China and Taiwan
Separated by price and quality
Report by David McMullan the Englishman in China
I often contact the organisers of motorcycle exhibitions to ask if any Chinese brands will be represented at their show. Quite often the reply is in the affirmative with organisers naming Taiwanese motorcycle companies KYMCO and SYM among their ‘Chinese’ exhibitors.
Taiwanese motorcycle companies are not akin to Chinese motorcycle companies; instead it would be more accurate to liken them to the Japanese big 4. Whereas China specialises in providing affordable commuters to developing countries Taiwan is the bane of the Japanese, cutting their market shares in more discerning markets of Europe and North America.
Taiwan's motorcycle industry accounts for about NT$80 billion (US$2.5 billion) worth of production value annually and Taiwan's manufacturers have focused on production of motorcycles with displacements from 250 cc to 500 cc, which are better suited for European and North American markets. This is stark contrast to the Chinese industry which is most comfortable producing from 30 cc to 200 cc models and despite recent projects to produce 600 cc and 650 cc displacement engines is firmly still reliant on the smaller engine market.
Doug Stabler a motorcycle dealer in Sacramento makes a further distinction “When dealing with mainland China you have to be very careful about original design protection, although there are copyright laws in affect it’s almost impossible to use them as a deterrent to companies using your design and tech. To be fair, it’s not widespread but it does happen that after you cooperate with a Chinese factory they then re-brand your motorcycle and sell it on to other customers. There have also been cases where companies have sold on the designs to other factories. In Taiwan you can be pretty sure this would not happen, their trademarks are more set in stone than the mainland companies and they seem to have a more ‘Western’ approach to business.
John Preston, British ex-pat now trading motorcycles on Spain’s Costa del Sol takes up the story. “One of the things that I have noticed when making enquiries to both Taiwanese and Chinese companies is the difference in their leading questions. When I call a Chinese factory and ask them about a particular product their first question is invariably ‘how many do you want and how much do you want to spend?’ Compare that to the Taiwanese reply of ‘what features and specifications are you requiring’ and you get a good picture of the different priorities of the industry in the 2 countries.
Taiwan's three largest motorcycle manufacturers in sliding order by unit sales are Kwang Yang (KYMCO); Yamaha Motor Taiwan Co., a subsidiary of Japan's Yamaha Motor Co.; and Sanyang (SYM). Other Taiwanese motorcycle makers include Motive Power Industry Co., previously a partner of Italy's Piaggio & C S.p.A, Aeon and Tailing Motor Co. a subsidiary of Japan's Suzuki Motor Corp.
Sanyang sells motorcycles under the SYM brand, while Kwang Yang has the KYMCO brand and Motive Power uses the PGO brand. Unlike China the Taiwanese government has made brand building precedence in boosting the competitiveness and recognition of Taiwan's motorcycle export products.
It is only in recent times that the Chinese industry has looked upon the Taiwanese with emulation aforethought with the likes of Qinqi, Jialing, Jianshe, Dayun and others looking for their own brand recognition in Europe. To achieve this Chinese companies have planned to improve their quality with some brands actively employing designers from Taiwan.
Andres Villegas director of United Motors an American company that manufactures motorcycles in Foshan, Guangdong province confirms “we are actively looking to promote our brand as a unique product, and one that is moving away from the generic Chinese models that abound and to help us do this we have employed designers from Taiwan as they really seem to know what the industry needs.”
Owner of the newest motorcycle factory to open in Chongqing (Fuego Power who make the Motorhead brand) Wang Tian has nothing but praise for the Taiwanese industry. “If anyone is looking at starting a new motorcycle factory in China there are a few companies they should emulate. Of course Lifan, Loncin, Zongshen and the big guys are world leaders but when I was planning my new enterprise I looked closely at the Taiwanese company KYMCO.”
The Kwang Yang Motor Co, Ltd (KYMCO) is a company headquartered in Taiwan that manufactures many different types of motorcycle, scooters and quad bikes for global export. KYMCO originally cooperated with Honda but split from the Japanese giant in 1963 although continuing to produce parts for them.
In 1970 KYMCO build its own complete motor scooter and started to market their KYMCO brand in 1992. In the 2000s, KYMCO became the principal scooter manufacturer in Taiwan and the fifth largest scooter manufacturer in the world.
Although not what would be defined as a Chinese motorcycle company KYMCO does have manufacturing bases in the mainland cities of Shanghai, Changsha and Chengdu where it applies its Taiwanese know-how. Lucy Chen from China’s i-motor cyber motorcycle magazine makes the following point. “We are not a rival for Taiwan on foreign markets yet. India is by far a bigger threat on the markets that are traditionally dominated by Chinese motorcycle factories. We are actually hoping that our natural affinity with our Taiwanese cousins can help us to upgrade our own products on the foreign markets and get back some ground from the Indian models; especially Hero Moto and Bajaj. We all know that KYMCO have produced engines for BMW and have made a name for themselves as a rival to the Japanese brands in Europe and that is an encouragement to the bigger Chinese motorcycle factories to up their game and emulate our neighbours.