A few years ago, it seemed Chinese motorcycles were about to make a big dent in the North American street market, and Lifan was leading the way.
Now, in 2014, there are very few Chinese street-legal models for sale, and Lifan has just been handed a crushing blow by the EPA in the US.
According to EPA documents, Lifan has been fined $630,000 for “illegally importing and selling nearly 28,000 highway motorcycles, recreational vehicles, and engines manufactured in China that did not comply with emission limits for harmful pollution required by the Clean Air Act.”
The vehicles in question were sold between 2007 and 2011. There were 5,400 street-legal bikes involved; the EPA says “Each motorcycle was not covered by the certificate of conformity (COC) that purportedly covered it for one or more of the following reasons: it was manufactured after the expiration date of the COC; it had a model name that was not identified on the COC; it was manufactured by a different company than was identified in the COC application; it was imported prior to the effective date of the COC; its carburetor has adjustable parameters that that do not conform to the design specifications submitted in the application for the COC; its crankcase emits directly into the ambient atmosphere; and it was incorrectly certified as a nonroad vehicle.”
Read into the short history of China bikes, and you can see where most of this is coming from. Many owners bought their bikes as off-road only vehicles, then got a local DMV to change their registration. I followed a similar process when I registered my Lifan in Canada. It was legal at the time, but the EPA apparently wasn’t impressed.
As well, the decentralized nature of the Chinese motorcycle industry is no doubt to blame for some of the confusion regarding model names, and the confusion surrounding manufacturers.
What does this mean for us in Canada? It likely won’t change things much; the China bike sellers seem to have known something like this was coming, because bargain-basement bikes like Lifan’s GY-5 have mostly vanished from the scene . now that the EPA is keeping a close eye, we’re guessing we’re not going to see them return anytime soon. Some Chinese brands, like Cleveland Cyclewerks, likely won’t be affected, since they’ve gone to great expense and effort to jump through the EPA’s hoops. But since the Canadian transportation authorities rely heavily on the EPA, don’t expect to buy a drop-shipped Lifan for $1500 anytime soon.
It’s not just the lower-end manufacturers the EPA has had in their sights lately; in early March, the EPA fined CFMoto $725,000 in the US for importing 12,000 ATVs and motorcycles that didn’t meet EPA standards. They also made CFMoto replace the fuel tanks on hundreds of other vehicles to meet EPA standards.
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