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Pedaling towards the future

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Heinrich von Nathusius, Managing Director of MIFA-Bike, anticipates bicycle use will increase significantly as a preferred mode of transportation in cities and is directing the company towards this change.

“The bike industry will play a bigger role in urban mobility in the future,” Mr. von Nathusius says. “Today, there are roughly four million bicycles brought to the German market every year, and three million of them, including all frames and parts for assembling are imported from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. My goal for MIFA-Bike is to provide a real alternative to all these imports through quality and productivity, so we are planning to move production back to Germany. The products can be manufactured in a relatively short time here in Europe.”

Much like in the automotive supplier industry, MIFA-Bike aims to optimize its production through improved processes and quality, thereby keeping prices competitive even in Germany.

With urban mobility as the target market, the company does not need to focus on high-tech bikes with the latest designs but instead should focus on making environment-related changes. Shorter distances will result in lower transport costs while improving the company’s CO2 footprint.

Starting with their development, MIFA’s bicycles pay tribute to German engineering at its finest, and the company cooperates with electronics companies as well as the automotive industry to improve its bikes. “We want to focus on safety for cyclists, and that is not just a matter of the bicycles,” Mr. von Nathusius adds.

Many car models today have the technology to recognize animals and other objects in their path and to begin braking automatically even faster than the driver can react. This technology can help prevent cyclists from being hit by cars, but there is no similar technology for bikes themselves.

However, electronic driver assistance systems will be integrated into both cars and bicycles in the future to guarantee safety, which will make bicycles a more serious option for everyday transportation. MIFA-Bike offers different brands such as Grace Bikes and Steppenwolf Bikes to suit different market segments. “Steppenwolf is our top brand,” the Managing Director says. “It has cult status.”

Despite offering a premium name particularly for specialty retailers, MIFA-Bike also produces bicycles for the major discount and supermarket chains such as ALDI. “It is possible for us to produce every kind of bicycle, and we can deliver more than 40,000 bicycles per month. We have an entire portfolio of bikes: for men, women and children, sport bikes, trekking bikes, city bikes and more,” Mr. von Nathusius says. “Our e-bikes are among our most popular models. Their numbers are increasing rapidly in Germany and the Netherlands – up to 15% annually. They are growing in the whole of Europe, as well, but only by approx imately 10%. Like other bike manufacturers, we would like a piece of that growth.”

Overall, the bike market today offers a great deal of leeway regarding varieties of bicycles available. MIFA-Bike benefits from being able to supply bikes that suit different price classes and segments in terms of purpose.

“Customers are willing to pay a bit more for a bike of high quality,” Mr. von Nathusius explains. “It is not only a question of design. There are a lot of factors involved, like safety and quality.”

The Steppenwolf brand has been well known for a long time and can count on its positive image. The well-established MIFA AG acquired the brand several years ago, but in 2015 the company experienced financial difficulties and was insolvent.

The state government of Saxony-Anhalt, where MIFA was based, contacted Mr. von Nathusius, who was working in the automotive supplier sector, to ask him to take over the plant and save the employees’ jobs. He had already been quite successful with the company IFA and had built an internationally operating plant in Saxony-Anhalt, which is now in the hands of his children.

Mr. von Nathusius made the decision to purchase MIFA AG and its brands. “I firmly believe that bicycles will be the major mode of transportation in the future,” the Managing Director explains his decision. “This is a project that I can really support because I am sure it will be successful.”

Today, Mr. von Nathusius heads the family company along with Matthias Herold and Olaf Flunkert. Development and production are located on-site in Sangerhausen near Magdeburg, and in addition to a sales department within the company, MIFA-Bike also has field sales staff.

The company is no longer a stock corporation but a private limited company with 550 employees. Its turnover target for this year is 100 million EUR.

MIFA-Bike has plans for growth in the coming years. It intends to build a new plant while expanding its existing production facilities. “We would also like some suppliers to move here,” Mr. von Nathusius says. “That will shorten the process chain and improve communication with them. This is the same model used by the automotive supplier industry, and that is a sector that is also returning to Europe. We hope to do the same for the bicycle industry.”

The company is also toying with the idea of producing individual parts for competitors. The advantage would be significantly reduced transport times and corresponding costs. “In addition we are cooperating on technical developments to improve bike safety,” Mr. von Nathusius says in conclusion.

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