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  • David McMullan

A look back on the Chinese motorcycle industry in 2018

As 2018 comes to a close it’s time to have a look back at the Chinese motorcycle industry in 2018 and document the movers and shakers of the last year.

The most important single piece of news that came from the Chinese motorcycle industry was the heavily reported deal for Norton to produce 650cc engines for Chongqing giant Zongshen in a 20 year cooperation. Also Zongshen have been the first company since CFMoto to seriously look at a place in the American motorcycle market. Since their development of the ‘Cyclone’ brand they have actively looked to market their own (decent) products rather than rely on rebranded units. This is the kind of ambition that could see them eventually overtake their bitter Chongqing rivals Loncin in the long run especially as Loncin are beginning to commit more to their auto division.

Many Chinese motorcycle companies (like Loncin) are turning to the production of mini-vans in moves that several commentators say will eventually lead to many factories concentrating on autos as their primary product. This has already proven to be the case with (arguably) China’s most recognisable brand Lifan.

CFMoto still manage to go from strength to strength and are not afraid to commit to the funding of the type of research and development that can bring them new markets, especially in the ATV and side by side markets in the normally (for Chinese manufacturers) unfashionable markets of Australia and New Zealand. It would also be remiss not to mention CFMoto’s sales partnership with KTM (which will give KTM much more exposure on south East Asian markets) which many are predicting will enable CF to increase their budget for research and development. New for 2019 will be the CFMoto V.02-NK Concept with many commenters saying that it is without a doubt the most impressive Chinese-made motorcycle build to date. The brakes are from Brembo in Italy. The suspension is Swedish Ohlins kit and the engine is an Austrian KTM RC8 V-twin so we can’t definitively label it ‘Chinese’ but then again many of Europe’s leading motorcycle manufacturers are very hush about where they get many of their bike parts made (I’ll give you a clue, it’s China!) The largest CFMoto bikes so far have utilised the firm’s own parallel twin 650cc engine. It’s legendarily a close copy of the Kawasaki ER-6 engine but in this project the motor is either bought-in from KTM or licence-made in China with KTM’s permission to show that CF is already benefitting from the KTM tie-up.

2018 has seen the continuation of the popularity of café racers and scramblers with just about every export orientated Chinese manufacturer producing at least one of these models many of which now have (or are developing) EURO 4 compatibility.

There has been an enormous increase in the interest shown in Chinese electric 2-wheelers from European and American markets as the Chinese EV industry cleans up its act and starts to invest in producing models that would be of interest on Western markets. Up until recently Chinese EV manufacturers have concentrated on producing models for the domestic Chinese market (it’s estimated that there are over 100 million electric 2-wheelers including scooters and pedelecs on the road in China) but we are now seeing a shift in the demographics as Chinese factories (encouraged by companies like Evoke) begin to seek the lucrative and growing electric bike markets of Western Europe.

In my opinion the real break-out company of 2018 was Longjia. Since their acquisition of the Italjet brand a few years ago this company has really stepped up to the mark in terms of style and quality. The other company that is going to give the giants a run for their money is Motrac, a manufacturer in the new mould of Chinese factory that is willing to put in the r and d to produce more serious road bikes.

2018 was also the first full year that the Indian motorcycle industry began to out-produce its Chinese counterpart on a monthly basis although India only exports around 9% of its manufactured motorcycle compared to around 50% of all Chinese units.

The Chinese motorcycle industry figures for the first ten months of 2018 (all that is available at time of writing) show that the accumulated production and sales of motorcycles reached 14,086,000 and 14,163,000 units respectively, up 2.8% and 3.2% from the previous year. The growth rates slightly slowed compared with the first nine months, down 0.9 percentage points and 1 percentage point respectively.

And so to conclude we can see that the Chinese motorcycle industry is experiencing a bit of an upturn and the sales have finally stopped their year on year decline but it’s highly unlikely that they will ever rise again to the zenith reached in 2008, that of 24 million units!

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