With competition between China’s bike-sharing companies growing even hotter, rivals are rolling out new models to tempt customers.
To do that, companies are using things like flashy paint jobs, high technology and niche features. Notable among these are three companies－Ofo Inc, Coolqi and Bluegogo International Inc－which are racing to produce more of their new models.
Ofo, founded in 2014 and now valued at $1 billion after receiving $450 million in new investments in March, unveiled the Ofo Princess bicycle for women last week. It has a rattan basket on front as well as rounded screws and a better chain guard to keep from snagging dresses. The bike-sharing giant claims to have more than 100 million registered users.
Coolqi launched its “golden bike” last week, which has an on board phone charger as well as an eye-catching color change from its traditional green cycles.
Bluegogo plans this summer to launch a bike with an internet portal that will connect to smartphones via the company’s app. It gives instant online access to features such as maps and the weather forecast.
“With the bike-sharing boom, there is a growing need for personalized user experiences,” said Dai Wei, CEO of Ofo, which is backed by ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing.
“Ofo aims to provide different user groups with a more diverse and comfortable experience,” he added.
Still, many new models are getting mixed reviews on Chinese social media.
Many commenters loved the Ofo Princess bike on Sina Weibo. “It is tailor-made for women through thoughtful design,” one netizen said. “It’s good-looking,” said another.
But some were concerned about the rattan basket on the front. Will it stand up to wear and tear?
“How can you prevent it from being damaged?” one person asked. “After all, lots of vandalism and theft happens in China.”
Coolqi’s deluxe golden edition bike also split the online community. “It can’t be any uglier,” one commenter said.
The paint job didn’t bother others so much, even though the bicycle is, by comparison, pricey. It has a 298-yuan ($44) deposit, while many other bikes have deposits of 99 to 199 yuan, and a rental price of 3 yuan per hour, while bikes can be had for 1 yuan or less per half-hour.
“Since it has a smartphone holder, I can navigate while cycling and that’s cool,” said one commenter. “Of course, I will be forever blinking at the dazzling golden color,” said the user, Sunshine Ziqing, taking a dig at the color.
There also was concern about the ability of the bike’s battery, recharged by solar power, to recharge cellphones.
“I just wonder what will happen when it rains and those batteries get wet,” said a Weibo user named Energy from Balabala.
Zhang Xu, a senior analyst at Analysys, a Beijing-based consultancy, is not convinced that extra features are going to be the key for all companies.
The Ofo Princess bike should have broad appeal, but one overlooked key is that this will help the company retain a strong position it already has obtained in the marketplace.
“Since they already have a high number of users, Ofo needs to further improve the riding experience for specific groups,” said Zhang, who said that Coolqi’s golden bike may appeal only a limited audience.
“The key to winning the battle is to attract as many consumers as possible,” Zhang said. “Companies new to the market need to do their research and cater to customer needs,” he added. “I would suggest that they should tap into small and medium-sized cities where market leader Ofo hasn’t dominated the market yet.”
Ofo says it now has more than 6 million bikes in 120 cities in five countries. Nearly half of its customers are females while around 7 million people use its cycles daily, according to app tracker Analysys Qianfan.
But not everyone agrees on strategy in this explosive new business, where companies are battling for market share on razor-thin margins.
The golden bikes company thinks it has a winner.
“Chinese consumers spend most of their leisure time on smartphones. So, recharging on a bicycle can help them always be connected to the internet,” said Gao Weiwei, founder and CEO of Coolqi, which has 1 million bikes in more than 50 Chinese cities.
Jing Shuiyu and Cheng Yu contributed to this story.