Inside Information: Trade Show Wars and Industry Trends in Europe

Pre-covid, many Australian bicycle industry members made an annual pilgrimage to Eurobike, hosted by the scenic, small city of Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Recently major changes been announced regarding the dates, ownership and host city for Eurobike, which will be hosted in July in Frankfurt from 2022.

Plus, there’s a huge new competitor, in the form of the Munich-based IAA motor show. This show, founded in 1897 has attracted over one million visitors in peak years, but more recently has faced backlash and protests from environmental groups.

From 2021, IAA is rebranding as IAA Mobility and adding bicycles / micromobility. They’ve already announced over 60 bike exhibitors including some major names such as Specialized, SRAM, Scott and Bosch.

This year’s dates make it difficult, but just possible for exhibitors to do both shows. Eurobike will run from 1st – 4th September and IAA Mobility from 7th – 12th September.

With polished media spin from both camps, what’s really going on, both with trade shows and in the broader European cycling market in general?

Markus Fritsch

We decided to ask an expert.

Markus Fritsch is a bicycle trade media veteran with decades of experience and deep contacts across the European bicycle industry.

He’s the co-founder / publisher of several leading German language trade and consumer cycling media platforms including, Fahrstil, VeloPlan and VivaVelo.

Markus recently gave The Latz Report this exclusive interview covering a wide range of key topics.

Which Show Will Win?

“I think that each show fulfils a different task,” Markus responded. “They target different audiences.

“To me Eurobike, is still the big trade show for the bicycle industry.

“With the move, building a joint venture with Messe Frankfurt, is trying to transform Eurobike into more of a mobility show, highlighting the meme of a bicycle as a form of mobility, but the main focus will still be bicycles.

“IAA, the car show, is trying to re-invent their format. In the past, they’ve been a car show, nothing else.

“Now the times are changing. Society is changing. Producing a car show doesn’t feel very up to date anymore, so they’re trying to re-invent the IAA as a mobility show.

“So on the one hand you have a bicycle show trying to become more of a mobility show (Eurobike) and on the other side, you have a car show trying to become a mobility show. At a certain point in the middle, you may have some overlap, but I think both shows are still different.

“Brands would exhibit in IAA if they want to be part of the bigger picture and for consumer contact, not so much for trade contacts. Eurobike will remain primarily for trade contacts and international contacts in particular.

“Apart from the biggest brands, most companies won’t have the budget and time to exhibit at both shows. It’s difficult to foresee how both shows will work side by side. From their communications, IAA wants to become the major show for the bicycle world, but I’m not convinced the bike industry is really ready to support a car show, because in the end, the IAA is still mainly a car show.

“Bike industry members may see their approach as a kind of ‘green washing’, polishing up their image, because there has been criticism against the car industry.

“The talks between Eurobike and Frankfurt have been going on for quite some time. Messe Friedrichshafen has been quietly suggesting Frankfurt as a ‘Plan B’ location for some years already, in case the bike industry stops supporting Friedrichshafen because of its limited hall size and difficult accessibility.

“Clearly the Messe Friedrichshafen was at the limit of its growth in terms of exhibition space.

They talked to other cities as well, but over the past couple of years, it has been clear that Frankfurt was the favourite.

“Messe Friedrichshafen and Messe Frankfurt, which are both publicly owned companies have formed a new joint venture company, Fairnamics GmbH. Messe Friedrichshafen owns 51% of Fairnamics and Messe Frankfurt owns 49%.

“They’ve put two trade shows into this new company, Eurobike and an airplane show and they’re talking about other trade shows, such as the Velo Berlin consumer show, which Messe Friedrichshafen is already running and some mobility shows that Messe Frankfurt is running.

“Messe Friedrichshafen is bringing Eurobike and Messe Frankfurt, being one of the biggest show companies in the world, is bringing financial power. It remains to be proven, but on paper, this looks like a very good co-operation of two strong players,” Markus concluded.

According to media statements, there will be no personnel changes to the Eurobike team.

IAA is the world’s largest motor show, far larger than Eurobike in size and attendance. Will it take over as the leading bike show too?

Car Industry Take-Over?

“The car industry is getting more influential in the bicycle industry every year,” Markus observed. “If you look at the Pon bike group, they come from the automotive world. Major e-bike drive suppliers like Bosch and Brose come from the automotive world.

“There are rumours right now that major car companies are looking at bigger bike brands to acquire. So I think the influence of the automotive players in the bike industry is increasing.

“In the past, bicycles for brands like Volkswagen or BMW have just been seen as accessories.

“It’s hard to say how serious their interest in bicycles is. But from a bigger perspective, most car brands are facing the fact that urban mobility is changing drastically. They’re concerned that in the future, their brands won’t be visible in inner cities anymore.

“Their main business will still be selling cars, but they’re trying to find how they can still participate in future forms of mobility. And it’s very clear that the bicycle, especially with an electric motor, will be a very important player in future mobility.

“So it’s quite logical that car brands are eyeing the bike industry as a future part of their business, not just an accessory.”

German Bicycle Market Trends

With a population of 83 million, Germany is the most populous nation in western Europe. It also has the world’s fourth largest economy, that is by far the largest economy in all of Europe, significantly larger than France and Italy and more than double that of the more populous, but much poorer, Russia.

Cycling in Germany is very popular, so thanks to its wealth and population, this means that it’s by far the largest bicycle market in Europe, with over 5.1 million units sold in 2020, of which almost two million were e-bikes. The average sale price per unit is also far higher than Australia’s, in part reflecting the much larger market share that IBD’s have compared to mass merchants in Germany in comparison to Australia and in part, the importance German consumers place upon quality bikes and the premium they’re prepared to pay.

Therefore, German trends and demand have a significant influence upon the global bicycle market, which in turn impacts much smaller markets such as Australia’s.

We asked Markus what are the biggest trends that he’s been seeing over the past couple of seasons.

“It’s hard to say how much the latest trends have been influenced by covid or to what extent they’re just natural developments that would have happened anyway,” he began.

“We’re seeing in Germany and also in most of Europe, that the majority of mountain bikes sold now are e-MTB’s.

“The cargo segment is growing very strongly. Still, the overall numbers are not that big, but the unit price is really high, so in terms of turnover, this has really become an important category for retailers and the industry.

“Many cities are now giving subsidies for purchasing cargo bikes. This is not happening on a federal basis, but for certain cities such as Berlin, Munich or whoever. This is pushing sales as well.

“Gravel bikes are really big. If you’re a consumer wanting to buy a gravel bike right now, you won’t get one because they’re sold out. Gravel bikes are the new road bike if you like.

“Road bikes are still an attractive niche, but the majority of drop-handlebar bikes now have 30 mm-plus tyres – gravel bikes have taken over the road category. You also see many gravel bikes used, not on gravel, but on city streets.

“One interesting trend here has been in the kids’ bike market. It’s seen a big shift to higher quality and higher prices. New brands like Woom, which is an Austrian brand, has really pushed the market to a new level, almost doubling the sale price.

“Five years ago parents’ perspectives were that the kids bike had to be cheap, durable and things like weight, performance and functionality weren’t so important. But now, many parents are paying up to 400 to 500 Euros (A$630 to $790) for a kids bike.

“Bicycle tourism has really been boosted by covid. People haven’t been able to travel overseas so they’re rediscovering their home country and the bicycle is often their preferred mode. Bicycle tourism was already big in Germany, but it’s even bigger now.

“It’s still difficult to predict what will happen in the e-road category. You see every major brand offering them, but the numbers sold are still small. My feeling is that the consumer is not ready for them. The market is not there yet.

“Bicycle subscription services like Swapfiets have become big here.”

Stock Supply

It’s not just Australia that is experiencing stock shortages.

“I just went to the ZEG dealer show in Cologne,” Markus revealed. (This is a huge buying group with over 1,000 IBD members, that has no direct equivalent in Australia).

“Most of the 2022 bicycle samples had signs saying ‘sold out’. They had been fully pre-ordered.

“In most regions, the bicycle shops had to close for several months until a few weeks ago, which has slowed sales. But the restrictions varied between regions. Most shops were still allowed to do repairs and in some areas, they could see customers by appointment.

“When I talk to retailers, they’re telling me that they’re pretty well stocked with bicycles, just not every model that they would like to have. But the future supply is still very difficult.

“If demand stays as high as it is now, the supply situation will become quite difficult,” Markus predicted.

European Manufacture

Given the supply and freight problems from Asia, is much manufacture returning to Europe?

“It’s a trend, but not a short term trend,” Markus reported. “We’re seeing a lot of Asian companies, particularly from mainland China, setting up subsidiary companies in Europe to manufacture here.

“For example, Bafang (the leading Chinese e-bike drive system supplier) opened a big factory in Poland last year.

“Recently I heard about a big Chinese battery manufacturer opening a factory in Europe. “Major bike brands are doing more production closer to the market in Europe. These developments take some time.”

Government Policies to Support Cycling

Despite its booming bicycle market, it appears that the German government is not as strongly pro-cycling as those in some of its neighbouring countries.

“There has been strong verbal support for cycling from the government for several years now,” said Markus. “But bicycle activists have been criticising that it’s only words, not backed by funding, which has been pretty low.

“Germany is a federation of states. Real changes mostly happen on a regional level, not on a federal level. The federal government is putting in some money now and making more favourable regulations for cycling, but the real changes are happening at a regional and city level.

“It’s not a homogenous situation across Germany. It varies significantly from city to city. Some cities are in stronger financial situations than others.

“You can now have a bicycle supplied through your employer as part of your salary, which saves tax. This scheme has become huge in Germany.

“E-bikes that only give power up to 25 kph are seen as a bicycle. They only have to meet bicycle regulations and can ride on bike paths.

“We have ‘speed pedelecs’ which go up to 45 kph but they’re classed as a motorbike with specific regulations. We have this category in Germany but it’s far from being as popular as it is in Switzerland, for example.

“It’s a very small percentage of the e-bike market. You’re not allowed to ride them on bicycle paths or forest trails in Germany. You need registration, which covers third party insurance.

“You have to have a certified helmet (unlike regular bikes and e-bikes in Germany where no helmet is required). You have to have rear vision mirrors, a horn and I think a drivers’ licence. You’re not allowed to tow a child trailer.

“I think that’s why they’re unpopular here, whereas in Switzerland you’re allowed to ride them on bicycle paths.”

E-bike and E-Scooter Sales Growth

Markus continued, “From what I hear from the sales floors, most retailers are seeing pretty massive growth this year.

“If you look at overall bicycle sales growth in Germany you’ll see growth but not to the same percentage. So e-bikes are increasing their market share. In 2014 it was about 10% e-bikes in 2020 is was about 50%.

“With more ebikes sold, the overall turnover is growing very strongly. So even if unit sales do not grow massively, turnover will continue to grow strongly.

“In Germany use of e-scooters is growing but it’s nothing like the situation in Paris where e-scooters are everywhere. Most German cities are more restrictive on allowing scooter-share schemes.”

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