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Bicycles are outselling cars in Europe and that might not be just a blip

Reuters/Gary Hershorn
Limos are so pre-financial crisis.
By Lily Kuo
EuropePublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Bicycle sales outpaced new-car sales last year in all of the 27 member countries of the European Union, except Belgium and Luxembourg, NPR reported on Oct. 24. One reason is that car sales have slumped in the midst of the euro-zone crisis, NPR points out. But there are signs that this slump isn’t temporary. It’s a reflection, perhaps, of a larger change in how people are traveling.

In developed economies, the numbers of cars owned and miles traveled have increased most years since the 1950s. Even before the financial crisis, that started to change. In the US, total miles traveled per person plateaued in 2000 and started falling in 2004. (Measured in miles per vehicle, that rate flattened in 2004 and started declining in 2007.) Today, young Americans are less interested in getting their licenses as early as possible or even at all. Meanwhile, global bicycle production has been growing faster than car production since the late 1970s:

There are a couple of reasons for the shift. The cost of fuel and insurance in many countries has gone up. And perhaps more importantly, cars have become less of a badge of prestige or money—at least in developed markets.

In Europe, predictably, countries hit by the economic slowdown have been the first to jump on their bikes. In Italy, in both 2011 and 2012, more bikes were sold than cars. In Spain, last year marked the first time the two-wheeled vehicles had ever outpaced cars since the country started compiling the related data.

However, not all the countries where bikes outsold cars were in economic dire straits. (See NPR’s chart below.) For instance, Lithuania, where bicycles outsold cars a little over nine times, saw its economy grow a healthy 3.6% last year. (That’s despite a slowdown in trade with the rest of the EU countries.) Even as economies recover in Europe and the US, people might be sticking to their bicycles.


Here’s NPR’s chart on sales of new cars versus bicycles in the larger economies of the EU.


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