The Chinese are coming!

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Editor ‘arris takes a look at some of the more recent Chinese imports and ponders the state of the Chinese motorcycle market in Canada.

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Words: Editor ‘arris. Pics: supplied, credited, stolen.

We all know that China has undergone an economic revolution in recent history, one result being an early influx of scooters, and more recently small to mid-range motorcycle. It’s estimated that China currently produces 28 million scooters and motorcycles a year, many for the export market, some for Canada.

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Chinese motorcycles have come along way since the Dongha.

I had an interesting chance meeting with a group of delegates from the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for Motorcycles (CCCM) at the Toronto Motorcycle Show back in December. They were in Toronto to see the show and talk with Canada’s industry body (MMIC) on how best to regulate, import and integrate Chinese motorcycles into Canada.

It was the MMIC who suggested to me that I might want to meet with them for a possible article in CMG (thanks Jo-Anne). What I really wanted to do was go back to my hotel and sleep off the CMG pub night-induced hangover, but I couldn’t turn down a chance to meet and chat with the Chinese Motorcycle knobs.

Of course the number-one question was the widely-perceived lack of quality of Chinese products. I’m surprised that they have to confer for the answer as this must be an old chestnut for them by now, but it’s quickly obvious that it’s not because they’ve not heard the question before, but because it’s an evolving situation.

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Production line for the Konker shows Suzuki bikes being manufactured as well.

There is an official government standard for quality, with a top tier (known as “TR1”), which indicates “highest quality”. Currently 30 motorcycle/scooter manufacturers (out of a total of 147) are at this level. Hey, there used to be over 400 manufacturers; the fact that there are now only 147 is attributed to a tightening of quality standards.

But so what? Would a “TR1 stamp of quality” on a motorcycle mean anything to a potential consumer in Canada? Well, it may be used at source to decide which products can actually leave China for export (ah, the advantage of a autocracyEdit), thus nipping the problem in the bud before it even gets out of the country.

Interestingly, there was also talk of working with the MMIC to ensure a quality standard, but I doubt the MMIC are very interested in taking on such a role.

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Benelli’s President Mr Lin Hua Zhong.
Photo: Benelli.com

The CCCM are also trying to encourage manufacturers to sell their wares using their own names rather than rebranding them under a multitude of names at the behest of local  importers – which may have the effect of using a more western style name and disguising the country of origin, but does nothing to establish brand and any associated quality improvements.

But if you can’t beat them, then you can always buy them. The example of Benelli was offered — which as of 2005 is now part of Motor Group Qianjiang. Qianjiang is located at Wenling in southeast China and is China’s largest manufacturer of powered two-wheelers, manufacturing over a million such things every year.

However, Benelli Q.J. is still located in Pesaro, Italy as is its workforce, so to date there are no Chinese-assembled Benellis on the market, though parts, including motors for the Benelli scooters, are now being made at the Chinese factory.

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Highland dirt tracker.

Another example of not buying but working together is Highland Group in Sweden (you may not have heard of them, but this small company produces some very interesting 950 cc v-twin powered motorcycles).

In January 2006, together with the Chinese motorcycle manufacturer Louyang Northern Enterprises Co. Ltd., Highland started a joint manufacturing company called Louija Highland Motors Co. Ltd., based at Louyang, China. According to a member of the CCCM delegation, those large and technologically advanced v-twins are built at the Louyang plant!

IN THE METAL

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The Xingyue XY400Y-2 dualie (left) and the GY Roadster. Styling still needs some work …

It was during my recent trip to the Vancouver Motorcycle Show that I finally saw a Chinese motorcycle that made me think they might be coming into their own.

Interestingly, Xingyue are also the first Chinese manufacturer in Canada to be selling their wares under their own name.

They make a range of scooters and a few small motorcycles, a selection of which are being imported into Canada by Quad Tek Industries – who are in the process of adding the Xinguye Canada name to their branding (BTW, we’ll be adding the new Xingyue line to the CMG NMBG shortly).

Of course, I haven’t tested one yet — truth be told, the closest I’ve got is to sit on one while I was at the show — but there’s a lot you can tell from seeing something close up in the metal. For starters they have two non-scooters (a road bike and a dual-sport) and that differentiates them from the masses right there.

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The Konker KSM200.

Both of these bikes use a liquid-cooled, 400 cc motor that looks to be proprietary (as in not a copy from another manufacturer) and a much more sizable unit than the standard 150-200 cc air-cooled motors that you usually get.

Fit and finish looks on par to the Japanese (okay, some of the welding is a bit splashy) and at least in the case of the dual-sport, styling is pretty good. Alright, the road bike has the telltale chunky Asian styling issues, but they’re only the second Chinese imports that I’ve personally looked at up close and not cringed.

The first is the Konker, which at the moment only consists of one model – the KSM 200, a dual-sport air-cooled 200cc single made in a Chinese factory that also makes bikes for Suzuki. Despite having a relatively small and low-spec motor, the chassis comes with decent suspension (including USD forks), styling that’s not half bad and at close inspection the quality also appears to be there.

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Suzuki’s DR200SE.

As you would expect, both brands are bringing in their bikes at a price point that will get them noticed. The Xinguye XY400Y-2 (that’s the dual-sporter) has an MSRP of $4,999.00 – compare that to the similarly spec’d Suzuki DRZ400 at $7,799.00!

Likewise the Konker KSM 200 is comparable to Suzuki’s DR200SE (apparently the engines are the same as well), but at an MSRP of $2,995.00, it’s almost two grand less than the Suzuki which comes in at $4,899.00.

Of course, specs are only one part of the equation, even are high-spec machine can not HUH? come together well in the real world and it remains to be seen if this new breed of Chinese imports can withstand the test of time.

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60’s ad for Hondas.

There have been many comparisons made between the Chinese now and the Japanese back in the 1960s. However, back then Japan was playing with technology that the western motorcycle industry was ignoring – a mistake that ultimately led to the meteoric rise of the Japanese.

The same is not true for China, which it is currently fixing either by buy-ins like the one with Benelli, joint ventures as with Highland or just building it up as you go, as shown with improved quality and higher spec parts creeping in.

One thing’s for sure: they face an uphill struggle in the West trying to change a “Made in China” label from one of a deficit to a selling point, but I see this as only being a matter of time. If the pricing differential remains, then the Japanese will be facing a tough future.

When I asked one of the CCCM delegates if they thought that China was competitive with the Japanese at the moment, he replied, “No, not competitive with Japanese at the moment … likely in near future will change.”

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Has the manufacturer of the Konker 200 submitted any documentation to Transport Canada -the RIV- showing that the Konker 200 has complied with all safety standards which is an important requirement for its importation and licencing ?

  2. I visited the Konker booth in Montreal, was pleasantly surprised
    by the KSM 200.The product is in my opinion head and shoulders above
    any other Chinese bikes I have seen.I was impressed enough too begin
    selling them. We should get our first bikes buy March 20th. I will
    be trying one my self, and will get back to you with my feedback
    Bryan

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