I live in P.R. China and that is pretty much the case. It gets confusing because they call electric scooters "bicycles." There is no easy word for them to use to differentiate the electric scooters form the pushbikes. Even those Chinese who are around the foreigners on a daily basis and hear us saying electric-bike or electric-scooter still call all classes of bicycles and two wheeled electric vehicles "bicycles." it actually makes for frequent confusion.
Back to the topic at hand, there are definitely more "two wheeled electric vehicles" (e-bikes) than automobiles. One factor is that an e-bike does not require a license for either the device or the operator. Second, traffic speeds in Chain are, generally, quite low, so the natural speed limitations of the Lead Acid powered e-bikes is not as severe of an issue. Speed is also less of an issue because, in China, e-bikes are not competing with traffic, they are the traffic (of course, remember that traffic here is totally chaotic). Range is not as much of an issue because Chinese cities are, generally, smaller. Further, Chinese tend to work, live, and shop, in their own neighborhoods. Yes, I know that these are generalizations, there will always be outliers in any sample group; however, as generalizations, they are generally true.
There are several e-bike shops in the cities. Most are e-bike only shops; however, the Giant dealers tend to also deal in Giant e-bikes, one of the better brands. The most popular types are the heavy scooter style bikes and the, for lack of a better word, lite moped style.
The heavy scooter style units resemble petrol scooters and have the advantage of a large floorboard for packages (and, in my case, my dog), further, they have room for extended range batteries. The also enjoy more lockable storage, under the seat, larger trunks, better weather protection, and more passenger room. However, several cities in China are beginning to ban the heavy scooter style e-bikes. This is being done through regulations regarding the sale of e-bikes that exceed maximum size and weight restrictions. Because China is a very lawless society, it will take time for these laws to trickle down and have an impact on users.
The heavy scooter e-bikes are clearly being replaced by the lite moped style e-bikes. One interesting development in these lite e-bikes is the standardization of the battery packages. This is not happeneing as a result of efforts at standardization, intentional coordination at that level goes against Chinese cultural practices, it is clearly happening as a result of market dominance of a few manufacturers. This standardizing effect is seen in many industries, it is just starting to happen in e-bikes. These lite e-bikes are clearly replacing the scooter style. This is, in large part, due to cost; further, the advantages of the heavy e-bikes are not so great, and the heavy e-bikes are harder to park.
All that being said, there will still be a market for the heavy e-bike until that market is significantly interfered with by enforcement of legislation. They remain better suited for commercial applications and family transportation due to their better heavy load handling capabilities and larger size [Note: I suddenly feel that I am writing a short analysis of US auto trends for the Chinese]. However, the smaller units are clearly increasing their proportional sales.
It should also be noted that the heavy e-bikes are also in competition, for family usage, with the growth in popularity of the small, petrol powered, automobile. These small automobiles will most likely, further, push the heavy e-bike into a fringe application and, combined with legislative changes; eventually leave the lite e-bike dominant. However, it should be noted that this paragraph is making a long range projection and should be seen as having a lower level of reliability than the observation based statements that comprise the rest of this document.
The form of e-bike that is not seen in China is the pushbike based models that are popular in the US. IN all honesty I cannot recall seeing any; and, as I have an interest in e-bikes, I do look. I suspect that the reasons for this are, primarily: battery space, passenger space, market differentiation, and perceived usage.
While this is slowly changing, the standard battery used in Chinese e-bikes remains the Lead Acid type. The weight and size of these batteries calls for specialized frame designs to both store the battery and to distribute the weight. This consideration, almost immediately, limits the practicality of converting a pushbike to a, market competitive, e-bike merely by adding e-bike components. Hobbyist conversions are unlikely due to Cultural practices.
The next issues are passenger and cargo space. While they could be built differently, and some are; the practice tends toward building pushbikes with poor passenger and cargo handling capability. Rear racks are frequently called into passenger carrying service; however, it is not seen as ideal. In contrast, modern e-bikes are frequently designed with passenger carrying as a design consideration and also, frequently, sport lockable storage.
The final consideration is the perceived usage. Even discounting the issues of passengers and storage, I suspect that the Chinese consumer would see the converted pushbike as an inferior choice. They have less splash protection and, very importantly, have no place for the operator to rest their feet. Even when pedals are present, Chinese riders do not ride with their feet on the pedals; they place their feet on some, built-in floorboard.
While it is true, the pushbike based e-bikes are, significantly, easier to pedal, pedaling is not a consideration in e-bike purchases. Chinese consumers purchase e-bikes so that they will not have to pedal. It is not at all uncommon to see e-bikes with missing, or detached, drive chains. A Chinese rider is more likely to dismount and push an e-bike up a steep hill than to attempt to supplement the power through pedaling.
Dismounting is another issue that limits the attractiveness of the converted pushbike. The Chinese generally ride step through bikes. This is because Chinese frequently dismount their pushbikes at all stops, while entering driveways, and while going through gates, no matter the size of the gate. For example, the entrance to an educational campus would be called a gate, even though it is a paved roadway, and all pushbike riders are required to dismount and walk through the gate (yes, this is done with cars, motorcycles, and e-bikes speeding around and into them). The step through design is very popular because there is no point of the mounting process that has the rider looking down and away from the traffic around them. This preference extends to e-bike purchasing preferences.
The advantages of the Western Style e-bike are, generally, better handing at speed, small package size for the level of performance, light weight for the level of performance, better, western biased, aesthetics, and better pedaling performance.
Handing at speed is simply not an issue. As stated, the Chinese e-bikes are, able to operate in the Chinese traffic conditions. Further, even with their limited performance, Chinese riders seldom ride at full throttle. There is no sport e-bike market. The smaller package size and weight are less of a consideration, and may even be a detriment. Chinese bicycles are stored outside and are seldom locked to any permanent fixture. Ring locks, which immobilize the bike by preventing the wheel from turning, are the most common type of lock used here. If a cable, or “U,” lock is used, it is generally put through the wheel and not locked to a fixture. Bicycle and e-bike theft is a common problem. A heavier bike is significantly harder to lift into a truck; or, simply walk away with, in an attempt to steal it.
As the premise stated, the western style, converted pushbikes are not popular in China. They do not match the usage patterns of Chinese e-bike riders.