Clear The Air News Blog Rotating Header Image

Bikes Boom In Taiwan As Belts Tighten

Amber Wang – SCMP | Updated on Nov 08, 2008

For the past six months Wayne Hsu has been cycling 45 minutes to his office every day, which he says gets him off to an energetic start and, more importantly, slashes his monthly petrol bill.
Hsu, an airline sales representative in northern Taoyuan county, is among a growing number of people in Taiwan opting for bikes over cars amid rising inflation and a slowing economy.

“Cycling is an inexpensive way to exercise and I’ve encouraged my colleagues and even my boss to follow my lead,” he says.

The new-found devotion to cycling is a great boon for bicycle manufacturers on the island, which was once the world’s leading exporter but has watched business fall since the mid-1990s due to dumping charges and relocations of factories to China where production costs are much lower.

China now is the world’s major supplier of low-cost bicycles, while Taiwan retains its edge in high-end products such as racing-style, mountain and folding bikes with an average price tag of US$222, according to the economics ministry.

Exports reached a record high last year of US$1.05 billion with 4.75 million bikes sold abroad, while this year looks set to break that record with the export of 2.76 million bikes totalling US$635 million in the first six months, government figures showed.

There’s no official data on how many bicycles are sold locally, but industry watchers estimate around 1 million were sold last year on the island of 23 million people.

“Business was booming in 2007 and this year looks to be the best,” says Jeffrey Sheu, spokesman for the world’s leading bicycle maker, Giant Manufacturing.

“Our monthly revenue hit a historical high in August, and September looks like setting a new record.”

Giant’s August and September group revenue rose 27 per cent and 35 per cent year on year to NT$3.91 billion (HK$925 million) and NT$4.12 billion respectively, while revenue is projected to increase for the whole of the year by at least 25 per cent to NT$40 billion.

“Our staff are constantly working overtime to meet the ever-growing demand,” says Sheu.

Orders have poured in for Giant products until the middle of next year, prompting the addition of a new assembly line at its central Taichung base to boost annual production to 1 million bikes from the current 600,000.

As inflation soars and financial markets tumble, Taiwan’s bicycle manufacturers and other businesses catering to the thrifty are thriving as the public becomes increasingly eager to economise.

Pacific Cycles, a Taoyuan-based exporter, began selling its signature folding bikes at home in 2005, and since then they’ve become popular with city dwellers for their lightweight and convenient features.

“Our domestic sales are estimated to increase by 100 per cent this year, compared with 10 to 30 per cent in the past,” despite a 66 per cent price hike to NT$50,000 per bike, says marketing manager Max Yeh.

The folding bike, fondly dubbed “xiao che” in Putonghua, or “little foldable” by fans, weighs about 10kg.

The company will soon unveil a second plant, Yeh says.

Ed Lu, an avid fan of the folding bike in the capital Taipei, says cycling to work helps him relax but he added that he’d prefer cleaner air for the ride.

“If more people start cycling instead of driving, we would be able to improve the air quality while reducing traffic jams,” he says. Lu reflects a growing environmental awareness that bicycle manufacturers say has contributed to the growth in Taiwan.

“The public realise that driving less helps reduce air pollution to protect the environment against global warming,” says Giant’s Sheu.

Taiwan’s government has also promised to expand paths, in a bid to promote cycling as part of its “green policy” aimed at saving energy and reducing carbon emissions.

“The market is likely to peak this year … but cycling requires persistence and it’s restricted by weather conditions,” he says. “We hope more people will cycle regularly as a way of life and not just do so because it’s trendy.”

Agence France-Presse

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *