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Panasonic to team with Mobike on electric-bike rental

Japanese sharing service will offer pedal-assist cycles at tourist havens

Panasonic is betting on electric-bike-sharing catching on in Japan. (Photo by Shiko Ueda)

OSAKA -- Panasonic said on Wednesday it will explore a partnership with China's Mobike, looking to leverage its know-how for the launch of an electric-bike-sharing service in Japan next year.

The Japanese electrical equipment manufacturer will employ a system built on Mobike's expertise that can lock and unlock bicycles electronically and collect payment via a mobile app. Panasonic will initially run the service on its own, starting out with sports bikes that can be rented at tourist attractions. The company carried out a trial this summer at a Hoshino Resorts facility in Yamanashi Prefecture, west of Tokyo.

The Chinese company leads the global bike-sharing market, boasting a fleet of around 7 million bicycles, while Panasonic is the Japanese leader in electric bicycles, controlling more than 40% of the market. The partners may set up a joint venture to operate an urban e-bike sharing service down the road.

Bike-sharing has yet to take off in Japan. Chinese company Ofo is pulling out of the Japanese market in the face of declining earnings at home. Mobike last November jettisoned a similar service in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, but maintains its presence in the southwestern city of Fukuoka, the city of Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, and other areas. Both use regular bicycles with no electric pedal-assist system.

"Unless the bikes are electric, bike-sharing is unlikely to take root in Japan," Eiichi Katayama, an executive officer at Panasonic and president of Panasonic Cycle Technology, told reporters. Panasonic expects sizable demand for electric bicycles, which require less exertion by riders.

Equipped with a power source, electric bikes can easily be tracked to collect a range of data, such as charging status and location. Panasonic envisions using this information to branch into services like providing health advice, as well as letting its bikes communicate with cars to prevent collisions.

"We hope to connect all of our electric bikes to the internet," Katayama said.

Panasonic generated 31.7 billion yen ($280 million) in sales from its bicycle business in fiscal 2017. It hopes to use the sharing service to help e-bikes gain traction.

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