One of the most frustrating statements that I regularly hear goes along the lines of “Chinese factories can’t make good quality products.”This as a standalone comment is utter nonsense, if we consider all the facts relating to Chinese technology some of the most important ones must be that China has a very successful space program, second only to USA and Russia in the world.
It was also the first country to run maglev (although originally developed in the UK) trains; the journey from Shanghai city to Pudong airport would make you a passenger on the fastest train in the world. In engineering you would be hard pushed to witness anything as incredible as the 3 gorges dam which is the biggest engineering project the world has ever seen and brings electricity to millions. What then of motorcycles?Everyone agrees that Chinese motorcycle quality has increased over the last few years, but they will also agree that they don’t represent the very highest of levels of motorcycle technology – this is not to say that the Chinese cannot!At the last China Motorcycle Parts Fair (CMPF) I had a chat with a few of the exhibitors there over a cup of tea. One of the aspects of the conversation that interested me was that a big proportion of the most prestigious brands in the world are selling motorcycles with at least some of the parts made in China.Chen Long of the ZSC sprocket company admitted “one of our customers is a very well-known Italian motorcycle manufacturer; they have been dealing with us for many years and regularly send one of their technical staff to oversee their production requirements.”This comment was echoed by many of the OEM representatives at the fair as they admitted that American, British, Japanese and European motorcycle marques utilized Chinese precision parts.Loncin have been the OEM for some of BMW’s engines for a few years now. So successful is this partnership that BMW has employed Loncin to make whole units. Winston Guo made the announcement, “The Loncin Motorcycle factory signed a large displacement pedal motorcycles long-term entrustment for a manufacturing contract with Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) in Chongqing on March 12th, 2015. The signing of this contract realizes that the cooperation between both sides has evolved from producing large displacement engines to producing finished motorcycles, and it also signifies that the Chongqing-based large displacement high-end motorcycle manufacturing capacity has reached an advanced level in the world. The total output value of this project is expected to exceed 3 billion Yuan as the production capacity is estimated to reach 15000 units per year. The agreement mainly involved that Loncin Motor Co., Ltd would make 350 cc displacement water –cooled motorcycles (including finished motorcycles and engines) for BMW based on technical data provided by them, and large displacement motorcycles satisfying Europe Ⅳ standards which would be mainly used for urban leisure riding.”One of the success stories of recent years has been the quality and value of “Kymco” 2 wheelers. The Taiwanese company has been a thorn in the side to its Japanese competitors and is generally regarded for producing reliable motorcycles. One thing that may not be generally known is that some of Kymco’s models are made OEM in Chongqing.The Chinese motorcycle industry found its niche in the world market years ago and produced cheap 2 wheelers for developing countries. These products were exactly what were needed to get the population of developing countries automated, and sold in such volumes that Chinese manufacturers (at the time) didn’t think they would need to evolve in terms of quality. It was quite simply the case that Chinese manufacturers didn’t care about the US or European markets but that didn’t stop American and European importers spotting a fast buck and importing the basic quality models.This “first wave” of Chinese motorcycles were met with such derision that China’s reputation for building sub-standard powered 2 wheelers maintained over a number of years although if looked at correctly it is obvious that they weren’t ready for those markets and that greedy importers overlooked many issues.It is obvious now that many Chinese manufacturers can choose to produce motorcycles at any level of quality of the technological spectrum; it’s just that up until relatively recently it’s had no need to do anything but watch the money roll in from markets that haven’t needed or couldn’t afford top quality products.With the onset of bigger foreign distribution of Indian brands, China has found its monopoly in developing countries marginalized and has realized the need to develop new markets; certainly the American and European markets that it once treated with indifference.The year 2016 has been marked out as a pivotal year for the Chinese industry, with manufacturers struggling to ‘gear up’ for the law changes regarding EFI in many countries and anticipating the certain arrival of new ABS legislation. After going through the first (cheap and cheerful) and second (decent commuters) phases of motorcycle production the industry is now looking forward to its third phase in which it can boast quality and reliability to rival any country in the world.
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.