Chinese motorcycle companies want classic brands (but don’t know how to go about it)
Report by David McMullan in Chongqing
In 2005 Chinese motorcycle giant Qianjiang took over Italian legends Benelli. For Qjiang this move was invaluable as they raised their brand awareness exponentially on an international level and gained a huge amount of ‘face’ in China as even the aristocratic Chongqing motorcycle companies had not made so bold a move. This takeover was the cause of many a boardroom meeting in the industry with motorcycle power-men and women discussing the ways that they can emulate Qjiang’s coup. Until now no other company has trodden this path but it’s not because they don’t have the interest, the simple truth is they just don’t know how to go about it!
At a recent meeting of the Chongqing Motorcycle Export Council I brought this topic up. Everyone attending agreed that these kinds of takeovers would be of huge interest to the Chinese companies, but their knowledge of the motorcycle industry outside of the Chinese influence is minimal. I mentioned a few brands from the past, brands that are no longer in circulation but live in the memories of motorcycle fans. They included- Laverda, Bultaco, BSA, Vincent, Ariel, Douglas and others; no one in the assembled group had heard of these brands but all mentioned that if they had they may have been interested in reviving them and asked me to get more information on any historical brand that might be available.
Jane Jia, one of the organisers of the China International Motorcycle Trade Exhibition (CIMAmotor) was excited at the prospect of helping the defunct brands’ revival process. “If anyone wants to showcase their brand with a mind to selling it to a Chinese company we would welcome them here in October and would prepare a forum where they could outline their intentions to sell the brand. We would invite all the CEO’s of the big Chinese motorcycle companies and provide introductions. Anyone who is interested in this should contact David McMullan.”
Chinese industry consultant Sean Kerr gives another example of a revived brand. “As well as Benelli it’s important to look at the example of Royal Enfield in India. That brand name was revived in 1995 by the Indians and has grown from strength to strength with the RE exported globally and the main factory in Chennai employing more staff to work double shifts! Wouldn’t it be great to see a new Vincent on the roads again? The Chinese companies have more than enough money to develop the tooling for some brand new and exciting models.”
Angus Charlton, co-organiser of the EPIC (custom and big bike) motorcycle show in Shanghai discussed the opportunities with me. “working towards getting some of the legendary brands back on the road is an exciting prospect and it would seem, in all honesty, that the Chinese are the best placed (maybe the only ones placed) to make it happen on a large scale. Qjiang gained enormous face by taking over Benelli and although that transaction was different to say, reviving Ariel, (as Benelli was still functioning and was not defunct for many years) it’s surely something the Chinese would consider. I would suggest that they work on reviving old classic designs and modernise them, maybe making the parts in China and assembling them in the country of the brand’s origin. It’s a very exciting thought. We would give full support to anyone wishing to display prototypes at the EPIC show.”
Yuan, the world’s biggest motorcycle shock absorber company and manufacturer of motorcycle brand XG Jao have shown interest in foreign brands in the past. “Here at Yuan we are very interested in foreign brands and have a strong wish to collaborate at some level. 2 years ago we were ready to meet Triumph about investing in their showrooms in China but their visit did not transpire unfortunately. Since then we have been thinking about the idea of buying out a defunct brand and developing new models, resurrecting it basically. We know of one old famous Spanish brand that is available and will be talking about the possibility of taking it over but if anyone approaches us with an idea we will be more than happy to consider it. For a Chinese motorcycle company the idea of owning and reviving a famous old brand is a very satisfying one indeed. When it was mentioned at the export council there was a real buzz going around the room, it certainly got industry people thinking; we’ve all seen the success of Qjiang with Benelli and I’m surprised that more of us haven’t acted on this earlier.”
I think the main thing to consider is the structure of the agreement when a brand is sold. Would the revived brand be made in China as Royal Enfield is in India? Is it better purely to produce the parts and assemble them in the brand’s home country? Would having a Chinese owner lessen the prestige of the brand or would it not matter as long as the product is of top quality as in Land Rover and Range Rover (owned by Indian company Tata)?
My own opinion is that as long as a Chinese company revives a brand and retains its original integrity it’s all good and maybe the only way we will get to see and ride these marques again. Producing a 150cc Honda copy commuter under the BSA (to use an example) brand is obviously not acceptable so contracts and agreements would have to be in place before the project went forward.