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Brompton CEO bemoans "bloody Brexit" for ongoing problems within bike industry

Speaking at length, Will Butler-Adams also commented on urban mobility, saying "it's not sensible to carry a human five miles in a two-tonne metal box"...

Brompton Bikes' CEO Will Butler-Adams has addressed the issues facing brands in the industry, and points to enduring problems from Brexit, rising energy bills, the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis for contributing to a challenging time for the folding bicycle manufacturer.

Speaking at length with Raconteur, Butler-Adams noted the hit on the company's pre-tax profit for the year ending March 2022, down 24 per cent to £7.3 million despite revenues rising 40 per cent year-on-year, and puts the fall down to wage inflation and a rise in the cost of materials.

He also raised the issue of ongoing problems caused by "bloody Brexit", the like of which have been well-documented since the end of the transition period in January 2021 and saw many British-based cycling businesses lose sales, suffer due to VAT changes, have to complete time-consuming paperwork and in extreme cases even cease business altogether.

> "It is very difficult to be positive": Brexit lost Cycloc 25% of sales, founder reveals

But it is not just the b-word, of course, and Butler-Adams also outlined a combination of factors, including Brompton's supply chain being affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and tensions between China and Taiwan, with both Ukraine and Taiwan producing titanium used in the folding bikes' frames.

On top of that there are the ongoing effects of the Covid pandemic, rising energy bills and a cost of living crisis.

Brompton hire for £1 during rail strikes

"You can't shuffle your business to offset today's drama," he said. "That's because, as today’s drama disappears, tomorrow's is developing. What you have to do is try and build a business that is resilient to all manner of impacts, including those that haven't even come yet.

"When you're very small, you might have one supplier because you simply don't have the volume to need more. But, when you get to a certain size, you'll want to consider your supply. This might be from Europe, from the Americas, from Asia. You don't want all your eggs in one basket."

> Brompton unveils plans for new eco-friendly factory and HQ in Kent as it aims to double capacity

Addressing the fact customers will be feeling the squeeze also, Butler-Adams accepted Brompton's products represent a premium investment but insisted its target market is anyone who can ride a bike and, more widely, believes "price is not what's stopping people from cycling".

"We can't be all things to all people, but price is not what's stopping people from cycling – I reject that idea. You can buy a basic single-gear bike for £50 second-hand if you want to," he said.

And more specifically on Bromptons, he added: "They're designed to last 25 or 30 years. You're buying into long-term expertise; you can get maintenance and repairs. These aren't things that you buy and then don't use. If people are going to spend their hard-earned money, they'll want a product that really adds value. That's what we aim to do."

"It's not sensible to carry a human five miles in a two-tonne metal box"

Butler-Adams also spoke about urban mobility, saying he is not anti-car and owns a battery-electric Nissan Leaf but does not see the need to drive short distances.

"It is the apparent wisdom of humans, this supposedly apex, super-smart species on Earth, that we have to live in cities. These are often the most unhealthy places to live. The air quality is poor, people aren't active and there are obesity problems. How did we let this happen?" he asked.

Championing cycling as a cost-effective route to cleaner air and a more active population, Brompton's CEO called cars "monstrously inefficient".

"It is not sensible to carry a human five miles in a two-tonne metal box," Butler-Adams said. "People complain that we don't have space in cities. Why not? Because there are thousands of cars taking up space. If you have to get somewhere 100 miles away, then take a car by all means. But just to dash to the shops? It's nuts."

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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47 comments

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ubercurmudgeon | 1 year ago
6 likes

Brompton isn't alone in seeing these effects. Brexit has hit UK investment by the equivalent of £1000 per household. And yet some people still say they don't regret voting for it because they did so due to a deep, abiding love for sovereignty. That's a bit like saying you don't regret buying a half-built, rat-infested holiday timeshare because you have a deep, abiding love for sunshine and sangria. Fine, but you were still taken in by a false prospectus. You're still a victim of fraud.

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Velo-drone | 1 year ago
5 likes

Oh right, would that be the same Brompton CEO who was whiffling in 2017 about how much nobody should worry about Brexit, and even no deal Brexit would be "irrelevant"?

Oh, how strange - it IS the same one. No sympathy.

"The debate about Brexit is massively over-rated, and half of the problem is we're spending so much time debating it that we're creating a momentum of fear. ...For businesses which are small, a change in 10 per cent for WTO rules is virtually irrelevant."

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IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
16 likes

When did EVERYTHING become a conspiracy theory?

Underlying Brexit was the consiracy theory that evil EU bureaucrats were doing things to destroy Britain (while the conspiracy theorists successfully destroyed Britain). COVID is a conspiracy, the vaccine is a conspiracy, Ukraine is a conspiracy, 15 minute neighbourhoods are a conspiracy. Bike lanes are a conspiracy. Bankers are a left wing conspiracy.

Will we ever get back to conspiracy being the realm of spies and David Icke nutjobs?

Every now and again I do a search on Twitter of "Ukraine" and I reckon 2/3s of the posts are Russian propaganda bots. The only thing I can't tell is how many of the MAGA posts are bots and how many are Trump nutjobs, but as they are reposting the same stuff it makes not a lot of difference.

What is amazing is that so many people know that their fixation started off as a conspiracy theory - two interesting "tics": "This is no longer a conspiracy theory" and "arguing against it makes you part of the conspiracy" (which of course means that evidence that disproves the conspiracy can be dismissed with a "well they would say that." Gove's "had enough of experts" was actually quite prescient, some bloke on YouTube is considered more reliable than scientific studies across the world coming up with consistent results, and Boris Johnson, known to be a corrupt liar, is still considered by many to be a great leader who can get things done, even though the evidence before our eyes is he does nothing.

That's better. Rant over.

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levestane replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
1 like

Conspiracy implies some form of organisation. Stuff is usually cockup rather than conspiracy. 

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IanMSpencer replied to levestane | 1 year ago
4 likes

Yet the Tories in Government have successfully combined cock-up and conspiracy!

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levestane replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
0 likes

World-leading at it!

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hawkinspeter replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
2 likes
IanMSpencer wrote:

When did EVERYTHING become a conspiracy theory?

Probably sometime after Eternal September: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_September

//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d7/Internet_is_Full_-_Go_Away_t-shirt.jpg/440px-Internet_is_Full_-_Go_Away_t-shirt.jpg)

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BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 1 year ago
16 likes

Brexit was a lie. It was ignorance and stupidity. Most people realise it now. The issue is reversing the stupidity. It will take a while but it will happen. 
Butler-Adams is also correct about the stupidity of using a two tonne metal box to transport 1 person a short distance around the urban environment. 

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Fignon's ghost | 1 year ago
19 likes

Brexshit can go fuck itself.

I'm a Brit. I've always been a European.

I'm proud of it. ALL.

There.

I said it.

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Rich_cb replied to Fignon's ghost | 1 year ago
2 likes

The EU ≠ Europe.

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BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP replied to Rich_cb | 1 year ago
3 likes

More than half of European countries are in the EU and the rest are applying for membership, including Ukraine but not Belarus or Russia. Or they are in the EU single market (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland etc) Brexitland will be back soon. It's already realised its shot itself in both feet. It's just a question of demographics and politicians talking about the 'elephant in the room'. 

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Rich_cb replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 1 year ago
1 like

So, as I said, the EU ≠ Europe.

The demographics of the EU are absolutely awful. The working age population is on the cusp of complete collapse across the entire union. The collapse has already started in many countries. Nothing but immigration on an unprecedented scale can stop that.

There's also a big difference between joining the EU as a net recipient of EU funds as would be the case for all current candidate countries in Eastern Europe and joining the EU as a net donor as would be the case for the UK.

If we can get the FTA with India over the line then the rejoiner campaign becomes harder still.

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chrisonabike replied to Rich_cb | 1 year ago
4 likes

Well India does seem to be getting less politically liberal and the UK has long had an appreciation of trade with such regimes (even when we squabble in public) so it's consistent.  They make excellent markets for our defence industries.  We've already got our foot in the door with arms sales although at the moment it's mostly Russia.  (Maybe we should start selling arms to Russia and win both ways?)  If Russia ran short due to their war I guess the UK would be delighted to pick up even some of the slack.

On the demographics - do you think that active travel can help there?  Aside from just heath and wellbeing if our economies shrink presumably we will be even less able to justify all the money we currently spend on motoring?

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vthejk replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
6 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

Well India does seem to be getting less politically liberal

That's some understatement. It's essentially a Hindu fascist state, and it's sneaking scarily under the radar.

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Rich_cb replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

The UK isn't in as much of a demographic bind as much of the EU as we have been able to attract far higher levels of immigration. This has, if anything, accelerated post Brexit although COVID does muddy the waters somewhat.

I'm not sure if active travel is a major consideration in the demographics debate, it should keep the population healthier so more can work and support the ever burgeoning non working population.

India has certainly become less tolerant over the last few years but it is the world's largest democracy and far more free than many other countries at a similar stage of development.

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chrisonabike replied to Rich_cb | 1 year ago
0 likes

Well I guess "take back control" for many people didn't involve "more immigration" at all - even if maybe "selective immigration".  So I guess that will keep us all talking.

Surely if we have a growing non-working population before long we will simply need to cut expenses and hard?  Mass motoring is a massive expense, both private and public.  If driving weren't so ubiquitous (so we just don't notice it) I'd expect a debate about what benefits we actually derive from it and which of those / how much we can afford, going forward.

Maybe despite complaints about "cost of living" / price of fuel the fact is we're still all so wealthy and well-provided for (in global terms) this is nowhere near really "biting" yet?  (Looking below - I note that India's yearly median disposable household income in US dollars (2011 figure) was $2,473 (per Wikipedia) - and they're only at #44 in the list!  We're 10 times that.)

Don't know that much about India myself.

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Rich_cb replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like

When your working age population falls you either increase productivity or reduce government spending.

To that end automation may ride to the rescue of those countries in the demographic cross hairs.

Driving does have costs as you say but it also increases productivity so it's not clear which way we'll go.

My personal bet is on driverless cars/buses/lorries. Even more productivity benefits than human driving with fewer external costs and little to no infrastructure investment needed. Seems to tick all the boxes and given that countries like Japan and South Korea (and soon China) have no choice but to automate rapidly I think the necessary investments to get it to work will be made.

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chrisonabike replied to Rich_cb | 1 year ago
2 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

Driving does have costs as you say but it also increases productivity so it's not clear which way we'll go. My personal bet is on driverless cars/buses/lorries. Even more productivity benefits than human driving with fewer external costs and little to no infrastructure investment needed. ...

Hmm... some of this sounds like the eternal "and in the near future there will be slaves / servants / belt-driven machines / robots to take care of all the chores"!

I'm not 100% clear on the productivity improvements of driving.  Some driving obviously does as in you can certainly reap more corn with a combine harvester or move more steel and stone on a truck.   I'm not sure that the millions of us driving from one place to the next to sit in an office, or pick up our groceries at the out of town supermarket are a great expression of this though?  Or the industries we seem to have wanted in the UK (banking, lawyering, consulting) need driving?  But perhaps that will all change too / just go away?

Of course that's why I'm not an economist.

I'm also confused on the "fewer external costs" of driverless cars?  Do you mean no crashes (here's hoping)?  Is it also "drivers don't need to drive to the drive"?  I guess that could save something - possibly a significant fraction of the driving.  Plus the weight of a driver and a bit of cab space - more significant for smaller vehicles.  Also health benefits of drivers not just sitting.  Although if we're not working but aging are we going to be exercising more, or less?

By "little to no infrastructure investment needed" you mean in terms of changing systems (thus saving *companies* the cost of the driver's wage)?  Probably.  Need to set up to charge / power / service the new vehicles.  I'm guessing that could be offset against the human-servicing infrastructure (say - garages and truck stop cafes)?

After that change - the vehicles still take up space, require fuel, generate particulates from braking and wear the roads (unless floating / flying - but then fuel efficiency is down).  Probably many of those can be a bit more efficient though.  Driving 24 / 7 except for charging time - or maybe charging on the go?

Or are you really imagining the matrix and an AI so all-encompassing that unheard-of efficiencies can be had because the whole system is working more as a coordinated whole?  That sounds like the envy of ... communism!

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Rich_cb replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

The combine harvester is a good example. Also a plumber in a van can cover a far greater area than a plumber on a bicycle etc.

By infrastructure, I meant the roads, parking, servicing facilities etc.

I don't think it will require matrix levels of ai to run the system efficiently, basically just the same algorithm used by Uber etc now.

The collapse of working age populations is an existential crisis for many technologically advanced countries.

Vehicle automation is a solution and one that's already been partially achieved. I don't think it's too far fetched to imagine that it can be perfected given the stakes at play.

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Simon E replied to Rich_cb | 1 year ago
3 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

My personal bet is on driverless cars/buses/lorries.

Pure fantasy.

Like ChatGPT replacing loads of jobs. AI isn't as 'clever' as some people want it to be.

Like Brexit being good for the British people. That was another fantasy dreamt up by some disaster capitalists in order to make a packet at everyone else's expense.

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Rich_cb replied to Simon E | 1 year ago
1 like

The collapse of the working age population in Japan/South Korea/China is going to happen/is already happening.

Driverless vehicles already exist but with some significant limitations.

I'm betting that three of the world's most technologically advanced countries, when faced with an existential crisis, will be able to iron out the current issues.

You're betting the other way.

Time will tell.

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Parodius | 1 year ago
2 likes

What is not highlighted and perhaps is his issue with brexit, is this bike is made in China, at least the frame is. It can be bought cheaper under its alternative brand names made in same factory.  Unless one likes the idea of paying uk staff to put on components that are replaced immediately by most post purchase for better items. Most will vote with their money. Close alternative that doesn't fold is the moulton made in UK,  no problem with brexit massive demand in Asia. 

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mark1a replied to Parodius | 1 year ago
17 likes
Parodius wrote:

... is this bike is made in China, at least the frame is. It can be bought cheaper under its alternative brand names made in same factory. 

Completely untrue. 
https://www.brompton.com/bikes/made-in-london

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Rendel Harris replied to Parodius | 1 year ago
17 likes
Parodius wrote:

What is not highlighted and perhaps is his issue with brexit, is this bike is made in China, at least the frame is. It can be bought cheaper under its alternative brand names made in same factory.  Unless one likes the idea of paying uk staff to put on components that are replaced immediately by most post purchase for better items.

Utter nonsense I'm afraid. Brompton frames are hand welded in London and Sheffield and the completed bikes are assembled in London.

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philpaddysmyth replied to Parodius | 1 year ago
4 likes

It's probably more accurate to say 'Assembled in England' (London and Sheffield, and soon to be Ashford). The company is very open about the fact it sources from abroad (this article mentions Ukraine and Taiwan but ould include PRC and elsewhere in Europe) which is quite natural for a bike manufacturer! It's not clear where the tubes are made  but the framess are welded together in Sheffield). This is not to demonise the company nor downplay the enormous work that goes into making a bike!

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BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP replied to Parodius | 1 year ago
11 likes

Making stuff up. That's the brexit way. Just make stuff up to excuse the stupidity. 

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SecretSam replied to Parodius | 1 year ago
10 likes

Ah, the classic Brexit tactic of lying

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chrisonabike replied to Parodius | 1 year ago
2 likes

Not today thank you! We already have at least one parodius on this site...

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Rich_cb | 1 year ago
6 likes

From the Raconteur article:

"Butler-Adams points at enduring problems caused by “bloody Brexit”, rising energy bills, the Covid pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis. The company’s supply chain is affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the increasing tensions between China and Taiwan."

The one and only mention of Brexit in the entire piece.

Not the impression given by road.cc's coverage of course.

Always best to go to the source directly rather than accept a tabloid's 'interpretation'.

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quiff replied to Rich_cb | 1 year ago
8 likes

Eh? road.cc cites all that:

road.cc wrote:

Brompton Bikes' CEO Will Butler-Adams has addressed the issues facing brands in the industry, and points to enduring problems from Brexit, rising energy bills, the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis for contributing to a challenging time for the folding bicycle manufacturer.

...

But it is not just the b-word, of course, and Butler-Adams also outlined a combination of factors, including Brompton's supply chain being affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and tensions between China and Taiwan, with both Ukraine and Taiwan producing titanium used in the folding bikes' frames.

On top of that there are the ongoing effects of the Covid pandemic, rising energy bills and a cost of living crisis.

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