Custom Motorcycle Parts, The China Threat

We all know that after quite a few years of exuberance, our V-Twin after-market industry has slowed down and that at the same time, coincidence or not, Asia produced motorcycle parts have invaded our showrooms and found their place on our American motorcycles. In reaction to this invasion, Team America is the theme of a collective ad campaign regrouping major American manufacturers and running now in motorcycle magazines. It aims at convincing bikers to only purchase American Made Products.

If I agree with any endeavor supporting the economy of my country, I think that this campaign doesn’t address clearly enough a couple of essential points. First, let me ask you. What are the 2 main reasons why, as a biker, you buy an American motorcycle part? Probably because it is of superior quality, of its beautiful design and because deep inside it makes you feel good to own the genuine part (by the same token rewarding financially the original inventor/designer/manufacturer). In the copy of the Team America ads I didn’t see anywhere any justification given to buy American. Why? This campaign is signed by a group of the best American companies of our industry. So, why don’t they promote their creativity, their engineering as the main justifications of buying their products?

Let me tell you right away: I am in favor of free trade. The relative costs, benefits of free trade are debated since centuries by governments and trade groups. Nearly all economists support the proposition that free trade is a net gain to both trading partners and that the gains from free trade outweigh the losses. Practically it means that if there is a superior genuine foreign product at a reasonable price, I don’t feel guilty to buy it. Nor you. And it can be whatever you buy: motorcycle part, TV, car, etc. So, can an American manufacturer convince you to blindly buy its products because they are made in America? I don’t think so. The real issue affecting negatively most of us in the industry is not free trade, the fair competition from foreign corporations trying to outsmart us. It is the unfair competition from low cost labor Asian countries whose business is to steal our designs & engineering, repackaging everything in knock-off products to be sold back to our clients in the US.

Our industry is made of small corporations and craftsmen producing parts in very small quantities. The cost of research & development being the same whatever the final number of parts produced, our custom parts are expensive and at the same time are always on the lower end of profitability. And I don’t think it will change soon. Almost none of us have the financial means and time to apply for a US patent, which anyway would not protect us from copies produced abroad. As a custom builder, I know (and I experienced) that it will take only 3 to 6 months for a foreign corporation to copy and market back here poor copies of my own parts at 25% of my manufacturing cost. Even more disappointing is the fact that a large number of foreign born knock-off parts are marketed through US catalogs belonging to US corporations.

As I stated before, I am against protectionism, tariff barriers and taxes. I favor competition in the frame of fair trade. I believe in the system of hard work & merit. Since there is no way that we can avoid cheap and poor manufactured copies of our parts, the only solution to help and protect our V-Twin industry is education, education, education of our clients. But it seems to me that the V-Twin industry acts more as a group than as a team. Everybody is whining but very few are acting. And a group in itself does not necessarily constitute a team linked in the same purpose. We must all act daily and individually with our clients to explain the reasons why to buy our genuine products.

It must not be so difficult to explain to bikers that motorcycles being dangerous by nature, it is never wise to equip them with unreliable mechanical components and with unfit and poorly designed accessories, which at the end of the day will cost much more than the original parts. All well known Custom Builders are having a large fans base. So it must not be too difficult when we meet our admirers to tell them that if they love so much our bikes they should reward the original designers by buying parts from them. Since we are never going to become the cheapest producer of motorcycle parts, at least we can demonstrate that we provide top design, engineering, and manufacturing skills for a very good value. In addition, we provide assistance for installation and services after sales. Nobody is going to support Team America only because it is called Team America. Bikers will support us only because we remind them and demonstrate that without us there is no more innovation, creativity and technological progress to benefit their bikes and their lifestyle. Maybe the next collective ad campaign should be on a more practical theme. For example: “Why And How To Support Your America Team”.