Long before the Can-Am Spyder three-wheeler showed up in the United States, three-wheeled vehicles of all sorts had been a staple of automobility in Asia and India. So it’s not surprising that in 2011, Chinese-made three-wheeled scooters such as the 300cc Roadrunner, identified as made by “Dong Fang,” suddenly appeared online for sale outside China, specifically in North America.
Sold by distributors directly to retail customers, a whole lineup of trikes in various formats suggests that somebody in China sees a much bigger market for three-wheeled scooter-ish gizmos than do, presumably, the product planners of Japan’s Big Four. Of course, Honda was typically years ahead of everyone else with the Gyro three-wheeler, but it was the Piaggio MP3 scooters that seemed to raise consumer awareness of alternatives to two-wheeled motorcycles and scooters.
A little online forum snooping reveals that the Chinese products are not universally perceived as high-quality items. And because a call to the importer-distributor disclosed that a) the three-wheelers are not certified for sale and use in California because of emissions rules, and b) there were none available anywhere, period, end of report, for Cycle World to ride and evaluate, it’s caveat emptor out there.
The general rap among the people I know who are familiar with Chinese vehicle manufacturing over the past few decades has been what can charitably be characterized as knock-off tech married to get-rich-quick manufacturing. Nothing new or particularly “Chinese” about that, of course. But as Chinese companies seek to sell their products overseas, it’s clear that they’re going to be forced to improve their machines to satisfy markets accustomed to equipment that doesn’t include, say, frame welds a quarter-inch off of the mark, as one online report claimed.
It’s useful to remember that for decades, Japanese motorcycles were considered low-quality knockoffs of “superior” technology, at least until even the most chauvinistic Britbike or American Iron fan had to admit that Japan, Inc. was making very good stuff indeed.
Will we see the same ramp-up in the output and product quality from the Chinese motorcycle (and car) factories such as the one that makes the Roadrunner—the “Chongqing Dongfang Lingyun Vehicle Made Co., Ltd.?
If we do, the answer will come one vehicle—and one customer, satisfied or otherwise—at a time.