|Will BMW become "BBW?" London Evening Standard|
BMW, Volkswagen, Peugeot, and Cooper are all starting to sell bicycles under their brands, some engineered in-house and some developed under contract with other companies. While the automakers are probably getting into bikes with an eye to enhancing brand image (think eco-chic), they also have a more immediate goal in mind: cashing in on the burgeoning urban bicycle commuter market.
"Since cycling is growing in popularity and we had the engineering know-how behind us, we decided to start making bikes," Cooper chairman (and bicyclist) Mike Cooper told the Standard. For Peugeot, the move represents a return to the company's origins as a late 19th-century bike manufacturer.
|Eco-chic? Not so much.|
For the time being, the companies' bike lines will probably represent a tiny portion of their business. But there's considerable symbolic significance in this phenomenon. "De-motorization" is already a well-documented phenomenon among Japanese youth, who feel that "having a car is so 20th century." It's something else entirely to see it happening among automakers themselves.
U.S. automakers have occasionally branded some bikes. Instead of urban commuter bikes, however, they've mostly been mountain bikes designed in keeping with their cars' off-road image. The Hummer LX is one example. However, it's doubtful anyone ever conceived the LX as "part of a green city solution," as Peugeot terms its two-wheelers, since the Hummer brand tended to be more associated with running over the natural world than protecting it.
Could US automakers join the urban bicycle market in coming years? Joshua Cregger, industry analyst at the Center for Automotive Research, notes that the domestic automakers have been "shedding non-core businesses," and might not "choose to add an additional product line that is not intimately related to their core strengths."
|Henry Ford, back to the future. Streetsblog|
But as Detroit planning consultant Toni Griffin has suggested, it may be time for Detroit to start thinking in terms of "transportation innovation," not just automobile innovation, especially as the world continues to change. Ford dabbled in mass transit after the energy crises of the '70s, and no clear lines divided the field's pioneers a century ago. Bike mechanic and bike commuter Henry Ford got his first Detroit job at a streetcar works. The Wright Brothers, too, built their aviation career from a bicycle shop, now housed in Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn. Even Detroit tire manufacturers got started producing for the bicycle market.
While urban bicycling in most of the U.S. has yet to reach European proportions, biking is definitely on the rise as more cities get serious about building bikeway systems. As U.S. bicycle sales approach and surpass car sales, and "green jobs" are on everyone's lips, Detroit would be well served by thinking outside the hood.
There may be a substantial untapped market as well: many bicycle commuters prefer local, fair-trade products, but union-made, domestically manufactured bikes are hard to find. Not long from now, in this time of global warming, economic dislocation, and expanding interest in sustainable cities, we might just see some familiar blue and silver badges on some unfamiliar kinds of vehicles.