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Oil, environment, lifestyle fuel Asia's two-wheeler boom

by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) April 12, 2008
Record high oil prices, environmental concerns, affluent lifestyles as well as the need to dodge city traffic are driving a boom in Asia's motorcycle and bicycle market, industry figures say.

The rediscovery of cycling as a way to keep fit is also helping to boost demand for two-wheelers, those at a bicycle and motorcycle exhibition which runs in Singapore until Sunday said.

Asia is already the world's biggest market for two-wheelers but there is still room for growth, said Roberto Fabbri, managing director of the Bike Asia International Bicycle and Motorcycle Exhibition.

In cities plagued by daily traffic snarls, bicycles and motorbikes have become a popular means of transportation.

Asians are also shifting to two-wheelers because of rising awareness of the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, said Fabbri.

"Today's rising oil prices and environmental concerns... are leading to a general rediscovery of bicycling reminiscent of the early 1970s, when the Arab oil embargo and high gas prices triggered three exceptionally strong years for bicycle sales," he said.

Some 32.91 million motorcycles were sold in Asia in 2006, compared with 2.75 million in Latin America, 2.47 million in Europe and 1.85 million in North America, Fabbri said.

Global production of bicycles is estimated at around 100 million a year, with China accounting for 80 percent, he added.

With oil prices hovering near historic highs of more than 112 US dollars a barrel, car owners have been left griping about petrol costs.

Singapore Minister of State for Trade and Industry Lee Yi Shyan, who opened the exhibition Thursday, said global demand for motorbikes was estimated at nearly 39 billion US dollars in 2006, with Asia accounting for more than 80 percent.

Asia's rising number of wealthy have also been snapping up top-end motorbikes and expensive titanium bicycles as part of their lifestyle. Some of the pedal-powered machines at the show cost several thousand dollars.

"As people in developing countries get richer, naturally they aspire towards owning cars. But we can see here... with the many high-end bike exhibits, two-wheelers can no longer be seen as just a cheaper alternative to four," said Lee, surrounded by motorcycles ranging in price from 2,575 to 24,200 US dollars.

Traders at the show are upbeat. Malaysian motorbike-maker Demak says its sales have risen at least 40 percent over the past three years.

"Motorcycles are now a basic necessity. With the fuel price hikes and rising toll charges, they are the most economical mode of transportation," said Hon Swee Leong, a deputy general manager at the company.

"The two-wheeler lifestyle is a lifestyle statement. With Asians being the nouveau riche, I believe bike companies here will see great potential in an increasingly sophisticated Asian market," minister Lee added.

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