Substantial leaps made in Chinese motorcycle quality improvement
Report by David McMullan in Chongqing.
Chinese motorcycle products are improving at a decent rate to almost universal acclaim. For many years China was renowned for manufacturing cheap ‘throw away’ powered 2 wheelers for 3rd world countries, it seems that now this has all changed. Chinese industry analyst and historian Winston Guo remembers “it was the philosophy of Chinese manufacturers to make money FAST! Quick bucks were what they were all about and they had sales networks in the markets to do that. This business model was not the negative experience that it suggests, as affordable motorcycles allowed impoverished workers/ land owners in developing nations to become mechanised thus enabling them to increase their productivity. These countries also had a DIY attitude to their bikes which meant that the after-sales supply chain wasn’t as important as it would be with developed countries.”
One of the main reasons for China’s kick up the bum quality wise is the introduction of Indian brands on traditionally safe Chinese markets, particularly those in Latin America. ChinaMotor Magazine’s Latin American correspondent Marco Tasca informs “the Indian industry is capitalising on the groundwork originally laid down by the Chinese. It was Chinese motorcycles that first enabled agricultural workers to mechanise and extend their profit margins, now with a bit of extra disposable income the same people who created China’s mini-monopoly are helping to destroy it by opting to buy 2-wheelers with a step-up in quality, namely Indian brands. Indian brands are still more expensive than Chinese brands but have a reputation for better quality. Not as good as the Japanese, but better than the Chinese. It also helps that India does not go in for universal rebranding of their products with brands such as Hero, Bajaj and TSV becoming renowned for their professionalism and value for money. This has caused the Chinese to rethink their strategies and improve quality as well as up-grade their after-market philosophy and at the moment they regaining the ground that they had once lost.”
Another big reason for China’s industry rethink has been the downturn of its domestic market. The Chinese government has banned the use of motorcycles (but not electric scooters and bicycles) in almost all of China’s urban centres (the notable exception being Chongqing). This has naturally led to a huge drop in domestic sales (the drop numbering in the millions) and has caused many companies to restructure their campaigns to foreign shores. This big move to increase export has encouraged Chinese manufacturers (especially the big Chongqing companies) to enter markets that they would once have not paid much interest to; of course this has meant that they have had to spend money on research and development and design.
Chinese motorcycles are already gaining plaudits on western markets, with Britain’s Llexeter (vendor of the Lexmoto, Sinnis and Pulse brands) having just been voted ‘Scooter franchise of the year’ in the UK. Daniel Frost told us “10 years ago they would have laughed at the suggestion of a Chinese brand being competitive against its European and Japanese rivals. 5 years ago they could feel that times were changing and many forecasted a change of dominance in the industry. This year Lexmoto became the first Chinese bike brand to take the Scooter Franchise of the year award.”
Frank White is the CEO of American motorcycle company ATK. ATK motorcycles were founded in the early 1980’s and have enjoyed a reputation for quality and style since then and they have retained close ties with Chinese companies. Frank White says “I am aware of the problems facing Chinese motorcycle companies wishing to compete on the American market and have devised a solution. First of all it is important to state that America is now ready for commuter bikes from China where as in the past it has not been due to quality issues. There is a large generation of young people growing up who will have no loyalty to American or Japanese brands and Chinese motorcycles now have enough quality to compete with other brands on the American market. What Chinese companies need is someone that understands what needs to be done in the USA to succeed, that’s where we at ATK come in. We have first-class production facilities and an extensive dealer network that would entertain these new quality motorcycles. The initial plan would be for the Chinese company to send us what we are terming ‘3rd generation’ bike parts (the improved products now available) for them to be assembled in the USA, these bikes would legitimately be ‘made in the USA’ motorcycles. Our experts would construct them and get them tested by DOT and EPA so they can be registered for the roads here. Then we will organise the sale of these bikes through American dealerships thus introducing the Chinese brand onto the market.”
One of the biggest blockages to Chinese motorcycle quality development has been the lack of brand awareness due to re-branding; this has also started to change. One of China’s most forward thinking motorcycle manufacturers is CF Moto, producer of the first Chinese bike to run at any level in the Isle of Man TT. CF Moto now refuses to re-brand in certain countries, instead building their reputation as leaders in technological development under their own brand name. CF Moto dedicates 25% of its 1300 strong work force to progressive research and development, a model that’s being followed by other Chinese manufacturers in an effort to maintain parity in the export market. The crowning result of CF Moto’s efforts is the CFMoto 650 NK street motorcycle which has received rave reviews in global motorcycle publications.
Chinese motorcycles cannot yet be compared in quality to their European and Japanese cousins; they do now, however, provide exceptional value for money and are making great leaps to improve their quality and reputation.