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Dec. 1, 2008 – Gauging the Chinese influence

December 1, 2008
Filed under Features

By Neil Pascale
Editor
The effect low-priced quads from China and other Far East countries have had on the powersports industry has been frequently discussed but never really publically documented.
Data collected by the U.S. customs and border patrol and published monthly by the Census Bureau could change that.
The result could be the first real look at just how large the actual U.S. ATV new unit retail business is on an annual basis. This is something that has been previously unattainable since most new entry OEMs that import ATVs from China and other Asian countries do not provide U.S. retail reports like members of the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) do.
Because customs and border patrol count imported ATVs as part of a larger category of motor vehicles, getting actual total counts of ATVs is not possible. The public listings also do not designate by company, only the country the product was imported from.
However, ATVs appear to make up the dominant, if not overwhelming vehicle in the category, according to discussions Powersports Business had with officials familiar with the U.S. auto industry.
The category in question is labeled “motor cars and other motor vehicles principally designed for the transport of persons.” To be placed in this category, imported vehicles must have spark-ignition combustion reciprocating piston engines not exceeding 1000cc. The category does not include UTVs, golf carts, PWC or snowmobiles. It does, however, include dune buggies.
Officials familiar with the auto industry could only think of the Smart Car as an on-road vehicle that would fit this category. No other passenger cars currently imported into the United States in any significant volume could be recognized. Auto industry officials have noted that Smart Car sales in 2008 have been reported at about 20,000.
That means the figure attached to Chinese imports for 2007 — 491,000 units — figures to be made up of almost primarily ATVs.
If just half of that number — 245,500 — consisted of ATVs that were sold at retail in 2007, that means the total U.S. ATV retail sales number that year would have been approximately 882,500. That count includes the more than 637,000 units reported by the MIC.
Also, if the 882,500 unit number is accurate — although probably conservative — then the Chinese importers had a huge presence in the industry. According to Powersports Business sources, the collective group of Chinese importers would have a U.S. market share of
28 percent, or equal to Honda, the market share leader of the reporting MIC members.
However significant a presence Chinese importers have become in the U.S. retail market, there appears to be a dramatic drop off occurring in that arena. Through August, Chinese imports in this category were off 50 percent, to 140,000 from 280,000.

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