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E-Bikes Take The Stage At German Car Show


Now to Germany, where car companies are showing off their latest electric vehicles. And no, we aren't talking just about automobiles. To explain, reporter Emma Hurt and Sally Herships from NPR's The Indicator podcast take us to one of the world's longest-running car shows - the IAA Conference in Munich.

EMMA HURT, BYLINE: Germany is a big deal in the car world, as we all know. We have Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen. But Lutz Meyer, the conference spokesman, told me that this year was not your normal car show year.

So is this really a car show?

LUTZ MEYER: No. It's a mobility show.

HURT: Basically, they were going for a complete rebrand here. Even though they make most of their money from gas cars still, this year, all the hottest new vehicles were electric, and some of the hottest new options at this car show were bikes.

SALLY HERSHIPS, BYLINE: Wait a second. Bikes, drivers and cyclists - they, like, famously hate each other.

HURT: This year in Munich, I have to tell you, the car industry is trying to heal the wounds. They invited those pesky bikers to their biggest party. Lutz, the conference spokesman, says that inviting them to this car show makes sense.

MEYER: The car was invented in Germany - and the bicycle, and the electric motor. And now we are bringing it all together.

HURT: Historically, the big stars of these car shows are your fast, powerful luxury cars burning gas. But fast forward to this year, and it was really tough to find gasoline cars. Actually, some people looked a little offended when I would go around asking, do you have gas cars here? They were like, of course we don't have gas cars here.

HERSHIPS: Beneath this rebranding decision also lies the cold, hard fact that in some parts of Europe, some cars will not be allowed on the street soon. So, for example, in Paris, the city hopes to ban most cars from the city center starting next year. And in Amsterdam, gas and diesel cars will not be allowed after 2030.

HURT: So, you know, what some car companies put on display at this car show were actually their own bikes. I wandered into the cycling section of the car show to talk to Hans Retzlaff about what it feels like to be the bike guy there. He works with a big German bicycle company, Kettler.

Does it feel like you are sort of like the stepchildren of this conference, or do you feel like you are the newcomer coming in and everybody's a little afraid of you? You know what I mean?

HANS RETZLAFF: Well, there are two answers on that. There's two possibilities to answer. You can say they took us to get an alibi (ph). Well, we agreed, we are getting green. But from our point of view, I think it's a chance to be here.

HERSHIPS: Is he saying that the car companies are bringing in the bike companies, like, as a form of greenwashing?

HURT: That's been an undercurrent of the conference, right? And that's the question. Are they just using the bike companies? But from his perspective, you know, either way, we are really excited to be here because we believe that our bikes are the future.

HERSHIPS: If you look at the data, that totally makes sense. In Europe and here in the United States, too, e-bikes have had a real moment during the pandemic. In the last year, Americans spent - get ready for it - $681 million on e-bikes. Car companies are paying attention to all of this.

HURT: Hans with Kettler, the bike company, says they can't make bikes fast enough to keep up with demand these days. And as he pointed out to me with a little bit of a smile, they don't have a brand problem like the car companies still do.

Emma Hurt.

HERSHIPS: Sally Herships, NPR News.


Sally Herships