Taiwan Motorcycle Industry – A World Apart from China

Taiwan Motorcycle Industry - A World Apart from China
Kymco Quannon 150
Taiwan Motorcycle Industry - A World Apart from China
Kymco Quannon 150

Taiwan Motorcycle Industry News

When I am out and around motorcycle exhibitions it’s not uncommon (on hearing that I am a Chinese motorcycle journalist) for people to ask me for my opinions on motorcycle production companies Kymco and Sym as if they are Chinese motorcycle manufacturers. They are not, they are Taiwanese and there are differences.

In April of this year Taiwan hosted its annual motorcycle trade exhibition. One of the more noticeable aspects of the show was the high attendance of motorcycle industry staff from mainland China.

It is only relatively recently that the mainland Chinese have been able to fly direct to Taiwan and in April they did so in their thousands.

When asked about his attendance Chongqing Bashan staffer Hu Lifeng said: “the Chinese motorcycle industry has begun to look to the Taiwanese equivalent for advice. In previous years the Chinese industry had suffered from a dire reputation but the Taiwanese industry never did.

“We are looking to perhaps learn something from their business models and to learn where they employ their designers from as Taiwanese motorcycle style is very aesthetically pleasing. I’d also like to pick the brains of their research and development guys and remember we can do this because the Taiwanese guys all speak Mandarin!

“We are not a huge enemy of Taiwan on the western markets as yet but we are looking to be able to compete on a more level playing field. India is by far a bigger rival in the marketplaces that are usually controlled by Chinese motorcycle factories.

“We are really hopeful that the natural kinship with our Taiwanese cousins can help us to upgrade our own products on the foreign markets and get back some ground from the Indian models; especially Hero Moto and Bajaj.

“We all know that KYMCO have produced engines for BMW and have made a name for themselves as a rival to the Japanese brands in Europe and that is a form of encouragement to the bigger Chinese motorcycle factories to up their game and emulate our neighbors. We are their cousins when we are at the expo or around the dinner table with them, then enemies when we are back in the company offices on mainland!”

ChinaMotor Magazine’s Jeremy Hamilton reported “it was a real eye-opener (witnessing the thousands that had come from China), especially as most of the Chinese I met were industry types and not just over for an interested look. There are no solid cooperation agreements between the Taiwanese and Chinese motorcycle manufacturers but Kymco does have manufacturing bases in the mainland cities of Shanghai, Changsha and Chengdu where it applies its Taiwanese know-how and uses Chinese labor.”

It is only in the last few years that the Chinese industry has looked to the Taiwanese for a model to perhaps copy. Now that Chinese motorcycle companies are picking up speed in Western countries they are looking for the sort of brand recognition that Kymco and Sym have garnered (with Chinese company CFMoto getting away from the whole “rebranding” policy). To accomplish this Chinese companies have planned to improve their quality with some brands actively employing designers from Taiwan; or Italian designers recommended by Taiwanese industry experts.

Taiwan’s motorcycle industry accounts for about NT$85 billion (US$2.5 billion) worth of production worth per annum and Taiwan’s manufacturers have concentrated on construction of motorcycles with displacements from 250 cc to 500 cc; this engine range is better suited for European and North American markets. This is stark contrast to the Chinese industry which is most comfortable producing from 30 cc to 200 cc models and despite recent projects to produce 600 cc and 650 cc displacement engines is firmly still reliant on the smaller engine market although recent reports suggest that the trend is changing.

Taiwan’s largest motorcycle manufacturer in terms of unit sales is Kwang Yang (KYMCO). KYMCO originally cooperated with Honda but split from the Japanese giant in 1963 although continuing to produce parts for them. In 1970 KYMCO build its own complete motor scooter and started to market their KYMCO brand for export in 1992.

In the 2000s, KYMCO became the principal scooter manufacturer in Taiwan and the fifth largest scooter manufacturer in the world. Although not what would be defined as a Chinese motorcycle company KYMCO does have manufacturing bases in the mainland cities of Shanghai, Changsha and Chengdu.

Yamaha Motor Taiwan Co., a subsidiary of Japan’s Yamaha Motor Co.; and Sanyang (SYM). Other Taiwanese motorcycle makers include Motive Power Industry Co., previously a partner of Italy’s Piaggio & C S.p.A, Aeon and Tailing Motor Co. a subsidiary of Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corp.

Sanyang sells motorcycles under the SYM brand, while Kwang Yang has the KYMCO brand and Motive Power uses the PGO brand. Unlike China the Taiwanese government has made brand building precedence in boosting the competitiveness and recognition of Taiwan’s motorcycle export products.

Dimitri Hettinga of Holland’s Super Motor Company makes the distinction between the two countries attitude to export.

“I noticed a very interesting phenomenon when making enquiries to both Taiwanese and Chinese motorcycle manufacturing companies, Hettinga says.

“What is instantly noticeable is the reaction to your introduction, when stating that you ‘are interested in purchasing motorcycles for import’ Taiwanese factories are likely to ask you ‘what kind of specifications and features would you like’ whereas the Chinese counterpart is almost certain to ask you ‘how many units do you want’.

“I’ve always had the notion that the Taiwanese base their business structure on the Japanese model, China specializes in providing affordable commuters to developing countries Taiwan is the blight of the Japanese, cutting their market shares in the more discriminating markets of Europe and North America.”

Report by ChinaMotor Magazine’s David McMullan