Quads, a thing of the past?
I first entered the Chinese motorcycle manufacture industry in 2005 at a time when it seemed that every Chinese manufacturer of machines with wheels and engines was clamouring to sell ATV’s (all-terrain vehicles or ‘quad bikes’) to the world. I can remember my first day at the Junsun motorcycle manufacturing factory (now long bankrupt, liquidated and closed) in Chongqing learning the difference between ‘sports’ quads and ‘utility’ quads and the few different methods of transmission as I began my long journey into the Chinese motorcycle industry. Fast forward 13 years and the reality is that most motorcycle manufacturers have discontinued their ATV production lines as world-wide demand has decreased sharply in that time period. I remember the warning signs coming from South Africa which until around 2010 had a very healthy quad bike sales industry (off-road quads I would imagine would be prevalent instead of road legal types due to the rough terrain).
During that time the editor of BikeSA magazine asked me to write an article on the usefulness of Chinese built ATV’s in an effort to get some interest back in them and to allow the quad dealers that advertised with him to at least sell off the stocks that they had bought from China as the trend for ATV’s had seemed to come to an end. This South Africa phenomenon acted as an early warning to the many Chinese factories concentrating their resources on manufacturing and marketing quad bikes and it was noticeable that many opted to withdraw their ATV exhibits at expos like the Canton fair and CIMA.
I remember that same trend for on-road quads in the UK and how Chongqing manufacturer Bashan cashed in perfectly by offering genuinely serviceable road legal quads for around half the price of their Japanese rivals. Many of the ATV crowd was drivers looking for a different kind of thrill but not quite ready to take on motorcycling and also young people too poor or young to buy a car. For the much younger end of the market mini-quads were available at incredibly cheap prices, Raj Thakrar from Orange Imports remembers “ The Zhejiang province factories in China specialized in 50cc twist and go quads aimed at the children’s market and we all marveled at how cheap the price was per unit. In fact they were so cheap (around 100 dollars) that I sent a quality control manager to the factory to give them a rigorous testing before I dared to import them. When they came in they sold like hot-cakes especially around Christmas time and I eventually invested in a thousand of them to sell, it’s very different these days and though I still sell quad bikes (for kids and adults, road-legal and off road) the market has dropped dramatically.”
For me, one of the main factors in the de-popularisation of quad bikes was the high-profile accidents of Television icon Rik Mayall and rock god Ozzy Osbourne highlighting the fact that quads are not toys and should be ridden with all safety measures considered especially the fact that although quads have 4 wheels they are not as grounded as a car and will tip over if taking a sharp corner at high speed (as I found out to my detriment on a beach in Hainan province when trying to impress my wife).
As I have mentioned before Chongqing manufacturer Bashan specialized in producing quadbikes for many years and became for many the ‘name’ in ATV production in China closely followed by Chongqing rival Shineray who specialized in all things off road including some decent quads. These days it might be fairer to say that CFmoto have taken this mantle and have in fact set up dealer networks all over the world.
One area in which the quad bike market has stabilized is the agricultural sector which still uses ATV’s as ‘beasts of burden’ especially the 4×4 road legal CFmoto quad bikes which can tow 345-375kg, so can therefore perform many of the tasks carried out by a UTV (or a mule!) at a lower price point.
Without doubt the next step in the evolution of quad bikes is the introduction of the electric variety. Electric quads have long existed as a children’s toy but we are now seeing the advent of truly useful electric ATV’s that can travel 30 miles on one charge. Many Chinese factories are now developing 4-wheel drive 72 bolt quad bikes with decent pulling power and regenerative braking for the agricultural or industrial sector. If you factor in the considerable saving on fuel that these machines can provide then it becomes evident (as also with the electric car industry) that these quads could have a very bright future and maybe fire up a renaissance of the ATV phenomenon.