The Chinese Motorcycle Industry: A Broad Look

The Chinese Motorcycle Industry: A Broad Look
The Chinese Motorcycle Industry: A Broad Look

Chinese motorcycle manufacturers produced 16 million motorcycles last year, and that makes the East Asian country the largest motorcycle producer on the planet. There are approximately 200 motorcycle manufacturers in China, ranging from the mighty Chongqing 6 (now 4, but more on that in a second) to a broad array of small and midsized manufacturers. Chongqing, a megacity with a population of more than 30 million located at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, is China’s Detroit. China’s second major motorcycle manufacturing hub is in Guangzhou (also known as Canton), a two-hour train ride north of Hong Kong.

The Chinese motorcycle industry is in shakeout mode. The dominant players used to be known as the Chong-qing 6, a group that included Jialing and Jianshe, two of the most famous brands in China; both are now bankrupt. Chongqing’s major players today include Lifan, Loncin, Zongshen, and Shineray (the first three are pronounced about as they are spelled; Shineray is pronounced “shin-yu-way”). Lifan, Loncin, and Zongshen are in good shape. Shineray is rumored to be struggling.

Lifan produces a range of scooters and motorcycles from just below 50cc to 250cc. Lifan does not sell in the US, although the company’s engines find their way into motorcycles produced by other Chinese manufacturers brought to the US by SSR Motorsports. Loncin, whose motorcycles are similar to Lifan’s, also does not sell here, but they’ve been here (Loncin manufactured BMW’s 650cc single-cylinder engines). Genuine Scooter, a US scooter company known for its Buddy scooter line, is now importing a Shineray-manufactured, British-vintage-styled 400 single (think Triumph Bonneville). Lifan used to be the largest motorcycle manufacturer in China, but they have been eclipsed by Haojue and Suzuki, who share the large Chang Jiang factory in Jiangmen, near Guangzhou. Haojue produced 3 million motorcycles last year, making them the largest Chinese manufacturer (Suzuki manufactures their US model GW250 motorcycle in the Haojue plant, as well as several smaller Suzuki models sold elsewhere).

The country’s larger manufacturers produce their own motorcycles as well as engines used by other Chinese motorcycle manufacturers. Many Chinese engines are clones based on the Honda Cub (in displacements from below 50cc up to 110cc), the Honda CG, and the Honda 400 single. Others have been based on Yamaha designs. The most common is the CG clone, a low-maintenance and simple single developed for the Brazilian market. The CG engine is a ubiquitous design used worldwide, with variants ranging from 125cc to 229cc, the latter typically marketed as a 250c. The 400cc clone is used by Shineray for their Triumph look-alike and an ADV-styled bike sold domestically. The Shineray 400cc standard motorcycle is now imported to the US by Genuine and marketed as the G400. This same engine is used by Somoto for a stunning cafe racer that looks more British than the modern Triumph Thruxton (which, incidentally, is manufactured in Thailand).

There are more Chinese motorcycles and engines in America than you might imagine, generally falling into three categories:
• Chinese Motorcycles Marketed as Such. The two big US importers are CSC Motorcycles and SSR Motorsports, both in California. CSC Motorcycles are branded with the CSC logo (by Zongshen direction), but CSC makes no secret of the bike’s Chinese origins and the Zongshen pedigree. CSC bikes include the RX3 ADV-styled motorcycle (with a 250cc engine developed by Piaggio and Zongshen), two CG-clones (the dual sport TT250 and the street-oriented San Gabriel 250), and the new electric City Slicker. SSR Motorsports is the US importer of a family of street bikes, dirt bikes, pit bikes, and electric bikes, including the Benelli line (manufactured in China by Qianjiang), their Razkull Grom-styled motorcycle (a 125cc bike made by Yingang), and their stunning Buccaneer (a classic-looking 250cc V-twin, based on the Yamaha 250 Virago engine, built by Ningbo Longjia).

• Chinese Motorcycles Produced for Other Companies. These include scooters and motorcycles identified with the importers’ marks and not advertised as being Chinese. This category includes scooters sold by Kymco, Piaggio, Vespa, and Lance, along with the previously-mentioned Suzuki GW250. BMW is in this category with their 350cc scooters, although BMW has its own factory in China.

• Miscellaneous Bikes. The third category is a catchall, and it includes pit bikes, dirt bikes, a few street-legal dual sport bikes (mostly identified as the Hawk), and DUI bikes marketed by smaller companies. The makers are many and varied, as are the importers. If you’re wondering about that DUI category: In some US states, you don’t need a driver’s license to operate a motorcycle below 50cc, which created 
a market for folks without a license.Although we are a very small motorcycle market compared to the rest of the world, Chinese manufacturers are intensely interested in the US market. Acceptance here is a key driver for sales elsewhere in the world. US acceptance of the Zongshen RX3, for example, led to enormous sales of that motorcycle in Colombia initially, and then in other Central and South American countries. The export business is also of intense interest to the Chinese motorcycle industry because their domestic market is shrinking. Within China there’s a shift to automobiles instead of motorcycles as the country becomes more affluent, and larger Chinese cities have banned motorcycles (it’s ironic; the world’s largest motorcycle producer bans motorcycles in its big cities). The big-city ban’s impact on sales is further exacerbated by large-scale migration into the urban areas (China is undergoing the largest migration in human history as its population concentrates in the cities). As a consequence, most Chinese motorcycles are exported to other Asian countries, Africa, the Middle East, South America, and now, the United States.

Although Chinese motorcycle sales in the US are still relatively low, they are growing for several reasons. Chinese motorcycles cost significantly less than bikes made in Europe, Japan, and the US (thereby attracting new riders), Chinese motorcycles tend to be smaller and lighter than most other offerings here in the US, and the quality is high. The concern used to be that Chinese motorcycles were of inferior quality, but that concern is no longer valid. China’s motorcycle industry has incorporated modern manufacturing methods and China is now a major supplier to the world’s better-known motorcycle manufacturers.