It wasn’t that long ago that British vehicle manufacturers, like their navy, controlled the world. The world scoffed at new entrant Japan in the 60’s and the Koreans in the 80’s – actually I’m not sure when this all took place except I do recall the powerful unions of the day controlling everything that could be controlled. From mega giant car manufacturer, best motorcycles and top quality sound systems to now, well just a major importer. Yes, to be sure British engineers are a sought after commodity but that would be in the East. Nowadays India produce Jaguar and Land Rover, the Germans build Bentley and Rolls and SAAB is owned by the Chinese. So too has motorcycle manufacture moved on to new shores. We can ridicule the Chinese for being copy masters but this is just the thing, technology evolves from one prototype to another, all being built from the original platform – two or four wheels, frame or chassis, suspension, drive chain, engine and steering. Motorcycles can never be as safe as a car but manufacturers are trying their best from a safety aspect aimed at intelligent riders. Motorcycles in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s were unreliable beasts until along came Honda. I’m not biased towards any particular manufacturer, least of all Japanese manufacturers – they are all excellent. But what does India and China have to offer? For one thing…. value. Motorcycles built in China are reputed not to be as durable as German, American, Italian and Japanese motorcycles. Motorcycles are also not as durable as motorcars, their running expenses are far higher and if you think you can get away with a cheap fix your’re playing with fire. So, my mind says don’t take chances – when the chain is stretched do replace the entire drive-train i.e. sprockets and chain. I see this as being a problem nowadays – buy cheap and then blame the manufacturer because it fell to pieces. Certainly 100Kgs of steel should be stronger than 30Kgs but you need to look at the carbon density as well. Would it sound stupid if it’s mentioned that you need to know what the bike is to be used for – street bikes make bad off road bikes. There are Chinese bikes out there that just won’t make the grade when it comes to off-road no matter what the sales person tells you. This doesn’t mean that China cannot make them more robust – they are building for the masses. Always check your frame/rolling stock before going for a ride. An engine may be unreliable but the chances of coming a cropper are infinitely higher when riding a bike with poor suspension balance. Or no brake fluid in the reservoir. So, no – we won’t ridicule the Chinese when it comes to their motorcycles – you get what you pay for and more. Indian company Hero is in the process of a Ducati buyout but as it stands, Ducati is currently owned by Audi AG. KTM is slowly being eaten up by Bajaj, an Indian company as well which produced 10-12% of all KTMs sold last year. Of course, this figure is escalating – like the gradual purchases of KTM stock, currently at 49%, to a possible 50% of worldwide KTM sales in 2015. Bajaj already has a deep alliance with Kawasaki which has lead to a deeper understanding of Kawasaki and KTM engine designs. Things are happening quickly in India.
The question is, how is the quality affected when country A buys a product from country B. Well, looking at Ducati, this is an Italian brand and will always remain so, as Italy is a brand in it’s own right. Italians are a passionate bunch, their engineering has always been of an exceptional standard and if a company like Hero had to buy out Ducati, it would be on the same level as the Audi buyout of Lamborghini. It’s a change of ownership, not of quality control or loss of brand. Or at least it should not be. Indians are fanatical about two-wheelers and although we do wonder what would happen if there was a buyout of a famous Italian brand by a company in the BRICs fold – that change of ownership also encompasses the engineers and therefore the intellectual capital within that brand – brand loyal passionate engineers can’t be bought or not as readily as can be imagined. To buy a company only to strip it down, e.g. Sony and Aiwa, Panasonic and Sanyo can have negative consequences if the dynamics and culture of the company is not fully understood – purchasing any Italian company steeped in a rich heritage of motor-sport cannot only be a tactical decision but one of emotion as well. And who says the Germans are an unemotional lot when they carry so much passion for engineering.