In recent years, Bulgaria has become one of the most important bicycle exporters in Europe. An on-site survey shows that this could be just the beginning of a long-term bicycle boom in the Balkans. Werner Müller-Schell investigates.
When one of the country’s highest politicians comes in person to sign a contract between two companies, it is a powerful statement. When the Bulgarian company Maxcom Ltd and the Austrian company PIERER New Mobility GmbH announced an agreement on the joint production of eBikes in the southern Bulgarian city of Plovdiv on 21 July last year, that was exactly the case. Kiril Petkov, the then Minister of Economy and later Prime Minister of Bulgaria, took part in the event. An appearance that the government representative had every reason to make: Maxcom and PIERER New Mobility GmbH want to invest an impressive 40 million euros in the location. The goal is to build a state-of-the-art production facility for electric bicycles in Plovdiv. Up to 350,000 pedelecs are to roll off the production line every year after completion in late summer 2023.
“This investment is unique for Bulgaria and will lead to the creation of up to 1,000 new jobs in the Plovdiv region. It is also the next step for Bulgaria to become the largest eBike production country in Europe,” Petkov explained. Looking at the recent development of the Bulgarian bicycle industry, it quickly becomes clear that the politician’s speech was anything but empty words.
The Bulgarian bicycle boom – if you follow in the footsteps of this development, the journey quickly leads to Plovdiv, the place where the new joint venture of Maxcom and PIERER New Mobility GmbH has its home. Almost 350,000 people live in the city, which was built on seven hills and whose settlement history is almost 7,000 years old. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and the accompanying economic boom in Eastern Europe, Plovdiv developed into a centre of local bicycle production.
Maxcom, the largest bicycle producer in the country and thus also one of the largest in Europe, was founded in Plovdiv in 1996. The company’s factory, located on the northern outskirts of the city, covers an area of more than 40,000 square metres and has the capacity to produce more than 400,000 bicycles annually.
“The decision to choose Maxcom as a partner was made for a good reason: we currently already assemble at Maxcom in Bulgaria, although Maxcom also has other customers. Now, when we start a business in a new location, we often choose to work with renowned market players. The long-standing strategic partnership with BAJAJ in India or the joint venture with CFMOTO in China for Pierer Mobility’s motorbike business are two excellent examples,” explains Florian Burguet, Managing Director at PIERER New Mobility GmbH.
The new factory of the joint venture between the two companies, which is currently under construction, will be located in the “Trakia Economic Zone” on the south-eastern outskirts of the city. With an area of 10,700,000 square metres and investments worth over two billion euros, the economic zone is the largest industrial project in Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, there are many such attempts to boost the economy. They are initiatives that do not come out of the blue; with a gross domestic product of 9,850 euros per capita, the country currently brings up the rear within the European Union.
The bicycle industry is supposed to help with this. Another big player in the production location Plovdiv is the Bulgarian company Leader96. Started in 1996 as a wholesale company, it established its first own bicycle factory in 2001. Today’s factory is located in the suburb of Rogosh and has about 40,000 square metres of space. With nine production lines, the factory has a capacity of 250,000 eBikes per year, and the building also includes a paint shop, an area for wheel production and an in-house bicycle testing laboratory.
“About 99 per cent of our production is exported to other European countries – to Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Sweden and other countries,” Marketing Manager Dora Andreeva tells us. “For extremely large projects, Asia is still a popular production location. But for medium-sized projects, Eastern Europe has an advantage. The time and cost of travel is much less, monitoring and control is less tense and easier, transport to the target countries is faster and cheaper,” she continues.
She explains that Bulgaria in particular is one of the strongest Eastern European countries in terms of bicycle production with the country’s history: There is a long tradition in the field of technical professions throughout the country. “This already starts with training in specific technical schools. In Plovdiv alone there are three vocational schools that train technicians, electricians and motor vehicle specialists,” says Andreeva.
Photo credits: Werner Müller-Schell ; Maxcom
Article source: CyclingIndustry