The Chinese way
By David McMullan in Chongqing, China
David McMullan is a shameless promoter of the Chinese motorcycle industry. As the International Editor for ChinaMotor Magazine and contributor to over 20 motorcycle magazines globally he uses his influence to test ride as many motorcycles as possible and generally doesn’t give them back.
Chinese motorcycles have improved. There’s no doubt about it. For many trying to avoid the congestion charges a trip in to the city on a Chinese commuter is just the ticket. These days, for the non enthusiast it makes sense to buy a Chinese commuter from a reputable dealer (that would be one that is able to provide a decent after-sales service) and many are doing so.
I’m really not sure what kind of innate snobbery causes the kind of negation that Chinese motorcycles suffer. The Chinese motorcycle industry has automated several third-world countries by producing and supplying affordable and serviceable motorcycles which have allowed the working and agrarian classes to be more independent and profitable. The Chinese motorcycle industry has provided life-changing experiences for millions in developing countries and is now turning its attention on to more developed countries like Australia and their ‘richer’ motorcycle users.
Chinese motorcycle companies covet the Western markets as much for ‘face’ as for money, although the money is always useful but to achieve as much face as possible the Chinese industry must start to work on its marketing of brand recognition.
For anyone outside of the motorcycle industry to recognise a Chinese motorcycle brand name would constitute a minor miracle; but as China produces more that half of the world’s powered-two-wheelers how can this be? The simple answer is that Chinese motorcycles get re-branded. QJiang, Loncin, Lifan, Jialing and Zongshen are 5 of the biggest motorcycle manufacturers on the planet. If Chinese brands are on the up where are they all? They are re-branded by Pagsta and other motorcycle distributors. Chinese manufacturers are aware of the necessity of promoting their own brands if they want to make a bigger impression on European markets in the near future. The first step toward this has been their constant presence at the Intermot Cologne and EICMA Milan motorcycle exhibitions where Chinese companies have taken up to a quarter of the entire exhibition floor area.
Ah but how are we to recognise a distinctively Chinese motorcycle when they all look the same, don’t they?
One thing that is really starting to get my goat out is the constant blathering that normally goes something like this “Chinese factories only ever clone Japanese bikes, they never make an original product” etc. I would remind these blatherers of Kawasaki’s introduction on to the international market with bikes that ‘more than slightly’ resembled BSA models. Also, have a look at the big selling Honda Metropolitan (Scoopy, Jazz or whatever it’s called in Australia) scooter. If that isn’t more than based on a Vespa then I’m a monkey’s uncle! Why is it not considered a clone? -Because it’s Honda and not Bashan? These are an old and new example of many I could mention. A motorcycle is quite a standard machine; to truly produce a model that in no way resembled any other would require the designer to produce something that would possible no longer be considered a motorcycle.
In any case this accusation of ‘cloning’ is no longer valid. All of the top 20 motorcycle companies in China either enjoy design help from their foreign cooperative partners (Zongshen- Piaggio. Jianshe-Yamaha, Loncin-BMW, Lifan- MV Agusta), have bought their own European marques (Qianjiang- Benelli) or hire top level motorcycle design consultants like Marabese of Milan (in the case of Qinqi who also collaborate with Peugeot for their scooters). Marabese also work with Triumph!
On Western markets the talk was always of the lack of after sales services and availability of parts, but really, whose fault is that? Parts are available from any motorcycle factory in China, there are thousands of companies and billions of parts all waiting to be sold; if the dealer/seller doesn’t arm himself with the right after-products then surely he can only blame himself? As for servicing them, this really ought to be a simple job, after all there is little chance of finding a desmodronic valve on a Chinese 125cc commuter…for now anyway. As my mechanic grandfather would say when questioned on different kinds of bikes “they’re all just nuts and bolts anyway,” but I digress. Here’s the long-and-short of it, there are loads of Chinese motorcycle parts vendors: look on the internet.
The future for China
After a shaky beginning Chinese motorcycle exports to the developed countries have really gone up a gear, mainly due to 1- a substantial rise in quality 2- less disposable income for the potential motorcycle buyer 3- congestion charges tempting people who have no motorcycle loyalty/snobbery to buy the best value for money 4- dealers jumping over each other to get on the bandwagon.
Chinese marketing teams are well aware of global government campaigns to promote motorcycling and will set their strategies accordingly, they are also aware of the invaluable brand marketing achieved through professional motorcycle racing and the media that covers it. Loncin (motoGP125), Shineray (motocross) and Zongshen (Superbikes) have all previously attempted to build their brand image through competitive racing, but due to poor consultancy have yet to achieve satisfactory results. This is a phenomenon that the serious companies are addressing, and one that could well come to a head this October at the CIMAMotor expo in Chongqing where many company bosses will seek advice from the delegation from FIM which is strongly rumoured to contain the FIM president Vito Ippolito himself. Next year could well be the boom year for Chinese motorcycles on Western markets.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed/ were infuriated by my rant. If you have anything to say on the matter I would very much value your input. Additionally, anyone wishing to visit the CIMAMotor expo next month should contact Australian Motorcycle Council president Shaun Lennard.