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What Trump's Tariffs Could Mean For Companies That Make Electric Powered Bikes


Trade negotiators for the U.S. and China were back at the bargaining table today, but there's been no breakthroughs. The trade war ramped up today with previously announced tariffs by both sides going into effect. The Trump administration's goal was to protect U.S. jobs, ideally bringing back some manufacturing work. But it doesn't always work out that way. Reporter Jeff Tyler looks at what the tariffs mean for a single industry, the one making electric or battery-powered bikes.

JEFF TYLER, BYLINE: Workers assemble electric bikes or e-bikes in Seattle. Rad Power Bikes used to sell its least expensive ones for $1,500 each. But that changed today because the e-bikes and its motors are made in China.

TY COLLINS: As a result of the tariffs, we're increasing the price on all of our models by $200 per model.

TYLER: That's Ty Collins, the company's co-founder. He says there is no infrastructure in the U.S. to produce the tens of thousands of e-bikes the company sells. So there really aren't a lot of e-bike manufacturing jobs in the U.S. to protect. But the company does employs 60 people at its headquarters. Yesterday, the eight-person sales team in the call center was very busy.

COLLINS: We've seen about 10 times the number of sales in the past week than we typically would - people just trying to make sure that they can get an order in before the price increase caused by the tariffs.

TYLER: Collins remains optimistic that the company will still hit $50 million in revenues this year. But the tariffs aren't going to help.

COLLINS: Increasing the price is definitely going to put us out of reach for some consumers.

TYLER: The tariffs represent a headwind for an industry that had been taking off. While sales of traditional bikes have been flat, e-bikes are all the rage. Young people use them as an alternative to cars and expensive Uber rides. Older riders appreciate the extra boost when their legs tire out. Alex Logemann is with PeopleForBikes, an industry association.

ALEX LOGEMANN: E-bikes have just been one of these really bright spots for the last two to three years with sales growing by as much as 80 to a hundred percent each year.

TYLER: To see what all the fuss is about, I stopped by Electric Bikes of Santa Monica.

Hey. How's it going?

I tried out a Raleigh Redux, which has a plug-in electric motor with a range of 20 to 60 miles depending on the power setting. For a real test, I took it up a steep hill.

It feels like I'm being pulled along, like there was a rope towing me up the hill. I'm almost at the top of the hill, and I'm a little bit out of breath but nothing like I would be with a regular bicycle.

For the bike's maker, the biggest challenge isn't figuring out how to improve performance. It's navigating the political landscape between two economic giants. Larry Pizzi is president of Raleigh, whose parent company is based in Kent, Wash.

LARRY PIZZI: When we learned of the threat of the 25 percent tariff, we began the process of stopping production of these products in mainland China.

TYLER: But those manufacturing jobs won't be coming here. They'll move to other Asian countries.

PIZZI: It's impractical to believe that in the near term we can move production back to the United States as the bike industry really has a global supply chain.

TYLER: And it's not just an issue for e-bikes. That supply chain impacts most other types of bikes, too. Again, Alex Logemann.

LOGEMANN: Ninety-four percent of the overall bike market for complete bikes is imported from China.

TYLER: Because of that, most bikes sold in the U.S. could be targeted in the next round of tariffs. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tyler in Santa Monica. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Tyler