Bike-sharing startup Hello Chuxing has started selling “intelligent” electric bikes in China, it said on Wednesday during a product launch ceremony held in Beijing, diversifying from its original bike-sharing business, ahead of a reportedly USD 2 billion initial public offering in the US this quarter.
Established players in the e-bike sector have been doing well financially. Yadea (HKSE: 1585) sold 10.8 million electric two-wheelers in 2020, mostly in China, reaping RMB 957.4 million (USD 146.1 million) in net profits, while Niu Technologies (NASDAQ: NIU) sold 137,586 e-scooters in China in Q4 2020, yielding RMB 58.2 million (USD 8.9 million) in net income.
Hello unveiled three models that are equipped with Hello’s in-house software, called VVSmart, offering features such as voice control, real-time battery information, navigation, and other functions. Mobile phones can be docked on the bike and serve as a display.
The bikes all come with batteries made by CATL, the world’s largest EV battery maker, which was also an early investor in Hello Chuxing. The first of the models, named A80, can be pre-ordered on Tmall for a starting price of RMB 3,299 (USD 503). It promises a range of around 70 kilometers and can fully recharge in about one hour, with the battery’s lifespan supporting more than 2,000 charges. The other two versions—the A86 and B80—will be released in May and June.
“In urgent cases, 15 minutes of charging allows for a one-hour ride,” said product manager Ma Tianchi during the launch ceremony, adding that the company also offers a nationwide battery-swap service.
Hello Chuxing, in a joint venture with its investors CATL and Ant Financial, invested RMB 1 billion (USD 150 million) in June 2019 to develop battery-swap services. Currently, a total of 3 million batteries are available in more than 100 cities in China, accounting for 700,000 instances of usage each day, said Ma.
Rebranded from Hello Bike in September 2018, the company is one of the few bike-sharing firms that has survived the evaporation of investor interest since 2017. That year, Ofo registered 32.5 million daily orders in October, the highest in the industry. The company is now just a shadow of its former self and almost went bankrupt, while Meituan took over competitor Mobike in 2018, rebranding it as Meituan Bike last year.
Hello Chuxing, which also provides e-bike sharing and hitch carpooling, claims to have about 400 million registered users. Data provider BigOne Lab told KrASIA that Hello’s number of daily active users hovers between 7 and 25 million, depending on seasonal factors. Sharing services of conventional bikes grew from 28 million users in 2016 to 256 million in 2019, according to iiMedia, which expects the number to fall slightly from here. The research firm names Didi’s Qingju, Meituan Bike, and Hello Chuxing as the three key players in the market.
While Hello Chuxing can be considered a veteran in the bike-sharing sector, it remains to be seen how it positions itself with e-bikes. The firm still sells basic e-bikes for about RMB 1,100 (USD 168) through its Tmall store and brick-and-mortar retail locations.
A store owner surnamed Du in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, said that he considers the quality as “not ideal” compared to similar products he sells. “Hello’s new models boast a high level of intelligence but are still not comparable to vehicles from Segway-Ninebot or Niu, falling more into the tier-two category,” Du told KrASIA. Hello’s affiliation with Alipay, however, adds more trustworthiness, he thinks.
“Whether an e-bike is useful or not depends on the purpose you need it for,” a 28-year-old food courier told KrASIA. “For me, the only thing that matters is the durability of the battery. Other intelligent features aren’t as important,” he said.