Efforts needed to address problems involving electric bikes #China Newsweek#-Sino-US


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Efforts needed to address problems involving electric bikes #China Newsweek#
Electric bikes could be seen on any street in county towns and large cities across the country. They have become an important mode of transportation for the Chinese after bicycles, and China, the kingdom of bicycles, has changed into the kingdom of electric bikes.
 
E-bikes can run as fast as motor vehicles, but are much lighter and low-priced, and the riders have no need to get driver’s licenses, which makes them the best choice for workers of express delivery industry and common people.
 
However, riders treat the e-bikes the same way as bicycles, riding the fast and quiet e-bikes randomly on roads and not obeying the traffic rules, which has led to frequent accidents. 
 
To better manage the e-bikes, the government has issued guidelines on the industry, and new draft standards on e-bikes were recently circulated for public comments.
 
In the sixth issue of 2018, the China Newsweek magazine ran a cover story on the new standards on the e-bikes and the problems facing the industry.
 
Below is an excerpt of the article.
 
The Chinese government issued the draft Safety Technical Specification for Electric Bikes on January 16, seeking public comments in 30 days. 
 
The new standards are the first in 18 years since China enacted the current general technical requirements on e-bikes in 1999.
 
New standards have soon attracted public attention, such as the maximum speed of 25 kilometers per hour, the maximum total weight of 55 kilograms, mandatory installation of foot pedals and the maximum power of 400 watts.
 
In 1980s, the e-bike industry started to emerge in China, and the first batch of bands of e-bikes appeared in 1990s. In the following two decades, more brands joined in.
 
China has more than 200 million e-bikes in use now and an annual output of 30 million. There are 5 million workers and 2000 licensed companies. China has become the largest country for the production and sale of e-bikes.
 
But behind the prosperity, the profit margin of the industry has been narrowing, and problems, such as chaos in production and management, vicious competition, and inadequate and lack of industry standards, have emerged. 
 
Bug game
 
The 1999 standards on e-bikes set the maximum speed at 20 kilometers per hour, and the maximum total weight at 40 kilograms. The e-bikes exceeding the standards were barred from production and use on the roads.
 
Chen Kaiya, spokesperson of Jiangsu Xinri E-Vehicle Co, Ltd, said that the 1999 standards were issued when the industry was still at the infancy period, and now the public demand and urban traffic conditions have all changed. 
 
“Judged by the old standards, about 89 percent of the current e-bikes running on the roads are illegal,” Chen said.
 
The speed limit of 20 kilometers per hour could not meet people’s demand, and some companies produced their e-bikes without fixed speed devices which sellers, maintenance workers and buyers could adjust easily.
 
Shen Chenggang, editor-in-chief of topddc.com, a news website for e-vehicles, said that the speed devices are not so complicated – they are similar to software -  and companies deliberately left the bug for speed adjustment.
 
“If the speed of e-bikes produced by other companies could be changed faster, and yours could not, yours would not be sold,” Shen said. 
 
Most e-bikes could run over 40 kilometers per hour now and some even reached 70 kilometers per hour, Shen said.
 
To meet consumers’ requirements on speed and the “luxury appearance”, many companies would produce the e-bikes with speed and weight exceeding the old standards to compete for a market share.
 
Some companies promised consumers that they would help adjust the speed after they got e-bikes registered at the authorities to avoid the checks from authorities and meet the demands of consumers.
 
Ma Zhongchao, director of the China Bicycle Association, said on March 15, 2017 that “(e-bike) industry has both good and bad producers, providing lots of counterfeit and shoddy products, endangering people’s safety.”
 
Gu Hongquan, editor in chief of E-Vehicles Observer, said that many family workshops purchased parts to assemble e-bikes or even renovate old e-bikes, and then sold them in rural areas.
 
These workshops are usually located at remote areas and hard to be supervised. 
 
The e-bike market has seen oversupply, and the vicious price war began to emerge. Some producers also made false advertisement and promotions.
 
Gu Hongquan said that in 2004, the gross profit margin of e-bike industry was about 30 percent. “On a 3,000 yuan e-bike, the producer and seller could make a profit of about 1,000 yuan.”
 
Gu said that the quality of e-bikes has improved a little from 10 years ago, but the same brand e-bike is still sold at the same price. “The net profit margin is only about 4 to 5 percent.”
 
Frequently, lists of Top 10 brands are published, but industry insiders say some companies pay to get on the list and there are no unified standards for the lists.
 
Industry reshuffle
 
Compared to the 1999 standards, the new standards have improved, such as the maximum speed increasing from 20 to 25 kilometers per hour and the total weight from 40 to 55 kilograms, and the power from 240 to 400 watts. 
 
Before the new standards are officially put into practice, a transition period of half year to one year will be set for companies to develop new products, adjust production line and digest inventory products.
 
Local authorities in provinces, regions and municipalities can make their regulations on eliminating the old e-bikes that don’t fit the new standards, such as offering subsidies for dismantling.
 
Li Jiangping, deputy director of the traffic management bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, said at the press conference on January 16 that e-bikes were a kind of traffic tool, and safety should be placed first above all its features.
 
“New standards will retain the principle that e-bikes are non-motor vehicles, limiting the speed, size and weight. They will be helpful in curbing the production and sale of products exceeding current standards,” Li said.
 
Chen Kaiya said on January 28 that new standards were a result of compromises from many parties, and they mark a major improvement though there were disputes. “Anyway, the standards are much relaxed than before, are based on the facts, and we would accept the new standards,” Chen said.
 
Jiangsu Xinri and Zhejiang Luyuan Electric Vehicle Co are the two companies invited to participate in the formulation of the new standards with authorities.
 
Chen said that the new standards would have differentiated impact on the industry - some leading companies with advantages in research and technology would benefit but small companies would face difficulties.
 
Yao Li, president of TAILG, said that the new standards paid more attention to traffic safety but neglected other aspects. He said that large companies would have advantages in technology, but safety concerns still exist during the transition period.
 
Ni Jie, chairman of Zhejiang Luyuan, said that there are a few questions around the new standards.
 
“How to maintain the e-bike’s strong structure while reducing weight. Could all safety problems of lithium batteries be solved? How to meet the speed demands from young consumers? What products could 8 million deliverymen use?”
 
A manager of an e-bike producer said that some companies, sellers and consumers held meetings and expressed they could not understand the new standards.
 
The manager said companies have to rebuild their moulds and tooling equipment due to the new standards, as well as redo designs and consumer surveys, but the transition period is not long enough.
 
Xiang Yang, an e-bike dealer in Changzhou, Jiangsu province, said that the new standards would impact dealers. He said there are three types of dealers, selling e-bike brands with low-prices, brands with good quality and brands produced adjacently for convenient services.
 
Xiang said that dealers selling brands with good quality would be less affected, but the dealers selling low-priced brands would be hurt because these products never met national standards. 
 
Some dealers are worried about their inventory, and how to solve the problem of replacement of parts for old e-bikes, Xiang said. For example, if an old e-bike’s engine is broken, the new engine could not be used, and the e-bike has to be abandoned.
 
Shen Chenggang said that the weight limit of 55 kilograms will add technical difficulty to the research of new products. The lead acid battery of two types is too heavy - 16.8 kilograms or 27.2 kilograms each. 
 
Lithium battery has about one-fifth weight of the lead acid battery, but it has safety problems, and e-bikes powered by lithium battery only account for 5 percent of the total market so far, Shen said.
 
Shen said among China’s four production bases, Tianjin producing simple structured e-bikes that nearly meet new standards will be the least affected, but other bases, such as Guangdong producing overweight e-bikes, have to make a lot of changes.
 
Enhancing management  
 
Yao Li said that e-bikes help solve the “last mile” problems in public transport, and the industry is pushing ahead the country’s economic development, especially under the “Internet+” strategy.
 
Ma Guilong, a professor from Tsinghua University, said that China’s e-commerce development has close ties with the e-bikes. “E-commerce companies could not drive Benz, BMW and QQ cars to deliver take-out food and packages.”
 
Ma said that from the perspective of saving energy and road resources, China should encourage the development of the industry, not restrict it. “Two-wheeled vehicles occupy small space. Our road resources are limited, and e-bikes can easily run in streets and alleyways.”
 
“An e-bike runs 100 kilometers on one kilowatt hour, and an electric vehicle would cost more than 10 kilowatt hours to run 100 kilometers. And the electric vehicle occupies a larger area,” Ma said.
 
Ma said the government could make clear guidelines to encourage the industry, such as offering subsidies on lithium battery, developing technology to reuse used lithium batteries on electric vehicle for e-bikes, as well as using driver’s licenses to regulate riders’ uncivilized behaviors.
 
There are policies to subsidize the electric vehicles using lithium batteries, but no such policies for e-bikes, so it is unfair, Ma said. The subsidies for e-bikes using lithium batteries will also boost the battery industry, he said.
 
Gu Hongquan said that authorities should cooperate in making speed devices difficult to adjust and improving law enforcement to punish violators, and traffic police should enhance road checks and record violators in social credit system.
 
Ye Bifeng, director of the Institute of Law under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said that cities could follow a three-way rule, building roads into driveway, bicycle lane and sidewalk, and strengthen law enforcement.
 
Cities should take measures to help citizens better know the traffic rules, cultivating their awareness of obeying traffic rules, such as riders could not ride a bike on driveway, Ye said.

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