A report by David McMullan the Englishman in China
More and more European based motorcycle companies are using Chinese manufacturing facilities as a hub for their trade. At last year’s CIMAmotor exhibition it was noticeable that many European companies had come to visit to find out the lie of the land. One such established company is the Super Motor Company headquartered in Amsterdam, Holland. CEO Dimitri Hettinga kindly agreed to live me the low down on manufacturing in China for distribution in Europe.
I asked Dimitri ‘why choose China?’
It was a real no-brainer really. China is the only country that could supply the parts and technology we required at a reasonable price. We want to be known for our value as well as our quality and no one does it better than China. Our base is in Chongqing which is the biggest motorcycle producing city in the world, David McMullan tells me that over 20% of the world’s motorcycles are made there and he should know.
And his most popular model?
We produce a remake of the Honda Super Cub which as you know is the biggest selling vehicle in the world, a real iconic 2-wheeler! We are currently producing the Super 25, super 50 and super 120 in all of its classic colours. It’s great to see this classic back on the road in all its simple finery. It’s a real good seller and has the full EURO III certificate of conformity; we’ll be looking to upgrade it in the future to EURO IIII.
After the success of the Super Cub what does the future bring?
We are currently putting the finishing touches on a city bike 125cc-223cc something along the lines of the Suzuki big boy and Honda FTR/CB223, but of course offering better value while retaining the quality.
We are also working on a modern Super Cub (disc brakes front and rear, USD forks, adjustable shocks etc.) but we want to keep the classic iconic styling. Another exciting project is that of the 400-450cc scrambler/ flat track bike. We believe that can be a very popular addition to our range.
What European markets are you aiming at?
All, world domination!!!!! Our main market/ target group for the Super Cub is hipsters aged 25-40, men and women (70%-30%). Once they pick up on our product the rest/mass will follow. And they do but it takes time…
What are the plusses and problems with manufacturing in China?
Let’s have the bad news first. Sometimes communication can be a problem. The Chinese have a completely different outlook to service than we’re used to and it takes some getting used to their work ethic. On the other hand China cannot be surpassed for the price and availability of parts. Once we got over the initial culture shock of manufacturing in a completely alien environment and adapted to their working philosophy it became easier, but we really have to keep on top of things and not let things slip out of our control.
Is it difficult to get the EURO III certificate in China? What is the procedure?
Yes it is and it takes a lot of time. The first thing we have to do is produce the model and have it tested. We work closely with the testing station at Yinxiang. Once the test results are received they are sent to TUV Rhineland for there approval. It’s a long and drawn out process and sometimes we have to tweak the bikes a few times before they pass. But that’s life and it guarantees a top end product.
What made you choose the factory that you use?
The factory we chose is one of the biggest producers in China with a solid reputation and a history of European export. The decent unit price also swayed our decision!!
Is it a big financial undertaking to set up the business? What did you have to invest in?
Our biggest investment besides money was the accumulation of knowledge production wise and the patience to work with the Chinese who as I have mentioned don’t share our business philosophy. Inherently we invested a lot in stamina. Of course it takes money to make money but now we are established we can look back and smile at the worrying times of our initial investment.
Who designs your models?
We do it ourselves. We are qualified mechanics, technicians and designers.
How do you find European distributors?
Lots of PR and visibility…again a lot of patience, and not being to eager. We have built a great reputation for ourselves and that is better than any advertising.
What is the time span between the idea for a model and it being ready for export?
At the moment the time span can be between 2-3 years. We have to make sure everything is in order, samples made and tested, market research is conducted, supply chains plentiful and technicians in place in Chongqing.
Are you looking into electronic control systems such as ABS, EFI, traction control and semi-active steering damping?
We try to keep our products as simple as possible. Image when a child draws a motorcycle. That simple…Our products must stand out for their price, aesthetics, simplicity and robustness. We will only revert to these kinds of electronics when the type approval regulations demand it. Like EFI within the next few years. Simple is beautiful you see!
Do you know other European companies that make their motorcycles in China?
Yes we do. But it is like comparing apples and pears. We aim for very specific markets and not just the mainstream commuter market. The Super Cub is a nostalgic purchase and the flat track bike is a very specific product.