Asians rarely line up at the start of the Tour de France, yet they have already become little queen kings in a few decades. Brussels has tried to put rhetoric on its wheels since 1993* by imposing anti-dumping taxes on bikes made in China. Ace. The European Union has only partially succeeded in stopping the dominance of the former Middle Kingdom in this market.
In fact, the vast majority (90%) of bicycle components assembled on the Old Continent still come from Xi Jinping Country or its close neighbours. It’s not just the brake systems, rails, wheels and tires, but the frame, which is the centerpiece of the cycle industry that is grafted on all other types. As a result, the current enthusiasm for two-wheeled bikes, if good for the climate, mainly benefits Asian manufacturers.
death? Not sure about that. The epidemic and its repercussions could re-shuffle the cards within the sector. Illustration of the French electric bike specialist Easybike. The group, created in 2005, didn’t wait for the coronavirus to cure its World Factory addiction. After purchasing the Solex and Matra brands, he excelled in 2015 by reassembling these bikes made in China and Taiwan to his factory in Saint-Lô. Which was inaugurated in the same year by the former Minister of Productive Recovery, Arnaud Montbourg, Cantor Made in France.
The wheel is spinning
Since then, its founder has pursued the ambition of freeing himself, at least in part, from his dependence on Asian ingredients. ” We were pioneers, we want to remain so ‘, he explains. The sudden rise in transportation cost multiplied by seven “The lack of regulation of Chinese production caused by the coronavirus has prompted Gregory Tribol to speed up… by conviction as much as commitment. Because this new situation is putting her business under pressure.
” With factories there closed for four months, it was overcrowded when activity resumed. Shimano, for example, takes 450 more days to deliver a spotty track compared to 120 days before “, Regard.
To avoid interrupting production, Easybike has completely redesigned its supply doctrine. After reducing the number of its suppliers in the early 2010s, the group followed the exact opposite path. From about thirty service providers, it has grown to 110 by recalling new equipment manufacturers in Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic, Croatia and Germany. To achieve this, the company has strengthened its purchasing department by drawing inspiration from automotive methods. Driving was assigned to a former Stellantis, whose number 1 comes directly from Renault. ” We doubled down on our supply chain business and invested in people. Where the team is made up of suppliers, we now have expert managers ‘, we were told.
To offset the increased costs generated by this new approach, management has eased running expenses. Continuing less and prudent investments. ” We are more like ants than cicadas.»
When is the escape?
But a drastic change of gear put in place Gregory Tripol to perfect this weaning. With the support of Arnaud Montebourg, he gives himself a year to build a factory in France for tires of composite materials. his goal? Replace those in aluminum from the other side of the world that power the Matra Group bikes. He says the prototype is ready and the business model is still there. ” It takes three hours to weld the metal frame, while it takes two minutes to manufacture it in composite injection. Even if the investment in the injection line is higher, the replacement is profitable when large quantities are manufactured While waiting for the project to be put into orbit, the composite tires were ordered from a German manufacturer. They should be marketed in the second half of this year.
Solex brand tires should also undergo changes in the short term. The group plans to recall the Fonderie du Midi (Bouches-du-Rhône) which had already supplied it with a magnesium prototype. Historically, the Vitrolles foundry has specialized in the railway industry and has begun to make a name for itself in the bicycle industry, which today accounts for 30% of its activity. ” It is a market in which there are many opportunities, but it is rare that the demands of manufacturers arise from the desire to relocate. says Guillaume Bouton, its managing director.
For his part, Gregory Tripol believes he can make up the price difference (about 20%) with Asia. ” With the current transportation cost, the difference is reduced to 4 or 5%. This is the price to pay to be saved on time. And to be able to sell bikes when the customer needs them “.With these two solutions the interested party hopes to be able within two years to replace at least half of the importing executives.” Getting rid of it completely is not a utopia ‘, he adds.
The Portuguese example seems to validate this analysis. By joining forces and helping each other through Chinese joint ventures and European aid, manufacturers in the Aguada region (south of Porto) were able to produce components and assembly bikes capable of competing with Asian two-wheelers.
*Since 2013, seven other countries have been subject to these taxes: Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Cambodia, Pakistan and the Philippines. A decision made on the basis of an investigation that proved that Chinese goods passed through it to circumvent European regulations.