The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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China charm offensive takes trade fair by storm

New Delhi, Nov. 15: Avanti is the Italian word for enter: it isn’t peremptory, rather an invitation to come in. But in business, form doesn’t count any more: so the Chinese are ready to beat down the door to storm the Indian market.

This was more than apparent at the 14-day India International Trade Fair that opened on Thursday in Delhi where China was accorded pride of place with a special pavilion that featured over 150 Chinese exhibitors.

Take Avanti itself: it used to be a moped-making unit at Alwar in Rajasthan once owned by Kelvinator with some brandname recall in the eighties for its Avanti Garelli mopeds. Avanti was bought over by the Pacco Group three years ago for Rs 9 crore — and it has now morphed into a maker of motorbikes with technology support from the Lifan Group of Chongqing — China’s largest maker of motorcycles — that is revving up to take on the home-made Yamahas, Hondas, Suzukis and Kawasakis.

Renamed as Monto Motors, it tied up with the Lifan Group — China’s biggest motorcycle maker — and started assembling 100-cc bikes called the Cosmo from completely knocked down kits. Sales have been restricted to Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

By next April, the company plans to go in for a nation-wide launch. It also aims to launch two other models — a 125-cc and a 150-cc bike that were showcased at the fair — with a small localisation content. With a sticker price of around Rs 50,000 for the 150-cc bike which has a top speed of 120kmph and fuel efficiency of around 75 kms per litre, Monto and Lifan expect to give the established players in India a run for their money.

“We have already sold 7,000 units of the 100-cc bike that we launched last year. We will need to set up another assembly line before we start producing the new models,” said R. Chibbar, general manager (marketing) of Monto Motors.

Lifan is a $ 500-million company which makes 800,000 motorcycles a year and also sells 2 million motorcycle engines to mobike makers like Honda. “We are the biggest player in the motorcycle industry in China,” says Zhu Xiaoman, general manager assistant of the Lifan Group which is one of a handful of successful privately-run companies in China.

Monto Motors, which has forged the first tieup with a Chinese motorcycle maker, has just appointed a dealer in Durgapur for the eastern region and expects to hit the market with its motorcycles soon.

While Monto and Lifan have built the base for a successful partnership, not all Chinese participants at the trade fair have Indian partners. Many are still scouting for them — one going so far as to suggest to this reporter that she should catalyse such an alliance. If that sounds like desperation, it also shows a desire to break into what the Chinese clearly reckon is a very lucrative market.

But there is also TCL, the Chinese electronic equipment maker, which is trying to re-establish its market in India after breaking off its earlier tieup with Kabir Mulchandani-owned Barron International. Understandably, the Chinese representative at the fair was reluctant to talk about the company and its plans for India.

TCL could emerge as a major price warrior in India with its mega 52-inch television carrying a sticker price of a little over Rs 40,000. It has a suite of other products including DVD players, refrigerators, washing machines, airconditioners and mobile phones.

However, when the Chinese make their marauding forays into India, competition from its own comes yapping at its heels. So, TCL has to square off with Taiyuan Caixing Electronic Equipment Co while Lifan has to battle with a fellow-Chongqing manufacturers of motorbikes, the Loncin Group.

Loncin has a range of 100-cc to 150-cc motorbikes with some great-looking cruisers on display at the fair. “We are looking for dealerships in India,” says Ben Xia, overseas marketing manager for the Loncin Group. “We have had some talks with a couple of entities in the south.” He refused to give any more details.

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