Japan’s Electric Bicycle Makers Rush to Meet Demand from Urban Commuters

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Panasonic Cycle Technology Co. employees commute by bicycle in Kashiwara, Osaka Prefecture, on Dec. 3.

OSAKA — As some companies are recommending employees to commute by bicycle during the pandemic, an increasing number of people are turning to electric bicycles as they are easier to pedal. Accordingly, manufacturers are rushing to increase production in response to the growing demand.

Panasonic Corp., the largest electric bicycle manufacturer in Japan, expects to ship about 360,000 units in fiscal 2020, up more than 10% from the previous fiscal year.

Subsidiary Panasonic Cycle Technology Co., which produces the bicycles, saw shipments of commuter models during the April-October period increase 40% from a year earlier. Since then, sales have continued to exceed those of the previous year.

As electric bicycles run on batteries and have a motor to assist when pedaling, riders do not easily get tired over a long distance. Sporty models have been popular, with shipments increasing 80% during the June-July period.

Takayoshi Tanizawa, director of Panasonic Cycle Technology, travels more than an hour by bicycle from his home in Osaka to his company’s headquarters in Kashiwara, Osaka Prefecture.

“I have to get up earlier than usual, but I can avoid crowds and enjoy the scenery along the road,” he said.

Bridgestone Cycle Corp., based in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture, also saw its sales increase by 15% during the June-November period on a year-on-year basis.

A spokesperson of Yamaha Motor Co. said that small types are popular because they can easily pass through crowds in urban areas.

Asahi Co. based in Osaka, which operates bicycle sales outlets, also saw its sales rise 20% during the February-August period from a year earlier.

At Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. based in Tokyo, the number of bicycle insurance policies jointly developed with a subsidiary of messaging app provider Line Corp. was 10 times higher in April, and three to five times higher in May and August, compared to January.

An increasing number of companies are encouraging their employees to commute by bicycle.

In August, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry started a project to certify companies and organizations that meet requirements, such as securing parking lots for bicycles and making it mandatory for employees to purchase bicycle insurance policies. As of the end of November, 35 companies and organizations had been certified.

One such certified company is Kyoto-based internet-related firm Hatena Co., which has been encouraging its employees to commute by bicycle since 2005 and has been making efforts such as securing bicycle parking spaces around its offices. Recently many of the employees are teleworking, but before the spread of the infection, more than 30% of its employees at the head office used bicycles.

Tokyo-based Coca-Cola Bottlers Japan Inc. has extended benefits such as reimbursements for bicycle parking fees to part-time workers as well.