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China gets serious about future change and asks for advice


David McMullan reports from the first China International Motorcycle Conference in Shanghai




On the 7th May motorcycle industry dignitaries from China and around the world packed in to a conference room at the Shanghai exhibition centre. Representatives and advisors from 4 continents attended in what has been reported as the first time that the Chinese motorcycle industry has asked for help and opinion from overseas advisors en masse.


Representatives from China’s top motorcycle manufacturers, exhibition organisers and research and development technicians rubbed shoulders with advisors from Europe, USA and South America in an effort to garner some further understanding of the global motorcycle market. Conference organiser Winston Guo stated “for too long we have not looked to the future, preferring to deal in the here and now and craving the fast buck! The idea of this conference is to give Chinese motorcycle bosses an idea of what is really wanted and needed from the industry in the future. We’ve invited quite a varied bunch as we wanted to cover as many aspects of the industry as possible. The key note speeches are on import/export laws, future electronic control technology, design, and after sales services and marketing. The hope is that this conference can re-start our flagging industry and silence the critics that say we are not forward looking enough.”


The first piece of advice came from Brazilian motorcycle luminary Arlindo Romero who spoke about the need for Chinese companies to promote their own brands. “We have many motorcycle companies in Brazil that import Chinese products and re-brand them. The problem with this is that the customer does not know which company to get parts from if anything goes wrong.  Some of these companies are not using one supplier and the whole thing has become very complicated and is giving the Chinese industry a bad name. Some companies are doing better than others but it’s invariably companies that keep their own branding, offering a certain modicum of comfort to customers who want to know the origins of their machine. Shineray do this and provide an adequate after market service. If Chinese companies want to succeed in Brazil and expand their markets in Latin America they would be well advised to look away from re-branding, after all, can you image Honda re-branding? It’s unthinkable.”


Paul Vitrano, the General Council of America’s Motorcycle Industry Council lamented after-sales services. “In America there is only a small market for bikes under 500cc and if China wants a piece of that action it’s going to have to be more responsible for the after-sales service instead of just leaving such things to the importers. Chinese companies have a responsibility to check out who they are selling to”


Sergio Matteo Savaresi from Italy’s main engineering university the Polytechnic of Milan and EUROBIKE’s Managing Editor Jan Willem van-Shailk reinforced the need for Chinese manufacturers to begin looking at the future of electronic control systems. Sergio commented “electric control systems are really the only quantum leap in motorcycle technology in the last 4 decades. The Chinese industry really has to make sure that they are developing technology for EFI, ABS, electric tracking and semi-active steering damping. With the brains and facilities available in China there is no reason why the Chinese shouldn’t be one of the leaders in this field. What they will find is that if they have to rely on European and American made systems, there prices will rise and make the sale of their bikes untenable. With home-made systems China will be able to produce the kind of value that it known for as well as keeping a constant eye on the quality of its products. As is well known features like EFI and ABS will be implemented in motorcycle laws, not just in Europe but around the world so now would be a good time for the Chinese industry to get moving! ”


Costantino Ruggiero was for years the main organiser of EICMA Milan, the biggest and most influential motorcycle exhibition in existence. He praised China’s willingness to exhibit at global expos. “Chinese companies have a history of investing in exhibitions. I know that there are some companies less than happy with the placements they were given at certain expos but that hasn’t diluted their enthusiasm for exhibiting new models around the world. This decision is one of the main reasons that people are starting to notice the improvement in Chinese motorcycles.” 


On the concepts of design Allesandro Belli a Florentine motorcycle designer and jurist at the ‘world’s most beautiful motorcycle’ contest (as well as being a recipient of the Philip Morris design and technology award) stressed the need for innovative and original design. “We have seen a change in the Chinese industry’s design philosophies with many companies now looking to Italian and other European designers. I think they are taking the lead from Taiwan in this case. In my opinion the Chinese industry should not just bring in foreign designers, but send Chinese designers to Europe to learn their trade so they can go back to China and teach others, thus the process of the self-sufficient design process starts.”


Wang Min the Chairman of the China Chamber of Commerce for motorcycles welcomed the advice given at the conference. “If Chinese motorcycles are to take the next steps it is essential for us to listen to expects for motorcycle industries that have a longer industry history than ours. If we are to ride out these tough times and succeed in opening new markets it’s of paramount importance that we seek help from the people that know. Up until now many Chinese motorcycle manufacturers have been happy with producing the bare minimum but this philosophy won’t succeed for much longer. This forum has come at the perfect time and the Chinese reaction to it suggests that it has touched a nerve. Time will tell.”