The changing face of the Chinese domestic motorcycle market
David McMullan talks to Mr. Deng Yong General Manager of Harley Davidson, Chongqing
I’ve said a lot recently about the desperate situation of the domestic Chinese motorcycle industry. New regulations and city-wide bans on traditionally powered 2 wheelers have had a devastating affect but there is a positive story to come out of this situation, and it doesn’t begin with Chinese manufacture.
Iconic foreign motorcycle brands are flooding in and being lapped up by the young Chinese middle-classes, none more so than the iconic American marque Harley Davidson. China’s newest HD dealership is in the motorcycle capital Chongqing and I was recently invited there to have a good look around and discuss the future of the brand.
Chinese motorcyclists are not too au fait with many of the famous brands we consider iconic, Harley is a different story. Classic Hollywood movies have projected the HD culture in China over the last 20 years, the difference is now that Harley Davidson motorcycles are readily available and the Chinese middle-classes can afford them! With 12 dealerships in all of China’s major cosmopolitan centres and many more planned, Harley Davidson is enjoying the type of success and popularity that other brands can only dream of.
The Chongqing dealership, despite its recent genesis, is China’s flagship store and displays all that’s best about HD culture. From its luxuriant showroom and members bar/grill to its custom garage HD Chongqing reeks America! As I browsed the sportsters, soft tails and trikes I got the feeling that an extraordinary amount of effort and financial investment had gone in to this project. I asked Deng Yong what the Chinese market meant to Harley Davidson, his reply was positive “Harley Davidson is one of the best known brands globally and has a long historical infrastructure in North America and Europe. HD’s number one marketing target is now Asia, and within Asia their number one target is China! While Americans will always remain the biggest consumers of HD we are confident that eventually China can be a close second. The potential here is enormous.”
I asked Deng Yong about he problems facing HD regarding the restrictions in motorcycle riding in urban centres and on motorways “it’s a problem for their entire industry but HD are actively involved in talks with CAAM and the government on a concession for bigger displacement motorcycles, it’s all moving forward quite well after the USA- China motorcycle trade forum in Beijing last October. Time will tell but with Ducati, MV Agusta, BMW and later Triumph all plying their trade here we feel sure that something positive will happen.”
With so many foreign motorcycle companies now cooperating with their Chinese counterparts I asked Deng about the possibility of HD following these lines. “We want to stay as independent as possible. Harley is a well known brand and probably doesn’t need the kind of introduction that Lifan has given MV. Agusta and such like. Our bikes are shipped in knocked down from the US via Singapore and we construct them in our garage. Our garage is also able to custom make hogs for enthusiasts although at the moment the Chinese market is not yet completely switched on to customisation, although when it invariably does we will be ready and very willing!”
I asked Deng about his marketing strategies “Although Harley Davidson is a classic motorcycle brand of course we have to be seen around town actively participating in HD events. We have many rallies and a greatly active Harley Davidson owners club which is growing week by week. Even people who are not quite ready to buy the bike are buying the accessories; the accessory trade is a huge part of our market and of course is a great way of spreading the name, we have unique Harley Davidson Chongqing products and they are becoming very popular. The Chongqing dealership is the biggest in China, and of course we in this city don’t have to worry about the motorcycle ban or restriction. Anyone with a full motorcycle licence can buy a Harley and we provide full tuition until that person is able to safely and competently ride the bike. This January all of the China HD executives and management from around China will meet here in Chongqing for the annual summit. I have worked in the motorcycle industry in Chongqing for over 10 years and this is by far the biggest thing I have been connected with, it’s very exciting.”
I asked Deng Yong if there were any difficulties hiring professional mechanics and after-service staff “no problems there. Chongqing is the city of a million bike mechanics and we select the ones are crazy about Harley! Once selected they go on a training course run by top Harley techs and return the complete deal! As I mentioned earlier customisation is one of the things that we have to look seriously at in the future and all of our mechanics are more than ready for the task.”
I wondered which HD models were drawing the most attention. Deng Yong told me “all of them really, but I feel the biggest sellers initially will be the smaller models like the sportsters, probably because Chinese people are smaller than our more robust American and European cousins. The tricycle receives a lot of attention. We regularly hold events here at the dealership at which those with a valid driving licence can test ride the bikes. Of course with Chongqing being a motorcycle city the buzz around the HD store is incredible, it will be no surprise when HD takes off in a big way here. It will only be a short time before Chongqing and the whole of China adopts the Harley Davidson culture!”
My sincere thanks go to Deng Yong and his staff for the hospitality and for showing me around an extremely impressive dealership.