Giant pedals on as consumer tighten belts

The global financial crisis and soaring oil prices have hit the airline and car industries, but for the likes of Taiwanese bicycle maker Giant the crisis proves a boon, dpa reported.

The bike industry has seen its sales soar as people abandoned their cars and motorbikes for bicycles.

Giant Bicycles, the world's largest manufacturer of high-end bikes, said its sales have spiked in recent months, causing the company to raise its 2008 growth target from 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

"There are two factors that boosted our sales - the global financial crisis and the emergence of the leisure lifestyle," Giant spokesman Hsu Li-chung said by phone from Giant's headquarters in Taichung, central Taiwan.

Giant saw its export revenues rise 26 per cent between January and September and reported a 35-per-cent rise year-on-year in September.

Domestic sales were even better - shooting up 100 per cent in the January-September period.

In 2007 Giant manufactured 5.02 million bikes, and in the first half of 2008, output hit 2.96 million units, up 6 per cent year-on-year.

While many companies have been severely shaken by dropping orders in the wake of the US financial crisis, Giant is coasting along smoothly.

In the run-up to the August 8-24 Beijing Olympics, Giant's sales in Beijing rose 30 per cent.

Sales continued strong after the Games, as the world financial crisis erupted and Taiwan was launching a domestic environmental protection campaign. Hsu told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that Giant is optimistic about its exports to the US, Canada and Europe, but is also worried about the effect of the financial crisis.

"The trend to stay healthy and protect the environment will continue, which means people will buy bikes. But the financial crisis will leave people poorer and less able to buy high-end bikes," he said.

"So in 2009, these two factors will even out and likely to keep our sales the same as that of 2008," he said.

"We are a little bit worried that in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Europeans' pockets will be empty and not many want to buy a high-end bike next year," he said.

Giant exports 75 per cent of its bikes - race bikes, offroad bikes and leisure bikes - to North America and Europe, 19 per cent in of its sales go to China and 4 per cent are sold in Taiwan.

Giant will continue its focus on producing high-end bikes as China and Vietnam have replaced Taiwan as the "Bike Kingdoms" for making low-priced bikes.

But for now, at least in Taiwan, the financial crisis has not hurt Giant's business, on the contrary, the company is enjoying such great a ride that company officials can hardly believe their luck.

At Giant's retail shop in Taipei, customers pop in and out of the shop to check bikes, components and accessaries, or to repair their bikes.

"We have not felt the impact of the financial crisis at all. Customers come all the time, and the shop is jammed over the weekend. I cannot the average number of bikes we sell a day. It varies from five to 20. But on a good day, we can sell 50 bikes a day," a young salesman said.

"Because of the financial crisis and the soaring oil price, many Taiwanese have stopped driving to work. They ride bikes to the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) System station, park their bikes or fold them up, and take the MRT to work," Hsu said.

"The other factor is the Taiwan government's promoting the leisure lifestyle, telling people to slow down and enjoy life, and to ride bikes to stay fit," he added.

While the government advertised bike tours for foreign tourists and built bike paths in cities and their suburbs, civic groups held cycling tours and races for fun or for fund-raising.

Local governments are encouraging local residents to ride bikes to improve their health and reduce air pollution caused by motorbikes, the main means of transportation in Taiwan.

"Some 3.2 per cent of Taipei residents ride bikes to work. We hope their number will keep growing as we improve the facilities for cycling and as people become more conscious about environmental protection and health," municipal official Shen Shu-hsien said.

Riding bikes has become so popular that Taiwan media regularly reports that some official, celebrity or a person dying from cancer has cycled around the island "to set a record" or "to leave something behind."

Owning an expensive bike is now a symbol of status.

Fan Chiang-an, a photography shop owner in Taoyuan County, is so obsessed that he bought 15 German-made Birdy bikes, and then bought four Tibetan mastiffs to guard his bike collection.

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