Car companies. They’re the bad guys who eliminated urban cycling in the UK and elsewhere. They brought us the joy that is one giant SUV after another on our narrow roads; originally built for bicycles, narrow vans and the odd truck. Now they want into the e-bike industry as well. Haven’t they done enough damage?
To be fair to them, there are a couple of potential benefits they can bring to the cycling industry. But before I get to that, I want to run through the obvious downsides.
High tech solutions to questions no-one asked
They’ll try to advocate for cars and bikes coexisting without infrastructure, and push overly complicated technology for bikes and cars to talk to each other. Just as momentum starts to build for bans on private cars in urban areas, they’d love to set us back and seduce neoliberal lawmakers (who eat this kind of stuff up) with plans to make cars and bikes work together by leveraging new technology. Why do the obvious thing of getting rid of the cars and having all that glorious space and clean air, when we can have cars and bikes that talk to each other and traffic lights to avoid collisions? It’s not as if we could use our eyes and ears to see bikes and pedestrians coming or anything.
They’ll try to increase speeds in e-bike regulations from 25kph to make them more like small motorcycles. This is a big one. Car companies are supposedly about speed and efficiency, so of course they won’t be able to resist lobbying their mates in power for higher e-bike speeds; and they may well think why not get rid of the pedals too while we’re at it? Never mind that you get stuck in traffic and passed by people on bikes gliding along to their destinations before you.
They’ll try to use cycling to greenwash their businesses so they can phase out fossil cars or privately owned EVs later. Clearly, the car industry loves a bit of greenwashing. Manufacturers often promote hybrids while giving the impression that they’re better than EVs because you don’t have to plug them in. Just ignore the fact that you still have to fill them with explosive fossil juice. Or they make a car that powers the wheels like an EV, except the only way to charge it is with a tank of petrol. Seriously. Nissan calls that e-Power.
Presumably the next logical step would be to distract people with some e-bikes to make you look really green. But of course if you want to travel further than e-bike range, you’ll still want that aforementioned giant fossil powered SUV. Ok, maybe I’ll be charitable and say it’s a hybrid by 2025 when the world’s melting.
As a desperation move, I could imagine a car company or two buying a bike company and rebranding it in a last ditch effort to turn around their flagging fortunes when private car sales drop off a cliff. Or, alternatively, I could see it in the case of a manufacturer that gets caught particularly flat-footed during the EV transition. A rapid pivot to Micromobility might be the only play left to save the company.
I did promise some positives, so here they are. Or here’s one anyway. All I could come up with. The car industry will bring a new perspective and prioritise vehicle grade components that last for urban journeys. Especially for cargo bikes, trikes and quads. But, the thing is that you can get a new perspective without resorting to embracing the car industry. Almost anyone from any industry can come in with a fresh vision of what bikes should be (anything without a derailleur would be a start). It’s not worth the risk of the automotive sector wrecking the bike industry. And I’m not saying that as someone who thinks much of the bike business. I’m very much of the opinion that it requires a massive shake up.
So… I guess that makes zero positives actually…
Before I write them off entirely, I should mention that this is assuming the current neoliberal system stays as it is. The system which of course will kill us all in due course if it does. However, if / when we do nationalise the car industry under a new economic system, it becomes a whole new ball game. You would have the engineering expertise of the auto industry but without the profit motive. In that case, you could repurpose their vast factories to make cargo bikes at record pace, and you wouldn’t have to worry about them lobbying for turning e-bikes into small motorcycles, since there would be no one left to lobby. The government (and the people) would be running the show.
So technically there was one positive in the end; but it probably won’t be a possibility any time soon when you look at the state of our politics. For example, Penny Mordaunt says she will cut fuel tax in half if she becomes PM (sigh).