Spotlight: Motorcycles from China

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Spotlight: Motorcycles from China


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Spotlight: Motorcycles from China

Spotlight: Motorcycles from China
China: danger or opportunity?

In terms of quality, they are still lagging behind; in terms of quantity, China’s motorcycle industry has long overtaken the rest of the world. The West seeks cooperation and hopes. where are you travelling to?

Clemens Albrecht


Spotlight: Motorcycles from China


Zongshen won the World Endurance Championship and set scent brands in the 250 World Championship: starts in 2005 and 2008 – on Aprilia.

Prize question: Which country is the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world? Who now spontaneously with “Japan” answers, is unfortunately wrong. Nippon handed over the top position to China over a decade ago. In 2008, 27.5 million motorized two-wheelers were produced in the Middle Kingdom, more than half of the annual world market production. There are currently around 130 Chinese manufacturers; the five largest alone each build more than a million motorcycles per year.

Most motorcycle manufacturers are concentrated in the mega-metropolis of Chongquing, in whose catchment area ten million people live. The total production number of the German market leader BMW of around 100,000 units per year would not be noticeable there. Granted, the overwhelming majority of the Chinese “motorcycles” are scooters and single-cylinder mopeds with between 50 and 250 cubic meters, but the proportion of larger cubic capacities is growing. Meanwhile, a manufacturer called Jialing is already building a 600 series.

Most of the engines there are air-cooled single cylinders with carburettors. ABS, injection or high horsepower are still in vain. But anyone who smiles at a Chinese motorcycle in Europe today could die laughing in a few years. The Chinese learn quickly, and the government puts a lot of money into training at universities and colleges – especially in engineering. There are already some good design centers that know how to serve western tastes. It is probably no coincidence that the BMW subsidiary Designworks recently opened a studio in Shanghai.

Spotlight: Motorcycles from China


Some companies want to appear and sound Japanese.

The Chinese are often accused of boldly copying products, which is often true. In China, however, this is not regarded as reprehensible, but rather as a sign of appreciation for a role model worth emulating. The plagiarism does not yet stand a direct comparison in terms of quality, reliability and performance with the western originals – this is shown by tests, including by MOTORRAD (top test Shineray 125 in issue 12/2007). But the Chinese manufacturers are continuously improving their motorcycles. It is well known that Chinese wages are only a fraction of European wages, and bikes can be produced cheaply in China.

Japan set out to become the world leader in the motorcycle sector in the 1960s, and the big western manufacturers at the time did not take it seriously. But through hard work and intelligence, the Japanese achieved their goal, as is well known, and many European and American brands went bankrupt. Today, the established motorcycle companies complain about declining sales figures in Europe and North America. People here are now used to driving large-displacement motorcycles, but the associated high costs are deterring more and more motorcycle fans from their hobby, and there is a lack of youngsters everywhere.   

Quite different in China and Southeast Asia. The people there are becoming more and more prosperous and want more mobility. Cars are still not affordable for many Chinese, even though the number of car owners in cities is growing rapidly. But motorbikes offer the rural population in particular – several hundred million people – the same mobility at significantly lower costs. Apart from a small kink in 2009, Chinese motorcycle manufacturers are seeing steadily growing sales. Around 15 million motorcycles are sold in China every year.

Motorcycles from China

Spotlight: Motorcycles from China


In order to meet the demands in your own country, Chinese bikes have to be small but robust. But disc brakes have long been standard, and injection and other electronics will not be hurdles for China’s developers.

Most of the major Chinese brands have a solid financial base. That would allow investment in the development of future models as well as more expensive materials and components. But attitudes towards motorcycles as a mere means of transport are also changing in China: Wang Wei, Director of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), declared back in 2009 on the occasion of the largest Chinese motorcycle exhibition, the CIMA Motor Show, that Chinese drivers are now doing more expect from your bike.

Wang predicted a great future for the Chinese motorcycle industry: “As sports equipment and for entertainment, large-volume motorcycles will have a rapid development in China.” Due to the lack of paved circuits, motocross events, in which more than 100 teams often compete, are particularly popular. The Chinese enthusiasm for motorcycles may well be viewed as a threat by established foreign manufacturers. But even if the Chinese didn’t build and export large motorcycles, the country with its 1.3 billion inhabitants is considered to be the market of the future.

This is precisely why motorcycle manufacturers from all over the world are trying to get a foothold in the Middle Kingdom so as not to be overwhelmed by developments. Haojue, currently the largest motorcycle manufacturer in China with three million motorcycles and scooters and an additional three million engine units, has long signed a deal with Suzuki and exports its products to 70 countries. Yamaha and Honda also entered into partnerships with Chinese brands years ago in order to secure their part of the cake. The Chinese bikes benefit from the modern engines, and the Japanese can get rid of huge numbers of drive units.

Many Japanese, European and American brands have components of their models manufactured in China, but for image reasons try not to make this public as far as possible. BMW has had the engine for the G 650 GS built by Loncin since 2007. Despite early prophecies of doom, the single turned out to be reliable and superbly processed. From Europe are i.a. Piaggio, Peugeot, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi entered into partnerships, even the exotic brand Benelli is represented – it was bought by a Chinese investor. Harley-Davidson entered into a joint venture with Zongshen in 2005, which has now ended. Incidentally, the name should be familiar to fans of the endurance world championship, as Team Zongshen became world champions with a 1000cc Suzuki in 2002. Not bad for a company that was only founded in 1995.

Spotlight: Motorcycles from China


Where much new is created, old is disposed of.

Conversely, it is difficult for foreign brands to import motorcycles into China. Customs levy a 140 percent import tax on imported bikes. The Chinese authorities are also diligently putting hurdles in the way of the approval of large motorcycles. For example, anyone who buys a Harley in Shanghai – there are now four branches in China – has to go to Beijing, 1,000 km away, to get a license. Some city centers are not allowed to drive large motorbikes, the transport of passengers is prohibited and most highways have a speed limit of 60 km / h. But a steadily growing wealthy class longs for Western status symbols.

There is already one in Beijing “Harley Owners Group”, whose members just spend the equivalent of 50,000 euros on a series Harley. China is also the country with the fastest growing number of dollar millionaires and is now fourth in the world. It should only be a matter of time before Chinese motorcycles come at least close to Japanese-European standards in terms of quality, displacement and design. By the way, the Chinese motorcycle developers are already ahead of us in one aspect: They are increasingly relying on electric motors.

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