Toy Legend Wham-O's New E-Bike Exposes it to Trade War Tariffs

February 15, 2019

By Chloe Aiello

Wham-O, a company best known for mass-marketing iconic toys like the hula hoop and Frisbee, manufactures most of its toys in China. But only now that has chosen to branch out into e-bikes does the company anticipate feeling the sting of the ongoing trade war.

"To date, it hasn't really affected us that much," Wham-O President Todd Richards told Cheddar. "Now with this new technology and this new product, we foresee a little bit of a cost impact."

The new technology to which Richards is referring is the Smacircle S1, a portable, foldable electric bike made in partnership with Smacircle. The bike, with its lightweight carbon fiber frame and $1,400 price tag, is a far cry from the faddish toys that made Wham-O famous.

It's a serious piece of technology ー one that was an honoree for an innovation award at last year's Consumer Electronics Show ー and that makes it vulnerable to the impacts of tariffs in President Trump's continuing trade war with China.

Richards said the company has a contingency plan to deal with tariffs, but if the trade war persists and China retaliates with another U.S. tariff hike, Richards said the company may have to "change direction."

Wham-O has already started moving the production of certain core toys back into the U.S., but Richards said that decision has more to do with transportation costs and a return to core values for the California-based company than policy.

Wham-O's move into technology is a big step, but Richards said it is important for keeping relevant.

"The world's changing. We want to change with it, and if we don't, we're just going to get left behind," he said.

And the bike is more than just a toy. Wham-O and Smacircle are attempting to solve the "last-mile problem" ー the issue of how to bridge the distance between commuters' homes and public transit hubs. There are already many popular solutions to this issue, like ride-hailing and ride-sharing ー whether bikes, cars, or scooters. But Richards said Wham-O's portable, foldable electric bikes allow riders to own their own transportation.

"Having my own transportation, having my own use of a vehicle is always going to outweigh counting on something else being there," he said.

And while the bike may seem out of Wham-O's wheelhouse, Richardson said the innovation needed for a toy with mass appeal and for a new piece of technology are two sides of the same coin.

"People say, 'Wait what's the connection between Frisbee, Slip 'n Slide and Smacircle ー or that last mile transportation?' Well, it's the next thing," he said. "And that's what Wham-O has been about for so many years."

For full interview click here.