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A black day for the electric bike business, a whole decade of market obstruction to come

ETRA calls 20th September a black day for the electric bicycle business. That day, the European Parliament has voted the Regulation on the approval and market surveillance of two- or three-wheel vehicles and quadricycles. On the one hand, the new type-approval legislation is an open invitation for manufacturers who are looking to skirt the type-approval. On the other hand, the legislation remains totally unadapted to electric bicycles and will therefore continue to obstruct their market development for at least another decade.

In an ultimate appeal to the Members of the European Parliament, ETRA had implored them not to accept Article 2.2(g), which excludes vehicles primarily intended for off-road use and designed to travel on unpaved surfaces from the type-approval procedure. As a result, they only have to comply with the General Product Safety, Machinery and EMC Directives, which hold no specific technical requirements for these vehicles. What’s worse, the exclusion sets no limit to the speed and the motor output for these vehicles.

The MEPs did not respond to the appeal. ETRA Secretary General Annick Roetynck comments: “This article causes us great concern. The fast pedelec category with assistance up to 45 km/h is becoming increasingly popular. Today the overall majority of these vehicles, which are already on the market, are not type-approved even though they must be under current legislation. We are not referring to some dubious products thrown on the market by shady manufacturers. It concerns well-established major brands. One accident with one of these illegal vehicles is likely to greatly damage the whole business.”

Annick Roetynck continues to explain that the fast pedelecs are not type-approved because manufacturers find the procedure too complicated and too expensive. The new type-approval will be even more complicated and expensive, but with Article 2.2(g) the new law offers a way out. The article is so vague that virtually any electric bike could qualify for this exemption. The fact that the technical requirements in the new type-approval are not adapted to electric bicycles, will make it all the more attractive for manufacturers to circumvent the procedure by invoking Article 2.2(g).

Annick Roetynck underlines how the technical requirements in the new type-approval have been developed for conventional combustion engine mopeds and motorcycles, which are quite different from electric bicycles. “Just one example to illustrate the inappropriateness of the requirements. Article 18 stipulates that in the delegated act measures will be developed to prevent tampering with the powertrain. The definition of powertrain is such that for electric bicycles it includes all components related to the mechanical transmission system. Consequently, any replacement of for instance the chain or the gear system will result in a vehicle that does no longer comply with the type-approval unless identical components are used. This is just one example, ETRA has made a full list of all requirements from which electric bicycles should either be excluded or made subject to specific requirements.”

In the next few weeks, ETRA will continue to negotiate with the Commission on the adaption of the requirements to the technical specificity of electric bicycles. But even this process will not be sufficient to prevent problems resulting from Article 2.2(g). What’s more, in some countries with a legal access to the profession of bicycle and motorcycle dealer/repairer, bicycle dealers do not have the right to sell and/or repair electric bicycles subject to the type-approval since these are classified as mopeds. This may well be another reason for manufacturers to put the label “designed for off-road use” on their vehicles.

ETRA is really puzzled by the cheerful reactions of the other stakeholders. ECF, COLIBI and COLIPED have always claimed that ETRA’s proposals were all about getting faster and more powerful vehicles on the road. They consistently failed to understand that ETRA was working for regulations that are adapted to electric bicycles, adequate and effective regulations that ensure safe vehicles. They now cheer about the fact that pedal assisted bicycles remain at 25 km/h and 250W. Yet, they are blind for the fact that as a result of their lobby, Article 2.2(g) creates a dangerous no man’s land for vehicles with no speed and no power output limit. They cheer about 25 km/h and 250W but keep totally quiet about the ticking time bomb of non type-approved fast pedelecs. This is especially strange for COLIBI and COLIPED who call themselves official representatives of the European bicycle and EPAC industry. EPAC and fast pedelec manufacturers are virtually one and the same.

Annick Roetynck concludes: “We have no choice but to continue our fight for better electric bike regulations because the current situation is dangerous and therefore not in the interest of dealers in particular and of the electric bike sector in general. There is a huge lack of clarity and understanding of the rules, which in turn is the perfect breeding ground for abuse. One day the current situation will result in accidents which will badly affect the whole sector from dealers to manufacturers. ETRA’s proposals to improve the regulations for electric bicycles have been sacrificed by Parliament because they were (wrongly) considered to be unsafe. Quite ironical, this decision is bound to result in dangerous vehicles that will affect road safety.”

Filed in: industry news

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