'New Asian' ATVs Making An Uphill Climb

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Larger displacement ATVs and UTVs sourced from overseas are a dominant trend at the 2007 Dealer Expo. Just a couple of years ago, Expo attendees saw the largest product coming from Taiwan, China and other "New Asian" manufacturers represented by 200cc, 250cc or 300cc units. Now, product on display includes 450cc units, 500cc units, and even 650cc vehicles.

What's driving the shift to larger displacement vehicles?

"The American market is what's driving it," says Joel Lehr, customer service manager at Joyner. "Everybody wants more power."

Joyner markets 650cc and 800cc UTVs sourced from China. One is powered by a three-cylinder 800cc engine sourced from a Chinese manufacturer. The other is powered by an engine sourced from an Isuzu pickup. "What they're doing is responding to North America's desire for more horsepower, and so they've been going through a cumbersome couple of years trying to figure out how to build something bigger," says Matt Clayton, product specialist for Goldenvale, Inc., importer of the Roketa brand of quad. "So, in the last few years, the factories have been trying to find ways to get these 400cc, 450cc, 500cc and 650cc units."

Jose Villegas, vice president of marketing, United Motors, agrees the switch to larger displacement ATVs is a result of market demand in the United States.

"I think the market has been flooded with small-displacement ATVs, and that's why you see so many companies trying to move up to the higher-displacement ATVs," Villegas says. "But it's going to take a higher-quality product to really meet the customers' demands."

United Motors is preparing to offer a sport quad called the Moontrax 450R, made in South Korea using technology from Hyosung Motors.

"The capability and technology to build the larger units was lacking for most of the companies you're now seeing with that product," adds Henry Lonski, vice president of sales, United Motors. "We're talking about a developing market that started with 50cc units which grew to 150cc units and 250cc. And now that they've got that dialed, they're starting to develop the higher-displacement vehicles. So, what is driving the development of these larger vehicles made in China is capability, technology, education, and the actual ability to do it."

"There's no doubt technology in many of these countries is way behind, so it takes them a long time to catch up and to get to the point where they can develop it," says Matt Solo of LS Motorsports. "I've been seeing this higher displacement stuff in China for the past three years, and it was nowhere near ready during those visits. In fact, some of the stuff coming out now we won't even touch because we feel it needs much more development. The bigger the engines, the more technology that's behind it and the more tolerance it needs."

Are companies forming partnerships to gain the needed technology?

"I'd like to believe that to be true, but unfortunately a lot of it is that they try to copy designs and I think that's where they come into trouble," says Solo. "For instance, I've seen where they've reverse-engineered an engine but couldn't find a carb to fit it, which makes it obviously not run that well.

"So it would be nice if there were more partnerships going on where there was more true-technology being used, which is safer and more reliable. But a lot of it is not."