Importing E-bikes from China: A Complete Guide

Discussion in 'Electric Bicycles' started by enoecochiang, Nov 16, 2015.

  1. enoecochiang

    enoecochiang New Member

    An e-bike is a rather complex system of mechanical and electrical components. While that can be said about many products, getting your product specifications right is critical when importing e-bikes from China. Buyers in the US, Europe and Australia need to be even more cautious. E-bikes, and its components, are regulated - and the consequences of non-compliance are serious. Let's begin by taking a look at the technical aspects.


    Components and product specifications


    First of all, the price of the electric bike is entirely based on the component composition (i.e. certain battery models and brands are more expensive than others, etc). Therefore, you cannot compare the prices between e-bikes, but rather compare sets of components against each other.


    What's more, Chinese suppliers, including those in the e-bike industry, tend to lack strict internal quality guidelines. In practice, this means that many supplier basically uses any components they have in stock - unless you explicitly "tell them" to use specific components. Let's look into the most important specifications when buying electric bikes from China:


    Gears


    Gears are not "made in house" by e-bike suppliers. Like many other components, these are purchased from other suppliers. Manufacturing gears is not that simple, and replacing them is expensive. That's the reason why most importers prefer to use brand name gears, from reliable manufacturers, such as Shimano.


    That doesn't mean you need to call up Shimano and arrange them to supply your manufacturer in China. They are already present in the country, and all respectable e-bike supplier are already buying gears from established brands.


    Motor


    Selecting the right motor is not only about quality, but also regulations in your home country. Due to speed limitations, the motor wattage is restricted in most markets. Below follows an overview:


    European Union: 180W - 250W
    Australia: 200W
    United States: 350-750W
    Most E-bike suppliers purchase motors from domestic manufacturers in China. That is not necessarily anything bad, but the supplier should at least be able to present documents showing compliance with directives such as CE and RoHS. These are EU standards (thus not legally required in the US, Canada or Australia), but acts as a sign of good quality.


    Battery


    The battery, usually a Li-Ion (Lithium Iron Phosphate), quality differ in terms of weight, lifespan and capacity. Most batteries use battery cells from well known brands, such as Panasonic, Samsung and Sanyo. The supplier shall also be able to prove that the battery is compliant with relevant product regulations.


    Charger


    The key concern when selecting a charger is compliance with applicable electrical safety standards, in the destination market. As in the case of batteries, a supplier shall be able to show compliance documentation, such as test reports and certificate of compliance, that is valid for the specific charger model you're buying. There are plenty of poorly constructed and unsafe chargers in China. Low quality chargers are potential electrical and fire hazards.


    Frame


    Most importers select a frame based on design, material (usually an aluminum alloy) and weight. The frame is often what sets suppliers apart in China. While all e-bike manufacturers purchase most mechanical and electrical components from subcontractors (e.g. gears from Shimano), many make the frame in house.


    It's also possible to custom design frame. But, product customization requires investment in additional tooling such as molds. Don't expect your supplier to finance this.


    Other components and specifications


    A frame with gears and a battery doesn't add up to an entire e-bike though. Below follows a list of product specifications that you shall include on your sales agreement when buying electric bikes:


    Fork (Material, Suspension type)
    Handlebar (Material)
    Stem (Material)
    Rim (Material, Type)
    Wheel size (Dimensions)
    Tire (Material, Dimensions)
    Controller (Brushless: Yes / No)
    Brake (Type, Brand)
    Foldable (Yes / No)
    Frame Color
    Logo (Type of print, colors, position and dimensions)
    Net Weight
    Max Speed (e.g. 25 km/h for EU bikes and 32 km/h for US / Canada)
    Loading Capacity (usually 90 - 120 kgs)
    Based in the United States, Europe or Australia? Read this!


    E-bikes, manufactured in or imported to, the United States, Europe or Australia (and a number of other markets) are subject to product safety regulations. Some directives specifically regulates electric bikes (assembled product), such as European product safety standard EN 15194, while other directives, like CE and RoHS, regulates components - including batteries and chargers.


    Far from all e-bike suppliers in China are able to show previous compliance with western product safety regulations. In fact, I expect that no more than 10 - 12% of China's e-bike manufacturers can show previous compliance with European, American and Australian safety standards.


    E-bike suppliers in China


    A few years ago, we were sourcing electric bike suppliers in China for a European client. We presented a number of well established suppliers, also compliant with western product safety regulations, for the client to choose from. But.. the client managed to find a cheaper supplier, one that offered "the same product for a price 10% lower".


    Later on it turned out that the "cheap supplier" didn't live up to the buyers expectation. It turned out to be a highly disorganized and dusty workshop that basically put together whatever scrap they could find. The buyer lost a lot of money, and the "cheap deal" turned out to be not much more than a mirage. Keep reading and I'll explain why there's such a vast quality difference between suppliers.


    E-bike manufacturers are not making every single component in house. At most, they manufacture the frame and a few metallic parts, while other mechanical and electrical components are purchased from subcontractors.


    Assembling e-bikes is not rocket science. But managing a supply chain of high quality components, in China, is not far from it. The components makes the e-bike, and that's why you shall only work with medium to large scale manufacturers, that are capable of managing such a supply chain, rather than disorganized workshops.


    So, where you find these suppliers? Like many other vehicle and parts manufacturers, E-bike suppliers are mainly located in Zhejiang province. In case you plan to go there, you'll likely end up in any of the following cities:


    Jinhua
    Hangzhou
    Changzhou
    Yongkang
    Ningbo
    Huzhou
    The easiest way to get there is by first flying to Shanghai, and then jump on the high speed train to any of the mentioned cities. But before you book your flight, read this article about preparing a business trip to China.


    Quality Assurance


    There's another reason that client selected a bad supplier. They claimed that their frame weighed about 20% less than their competition. First of all, low end suppliers don't have access cutting edge composite materials. Secondly, never make a supplier selection based on a statement from a random sales agent, that you have never met. Honestly, don't take them by their word even if you meet them.


    The only way to ensure that you get the right quality and components, is by applying a strict Quality Assurance process. When importing e-bikes, the main target is to:


    a.) Identify components
    b.) Ensure that the manufacturer use these components when assembling the e-bike


    We can also help you outline a quality assurance process, tailor made for your project. Click here to find out more.


    Battery shipping restrictions


    There are restrictions in place for shipping batteries of various kinds. You need to make sure that your supplier is able to provide a document specifying the brand, model and type of battery that comes with your electric bikes. Failing to supply such a document may result in your cargo being refused exit in the Port of Loading, in China, or refused entry in the Port of Destination.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 18, 2015

  2. nojokego

    nojokego Guest

    I've hand crafted an Ebike with mostly foreign components but I can still say American made as long as I mention the globally sourced parts being used. The above seems all true but a huge pain in the ass. The above model is for low profit and high volume method of doing business. You'd have to set up accounts at bike stores, set up lines of credit or consign them to move these things. People want a cool looking Ebike that no one else has. That's what I make. All I've seen out there are crazy dirt bike looking things or what looks like conversions on unsold ugly bike designs. My bike is 3000 watts four times the legal limit. No big deal because you can say it's for off road use only and/or push the envelope of what is considered a "kit". You install the batteries and chain it's a kit sort of thing. Low volume nitch sales are where it's at people. I'm planing on only dealing locally to avoid issues and shipping. These things are going to need service and future upgrades that can't be done with a shipped Ebike. Fixed gear 35mph on flats, 25mle range, beach, trail and road riding this thing is a blast. You don't have to ride at night because it's loud, so many advantages. The business model above is the same old same old, stay away unless it's someone else's money you are going to loose, which is how business men work anyway, the'd never risk losing any of there own money, ever!
    nojokego@yahoo.com
     
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