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David McMullan's blog

The dragon and the rising sun. China and Japan still at motorcycle war

Posted by Shem on September 5, 2016 at 8:35 PM



For centuries the clash between the Chinese and the Japanese has seen constant conflict until the relatively recent, more peaceful years of the latter 20th century. While the cultures and people are very similar in many ways there have always been rivalries in production that will remain in contention for as long as the two nations exist separately. One of the biggest industries now drawing battle lines between the two countries is the motorcycle industry. Rather than drawing swords in the field they are smelting metals in the factories to out-do each other on the economic front.

While it’s evident to any industry figure that the Japanese have had the head start in this production war it’s not a lead that remains completely in favour of the Japanese in some respects. If we look at the numbers it’s plain to see that China has eclipsed any other nation on earth when it comes to sheer volume of units produced but that’s without factoring in quality of the units, of course.

From the mid 80’s Chinese motorcycle manufacturers have been taking their lead from the Japanese “Big 4” and replicating the models and technology already on the market to make Glone such as the ever popular cubs and CG copies. This strategy made for good business in previous decades but modern Chinese manufactures with the means of researching and developing their own technology are becoming more commonplace. Where once a Chinese bike may have been an exact copy of its Japanese counterpart the industry is now seeing Chinese bikes designed and built from the ground up using original plans.

A large difference in production strategies between the two nations falls on the restriction placed on the Japanese industry after the Second World War when the government limited only four companies to producing motorcycles (Suzuki, Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki) and other producers, such as Bridgestone and Fuji were forced to take different paths.

China’s origins in motorcycles came from the necessity to have mobile armed forces and military motorcycles were some of the first off the production lines. These days their focus is on domestic and export markets; the former to transition the agrarian work force from mule to motor and the latter to build brand recognition among the leisure and commuter markets abroad.

None of the restriction placed on companies in the Japanese scene have ever been imposed on Chinese manufactures leading to the many hundreds of firms that jostle for market share today.

It may be the internationally trusted Japanese models making all the right noises in the European and American markets where motorcycle riding is more for enthusiasts and the thrill seekers but the low cost simplicity of Chinese bikes has made them a key tool for the people of poorer nations in places like South America and Africa. Even other Asian countries like Vietnam and Thailand have seen huge sales figures on Chinese motorcycles due to their competitive prices and fair quality.

Seeing the potential threat to their market share some of the Japanese makers have entered joint partnerships with bigger Chinese builders in an effort to share production and profit. Honda has a deal with Wuyang and Sukida, mega company Jianshe have teamed up with Yamaha and Qingqi are involved with Suzuki. It’s only Kawasaki that are yet to make a deal with Chinese factories but that may not be far off as rumours have circulated for years about possible cooperation in China.

At a glance it’s evident to see that the Japanese are still the leader of the two nation battle but it’s only a matter of time before the Japanese lose their foothold in previously secure market.





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