CIMA: Chinese-foreign OEM partnerships unveil new bikes

Publish Date: 
Oct 11, 2012
By Mike Vaughan

Editor's Note: Contributing editor Mike Vaughan is in China covering the 2013 CIMA exposition. Watch for his daily dispatches on new product and exhibitor news, and what it all means for the U.S. market.

CHONGQING, China - Chongqing is an industrial city in southwest China. It’s primarily known for its production of motorcycles and cars, and I'm told it’s the world’s largest producer of laptop computers.

It’s said that the city got its start as a production center during WWII when it was the capital of Nationalist China. U.S. Gen. “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell, as legend goes, felt that the Chinese needed to develop their own manufacturing capability in order to defeat the Japanese, and helped the Nationalists start their first factories; these became the basis of Chongqing’s manufacturing prowess. There’s a monument in town honoring Stillwell’s contribution.

Most international trade shows devote the first day or couple of days to an exclusive viewing by journalists, dealers and members of the trade, thereby giving them an opportunity to look closely at new products and place orders without crowds. CIMA follows the same procedure, except that it didn’t appear that anyone was taking orders. A lot of people just appeared to be spectators, making photography and conversations difficult.

The show opened with speeches by the mayor and a variety of industry dignitaries. According to my translator, most of them covered the same ground, welcoming people attending the show, and citing the significance of the event and its impact on the city. As soon as the doors opened the main hall was flooded with people. It’s hard to believe they were all press, dealers and members of the trade, but on the other hand this is a country that retails about 12 million motorcycles annually, so it’s possible that everyone was legit.

Even though the Chinese may be more well-known in the U.S. for their ATVs than for their motorcycles, the dominant vehicles on display were motorcycles, most of which were 250ccs or less, and a variety of scooters. Other than some UTVs on display by Polaris and a standalone exhibit by BRP, the only domestic ATVs present were from a company called Smooth Marine.

With fairly strong domestic manufacturers, it would be assumed that Chinese companies would dominate their home show, but with few exceptions the biggest exhibits and those attracting the most attention were Honda, and those companies with either partnerships or subsidiaries of Japanese or European manufacturers: Hajue/Suzuki, Zhejiang Qianjiang/Benelli, Loncin/Kawasaki, Jianshe/Yamaha and Zongshen/Piaggio. 

Standalone domestic manufacturers with a strong presence were CF Moto (which I was told is not strong in China but has a lucrative export business) and Lifan. There were a few others as well, but with very small displays and equally small product offerings.

Harley-Davidson had a well laid out, though not large, display and will be opening a new dealership in Chongqing Oct. 12. The Motor Co. has been in the market for about 10 years; it's taken a slow and studied approach and has about 12 dealerships in-country.

One of the problems facing Harley, as well as other large displacement recreational motorcycles, is the fact that 97 percent of the motorcycles sold in China are intended for utilitarian purposes. (This fact was brought home on my way from the airport: We passed any number of motorcycles so piled with boxes or other cargo that it was impossible to see the rider from the back, and one rider rode using his left hand to hold an umbrella that would shield him and his goods.)

Looking at the show from an American’s viewpoint, there were a few interesting products so far.

Honda displayed a prototype all-electric race bike, the RCE, and a very futuristic looking scooter with the designation, “Electric Ride.”