Bike vs car – the sales race

By Richard Peace for BikeRadar UK | Friday, October 12, 2012 7.30am

With the news that bikes are outselling cars in Italy for the first time since WWII, we've taken the opportunity to look at global bike vs car sales.

In terms of numbers produced, bikes have pulled clear of cars by some distance since WWII. By 1950, world bike production stood at around 11 million, and car production at about 8 million. Since then, bikes have gained a huge margin, with more than 130 million now produced annually compared to roughly 50 million cars. 

Even if you deduct the 25 million or so electric bike sales from the annual figures, that's still a clear 2:1 ratio in favour of bikes. But a detailed study of the stats throws up some surprising results.

China

China has fallen in love with the car over the last decade, with annual sales rocketing to around 14 million and growing at a scary rate.  

Despite a lack of official figures, it's fair to assume that Chinese bike sales still outstrip car sales by an extremely wide margin, and will do for years to come – indeed, sales of electric bikes alone stand at more than 20 million a year.

However, cycle use has fallen sharply in the country over recent years, with trips taken by bike estimated to have dropped to about 20 percent of all journeys, compared to around a third in 1995.

Even so, there are estimated to be about half a billion bikes in the country, and premium western brands such as Trek, Specialized and Brompton clearly see a future market for their bikes in China, with all having opened 'concept stores' there.   

Top homegrown bike companies: Flying Pigeon, Wheelman

Top homegrown car companies: Chana and Besturn

The EU

About 2 to 2.5 million cars are sold in each of four EU countries a year, accounting for the lion's share of sales – those nations are France, Germany, Italy and the UK. These figures held very steady from 2000 to 2005, but after a brief upward bounce they appear to be heading steadily down.

Germans buy the most bikes of all EU countries, at around 4 million a year. Perhaps surprisingly, the UK comes second at about 3.5 million. France and Italy rank third and fourth respectively, with bike and car sales fairly evenly matched at the moment, though cycle sales appear to be on the up in both countries.

Cycling has undoubtedly undergone a mini boom in the UK in recent years, with cited reasons varying widely and including Olympic sporting success, the growth of the National Cycle Network and the Cycle to Work scheme.  

Electric bike sales in the Netherlands and Germany have exploded in recent years. 'Regular' cycle sales stagnated or fell off in Holland, but e-bike numbers have been growing by more than 10 percent annually for several years, accounting for around 15 percent of the Dutch bike market in 2011.

The traditional dutch bike is famous worldwide, but e-bikes are becoming more popular in the netherlands:

Top homegrown bike companies: The Accell Group is vast, owning well-known brands such as Focus, Raleigh and Kalkhoff

Top homegrown car companies: Volkswagen, Renault

USA 

The car market has shrunk dramatically in the US in recent years – in 1999, about 10 million vehicles were sold there, and despite a small recent rally, sales look to have dropped to an estimated 7 million. Cycle sales have been holding pretty steady since the early 1990s, fluctuating between 15 and 20 million.  

With five cars for every four US citizens, and a seemingly long haul out of recession ahead, it seems car sales might have reached saturation point in America. If more cities could follow the lead of places like Portland, Oregon, then bike use and sales could skyrocket.

Top homegrown bike companies: Trek, Specialized

Top homegrown car companies: General Motors, Ford

Japan

Car sales declined in Japan for the first decade of this century, but might be holding steady now, at about 8 to 9 million annually. 

Bike sales in recent years have more or less equalled this number, but the president of leading Japanese bike retailer Asahi forecast that sales would continue to rise steadily on the assumption that oil prices continue their upward trend.    

Top homegrown bike companies: Bridgestone

Top homegrown car companies: Nissan, Honda and Toyota

India

India's motor vehicle production exploded between 2000 and 2010, rising from around 800,000 to nearly 4 million. Bike sales are huge, estimated at around 15 million.  

Top homegrown bike companies: Hero-Eco

Top homegrown car companies: Tata

Taiwan

Tiny in car terms and a relatively small market for bike sales, but Taiwan is a modern bike-making phenomenon, manufacturing both cheap and cheerful bikes and high-end products. 

Taiwanese company Giant are generally recognised as the world's largest cycle producer, and have factories in China, the Netherlands and Taiwan.  

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