designs. A remote control locking-and-unlocking key, similar to that used on an upscale car, is beng worked on but would take until 2006 to come to market because of the inbuilt conservativism - and country to country differences - of the bike trade, said van Vliet, Shimano Europa’s former marketing director but now with a roving role as Shimano’s trends spotter and business analyst.
But there’s a shake-up ahead. He mentioned a trends study by PriceWaterhouseCoopers which predicts what the retail landscape will be like by 2010. Most independent retailers in Eurupe have been around for, on average, 56 years, but many will not survive 56 years into the future, posits the study.
The report predicts that 35-45 percent of independent retailers in all sectors will fail within the next five years.
And that’s why Shimano is also looking outside of the cycle industry for its own future growth.
“We’re now heavily involved with the car industry,” said van Vliet.
“The motorist can also be a cyclist. We need more integration of modes of transport.
“Bikes should also be sold in ‘mobility centres’ where bikes are sold alongside cars.”
Van Vliet’s thinking on such ‘mobility centres’ can be linked to the possible future plans of PSA, the owner of Peugeot. PSA is not renewing Cycleurope’s license to produce Peugeot bicycles after December 2004. Whilst PSA has agreed not to sell Peugeot bikes to IBDs for at least ten years after the termination of its license with Cycleurope, PSA is free to produce Peugeot bicycles for its own dealer network.
Other car makers have also dabbled with bicycles and Shimano clearly sees scope for expanding the market for bicycles - equipped with its gears, natch - outside of the narrow confines of the bicycle market.
The idea of car retailers converting into mobility centres by selling bikes is not a new one. In France in 1999, Giant bicycles were stocked in depth by Renault garages. 180 auto dealers were given retail makeovers and made into mobility centres. Car mechanics were trained in cycle mechanics too.