Shared e-bikes can become the next big thing in China’s vast transportation market. On April 8 Hellobike, China’s two-wheeler industry leader, announced that its joint venture NingdeZhixiang, a partnership with CATL and Ant Financial, raised RMB200 M (USD28.3 M) in funding from Hangzhou-based power electronics solution provider Zhonhen, which will work with Hellobike to improve its e-bike battery technology. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, citizens are wary of taking public transportation. Shared e-bikes, however, are safe and efficient, which could boost their popularity.
On March 24, Hellobike launched Yunqi, a new e-bike model equipped with smart voice navigation systems which can be connected through Bluetooth. Voice navigation helps users focus on riding and road safety since they do not need to constantly look at their phones for directions.
Yunqi e-bikes are equipped with special chips that enable precise navigation and positioning services based on the Beidou system, the most advanced Chinese satellite navigation. It is the first e-bike to use the Beidou navigation system. Hellobike has succeeded in enhancing the location precision of its new e-bikes through enabling “Beidou+GPS+WiFi” functionality, which improves operation and maintenance efficiency by allowing staff to quickly find damaged e-bikes.
Hellobike has also improved the batteries of its e-bikes which are supplied by CATL Battery, a leading vehicle battery manufacturer based in Ningde, Fujian Province. By forming the joint venture with CATL and Ant Financial a year ago, Hellobike has further expanded its cooperation with Zhonhen to develop battery swapping stations. Moreover, Yunqi e-bikes are set to automatically disable the unlock function if their batteries are below 30% full. This will reduce malfunctions and mitigate vandalism.
E-bikes in China
Shared bikes have become popular in China, and the e-bike market is shaping up to be very competitive. Chinese people take nearly 1 billion daily trips on two-wheelers, 700 million of which are made on e-bikes. Companies including DidiChuxing, Hellobike and Meituan are the major players in the e-bike game, but Hellobike boasts the largest market share with over 300 million registered two-wheeler users.
Shared modes of travel, along with advancing technology and online platforms, have reshaped travel habits in China. Shared two-wheelers ease traffic congestion and take pressure off public transportation, providing users a convenient way to get from subway stations to their offices. While users usually ride shared bikes only over short distances, shared e-bikes are targeted at those who need to take trips between 3-8 miles. E-bikes are more efficient and save labor over long distances.
E-bikes are constantly improving, as new models come equipped with smarter technology and better batteries. A number of 3rd and 4th-tier cities have welcomed the emergence of e-bikes. However, shared e-bike businesses still face the problems of high costs, bike maintenance, and limited parking. Efficient battery swapping is another challenge for e-bike providers.
Moreover, shared batteries will soon debut in Chinese e-bikes and scooters, according to a report from Shenwan Hongyuan Securities. Battery swapping stations, where e-bike users can replace dead or dying batteries with fully-charged ones, allow riders to take longer rides with fewer hassles. The future of the shared battery market looks promising, as the number of two-wheeler users continues to expand.
Potential of shared two-wheelers
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the global community’s well-being and lifestyle over the past few months. During the quarantine in Wuhan, public transport including buses, subways, and taxis was suspended. Two-wheeled options, however, became an important mode of transportation for essential workers.
According to a report released by the Wuhan Transportation Planning Institute, more than 23 million people used shared bikes during the 2.5-month lockdown, and shared-bike rides made up more than half the number of total trips taken during that time. The areas surrounding designated COVID-19 hospitals saw the most shared-bike usage. On April 8, when Wuhan reopened, local users took ten times as many rides as they did on January 23, the day the city was locked down, according to Hellobike.
Shared two-wheelers are considered safe and convenient modes of travel during outbreaks of infectious disease. Chinese newspaper Health Times commented that riding alone is safer than taking public transportation. While users can ride shared bikes over short distances, they can make use of e-bikes for longer trips while reducing their risk of contracting the virus.
（Top photo from Hellobike)