In China, electric bicycles are leaving cars in the dust. Last year, Chinese bought 21 million e-bikes, compared with 9.4 million autos.
While China now has about 25 million cars on the road, it has four times as many e-bikes. The country has become the world’s leading market for the cheap, green vehicles, helping to offset some of the harmful effects of the country’s automobile boom.
Indeed, as engineers around the world scramble to create eco-friendly, plug-in electric cars, China is already ahead of the game.
Government regulations limit the top speed of e-bikes to about 12 mph. But manufacturers are building bigger and bigger machines with speed regulators that are easily removed.
E-bikes that are basically pedal-powered machines with an electric boost are common in cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but e-scooters with heavier motors and top speeds of around 30 mph, fast enough to rival mopeds, are growing in popularity.
A huge number of e-bike companieshave opened in China. In 2006 there were 2,700 licensed manufacturers, and countless additional smaller shops. Leading manufacturer Xinri (the name means ‘new day’) was founded in 1999 by Zhang Chongshun, an auto parts factory executive who recognized the potential of the field. In its first year Xinri built less than 1,000 bikes; last year it churned out 1.6 million.
Time reports that electric cars will require more powerful recharging stations than the standard wall outlets used to recharge bikes. But when four-wheeled technology becomes road-ready, it will find a willing customer base in China.