'The e-bike market is viable and growing'

BikeBiz interviews Powabyke MD Nick Child
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After 12 years in the e-bike market Powabyke is forging a European distribution network and developing new offerings to make the lives of its dealers easier. MD Nick Child tells Jonathon Harker about the company’s new ranges, e-trikes and more...

So, how’s business?
We are actually expanding and growing. Despite a tough end to the year when the weather was having a detrimental effect on a lot of our retailers’ sales, we have since been opening new accounts around the UK and signing up various distributors.
We have known for a long time that the e-bike market does attract a different age group of customer than perhaps the IBD shop would normally see on an average day, but we are aware of a new market sector buying e-bikes which has a lot of potential.

Additionally the average purchaser of a Powabyke is using it as a form of transport as opposed to simply a leisure product that only gets used on a ‘sunny day’, so this helps extend our selling season.

Our user survey that we conducted with Leeds University showed our customer base was averaging 1,200 miles per annum, which translates to ten times the average mileage of a regular bike and they were replacing three car journeys a week with their Powabyke.

Tell us about the new Trikes – they’re proving popular? Is that something of a burgeoning market?
The electric tricycle market is also growing, we are finding a customer base that can’t ride a two-wheel bike anymore and wouldn’t be seen ‘dead’ on a mobility carriage – I refer to the ‘quasi mobility market product’.

We have also had a healthy export market for the product that includes commercial users in the Gulf States where they are being used as a ‘runaround’ in the oil and gas fields.

There are many technical issues with getting the mechanics of the e-trike right and we have invested a lot of time and money in developing the product to suit the market requirements. The 2011 model now includes an ultra low step through frame and the buyer has the option to upgrade to our new HP Lithium Ion battery pack that reduces the weight of the machine by about 10 kg.

Whilst a lot of IBDs struggle finding enough space to house a trike in their showrooms, those that do benefit from good sales from this high margin product and again with a bit of local marketing it can open up a new market sector for them.

How have dealers and consumers reacted to the launch of Mk2 X-byke?
The new Mk2 X-byke has been received very well with our dealer base and we are taking a lot of orders from new and old customers.

Apart from the improved performance from the new brushless motor, lithium battery, and the smarter aesthetics we put a lot of effort into the serviceability side of the design.

Consequently we can now demonstrate to a dealer that with the new ‘plug and play’ electrics on the bike the amount of potential workshop time required for any repairs in vastly reduced over that of any of our competitors’ bikes.

The development and launch of the Mk2 involved us changing factories in the Far East half way through 2010, and whilst this involved a lot of work and a few supply problems at the time the improved build quality and performance has really paid dividends on our investments.

Spare parts portal Powashop was set up at the end of last year exclusively for dealers – how does it make the retailers’ lives easier?
There are several key advantages for the dealer with us launching an online portal. Firstly it will become faster to order stock, the dealer can ship direct to his customer to save time and of course money, plus we offer free freight for online orders.

Additionally, to be honest a lot of our IBD dealers simply don’t have the time, and sometimes understandably the patience, to deal with an end user who wants an obscure part for a ten year old Shopper bike so they can now direct them to the website.
The aim is to provide a ‘tool’ that the dealer can use to order parts 24/7 and at the same time we can help promote sales of accessories etc. for the Powabyke range, for example the sale of ‘extra batteries’ for bikes has literally trebled since launch.

And in the interests of rumour control – we have no intention of selling bikes direct to the public – this is not the writing on the wall!

Powabyke has been in the e-bike market for 12 years now – how has it changed?
The key change, and most satisfying in some respects, has to be in public awareness. The electric bike is no longer a ‘mystery product’. A growing number of people now not only understand the benefits, but are actually buying them as an alternative form of transport.

Also with nearly 400 Powabyke dealers active in the UK last year we are comfortable that this is a viable and growing industry.

The products have also matured and you are now seeing increasingly reliable and better performing products.
The e-bike market has bucked the trend on most ‘new’ products in terms of price position, we deliberately launched in 1999 using the Amstrad model, with a £499.00 product to get the volume moving, wiped out Yamaha and a few others who were pitched at £1,300.00 SRP and gained some significant market share growth.

Over the years, and totally driven by customer demand, we have literally added ‘bells and whistles’ to the product to the point where we find the best selling product is at around the £900.00 mark, that’s a good sign in that the customer now accepts the ‘product’ as viable and is willing to pay a sensible price.

As far as changes to the company, the key changes have been that we have a much better understanding of the product and the market’s requirements, design our own products and can now commit to serious R&D to the point where we can compete on a global market.

However, I still make the tea when it’s my turn and it’s business as usual!

The industry is currently debating the pros and cons of the UK's electric bike market on the BikeBiz Forum. You can see and join in with the trade-only discussion here.

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