Made in China? Not all of it!
A report on China’s changing motorcycle export culture from David McMullan the Englishman in China.
As China’s growing motorcycle culture becomes more sophisticated, so does the need to upgrade the parts used on Chinese motorcycles manufactured for export. With the growing success of Harley, Ducati, MV Agusta and others in China comes the realisation that to make an impact on western markets it is essential for the Chinese motorcycle industry to improve the quality of its products to a standard which is acceptable in its target countries. The primary problem for the industry is that its manufacturing infrastructure is not currently capable of such an upgrade, and time is of the essence!
One of the criticisms that can be aimed at the Chinese industry it is that is has not taken enough time to plan for future development. Now with a struggling domestic market (due to restrictions of motorcycle usage in urban areas) and saturated ‘emerging nation’ markets in which the previous Chinese monopoly faces tough competition from India, China has been forced to look into markets that it was previously ambivalent to (Europe, North America) resulting in a rapid requirement for top quality parts. This has opened the eyes of many western motorcycle parts manufacturers. In the previous two years there has been a noticeable influx of western parts companies plying their trade at Chinese motorcycle trade shows, not least in the Electric Fuel Injection industry. The Chinese industry has until recently seemed oblivious to the radical changes imminent in this field as many country’s transport departments are outlawing carburettors on motorcycles and insisting on EFI.
Ron Roche, recently retired engine management legend and Vice President (two wheels) of America’s Walbro LLC commented “China’s the growth market on the planet now. They have not paid enough attention to upgrading their products in line with the evolution of the motorcycle market and now it’s come back to bite them in the butt. They don’t have time to R and D the necessary equipment to a high enough quality in time to meet the demand so they have to seek outside assistance from companies like ourselves.”
Gavin Farmer CEO of Britain’s EFI specialists Scion Sprays adds “Scion-Sprays have developed a fuel injection system with China in mind, using a combined pumping and metering injector. For the first time, fuel is completely electronically controlled whilst using a component set that is not more than an electronic carburettor. In this way, the benefits of electronic fuel injection can be realised at a cost that competes with the electronic carburettor, keeping costs down is essential for the Chinese market as they are very price orientated exporters. We hope that the availability of this technology in China will facilitate better implementation of emissions standards on motorcycles. To some, this will add cost to the vehicle. But on the other hand, by improving the quality and usability of motorcycles it should be possible to reach new consumers such as the young and fashion conscious people. China is one of the few countries where in general people do not see a motorcycle as an aspirational product. It is also likely that if emissions were better controlled, authorities would be willing to start issuing licenses to motorcycles for city centre use again. And because of China’s high volume domestic market, logically China is best positioned to compete internationally with premium brands from Japan, Europe and the USA. There is still a lot to do in the world of Chinese motorcycles, and we are looking forward to it.”
It’s not only EFI manufacturers that are looking to reap the benefits of the Chinese industry’s shortcomings. Spanish company JJuan purveyors of quality cables and hoses (including to motoGP2 teams) have launched a campaign promoting their new line in brake systems in China. Export marketing manager Inaki stated “our products are slightly more expensive than Chinese designed parts and 3 years ago that made a difference to our popularity. Now that nearly all of the Chinese companies are planning to improve the quality of their models we have become more popular and regularly exhibit our products at expos like the CIMA to great affect.”
The Chinese view is summed up by Xu Li Xin parts manager for Sayin motorcycles who admitted “if we want to properly start competing with the Japanese on western markets our products will have to be more reliable and cheap. At the moment with the exception of companies like Loncin, Zongshen and Jialing who collaborate in tech sharing with BMW, Aprilia and Honda Chinese companies are just short of the mark. Nearly everyone I know is researching the prospect of buying certain motorcycle parts from abroad. At the CIMA I met many foreign motorcycle parts company owners that are looking in to developing factories in China for the purpose of keeping costs down and supplying Europe and US quality parts to Chinese companies. It’s a real turn around.”
American motorcycle manufacturer United Motors have there production base in Guangdong province. CEO Andres Villegas states that it’s not just foreign parts that are needed. “We are actively looking for technicians from Europe to come and work on our new models in China. We are entirely export orientated with over 200 outlets in South America but we want to move on Europe. To do that we need to improve the quality of our machines without pushing the price up too much; to do that we need to do a lot of home grown R and D, and to do that we need to employ design technicians with experience of working for European motorcycle companies.”
It’s not just western parts companies that are lining up to take their share of the Chinese market. In recent months I have been contacted by agents for helmets, pollution masks, bifocal motorcycle sunglasses and body armour manufacturers all interested in exhibiting at CIMA to install their products on the growing Chinese market and one thing is for sure; these foreign influences can do nothing but improve the Chinese motorcycle industry and related industries.