Written by Dylan Ruddy for Bikesales.com.au
With CFMOTO celebrating 15 years in Australia, we sit down with the brand's local boss, Michael Poynton, for a revealing chat.
If the global motorcycle industry had a 'Most Improved' award, it would almost certainly go to CFMOTO, a company breaking free of the 'Made in China' stigma with a whole new range of European-inspired products.
The 30-year-old company has experienced success in the ATV/UTV market, but has struggled to make a splash in the two-wheel world...until now. A historic partnership with KTM has kick-started CFMOTO's surge up the motorcycling ranks, with a huge 2021 predicted.
CFMOTO is celebrating 15 years in Australia this month, with local distributor Mojo Motorcycles picking up the brand in 2005. We recently sat down with Mojo Director, Michael Poynton, to find out what's store for the brand. The answer? A lot.
Firstly, it’s fantastic to see a local distributor like Mojo Motorcycles kicking goals. Where did it all start, and how far has the company come in that time?
Thank you! Mojo Motorcycles was established in 2004 by Joshua Carter and myself. We were at university at the time and got our start by importing scooters and other vehicles from China. In 2005, we formed a relationship with CFMOTO and began importing its scooter range to Australia, which was sold under our own brand, Mojo Scooter Co.
Our relationship strengthened with CFMOTO and we quickly identified its potential to become a serious global player in the powersports industry. In 2009, we changed the scooter branding to CFMOTO and introduced CFMOTO's range of ATVs, UTVs and motorcycles to the Australian market, establishing a nationwide dealer network. It was this time when the growth of our business really started to accelerate.
The year 2014 marked our 10-year anniversary and our relocation to a company-owned, purpose-built 5000sqm distribution centre in Altona, Victoria. In that time, our business has grown to include Sherco, KYMCO, Landboss and SWM in Australia and New Zealand.
It has been a crazy year. How has CFMOTO, and indeed Mojo, dealt with the turbulent nature of the COVID-19 pandemic?
For sure, the events of 2020 could not have been predicted! It really has been a year of ups and downs, however for Mojo – and the industry as a whole – I believe more ups.
In my opinion, the outlook for the Australian motorcycle industry was worrying by early April – when the first stage of restrictions were introduced, considerably reducing the trade for many of our dealers. However, following this, and for a number of different factors, the market rebounded strongly, and this has now resulted in supply issues for many OEMs.
With CFMOTO, we experienced supply chain issues early in the year – first the result of the Chinese Lunar Year celebrations in January-February then the March lockdown due to COVID-19. We’re pleased to say things have since returned to normal for CFMOTO and our monthly production orders are now being produced as they were pre-COVID. We’re now working closely with CFMOTO, ramping up our volumes to cater for this unexpected increase in demand.
ATV and UTV sales boomed in the first half of 2020. Was this a similar story for CFMOTO? And what do you think the reasons were?
Absolutely. 2020 is set to be a record year for CFMOTO. The majority of ATV and UTV customers in Australia are from the agricultural sector, and there have been a number of factors that have seen these customers return to the market in 2020. These include instant tax write-off incentives by the federal government and also favourable farming conditions compared with previous years with the drought officially breaking in many parts of Australia.
Many farmers delayed new machinery purchases in recent years due to those difficult conditions, but unprecedented rain this year has brought about a lot more confidence. In the 11 years we’ve been involved in the ATV/UTV market, we’ve never seen market conditions as strong as they are currently.
CFMOTO has chosen to comply with the new ATV safety regulations. Why has CFMOTO taken a different approach to the other brands? And could this result in a sales boost for the brand?
Actually, it’s our company, Mojo Motorcycles, the Australian and New Zealand importer of CFMOTO, that has chosen to comply and perform all the testing as required under the new standard, which happens to be unique to Australia.
We’ve formed a relationship with Quadbar – the Australian company manufacturing Operator Protection Devices (OPDs) as recommended by the federal government. In preparation for Stage 2 of the legislation in October 2021, all new CFMOTO quad bikes are now fitted with a Quadbar OPDs as standard. Despite the growing popularity of UTVs in recent years, our view is that there will always be a market for quad bikes because they’re simply more practical for many farming applications compared with UTVs. So it was important for us to meet all of the requirements under the new standard, thus allowing us to continue to supply quad bikes to Aussie farmers beyond October 2021 (when many other manufacturers will be exiting the market).
From the outside, CFMoto appears to be growing rapidly in the two-wheel sphere. Is there a similar feeling internally? And is this growth reflected in Australian sales?
For sure. There’s now a lot more focus towards development and growth in the road motorcycle segment by CFMoto. With the resources allocated to this – and CFMoto’s proven track record of developing innovative and quality products – I’m confident we’ll see CFMoto become a much larger player in the road segment in markets all around the world, including Australia. Following the recent roll out of the 300SR, we currently have strong sales momentum in Australia, and this will only accelerate throughout 2021 as we roll out six all-new models, which are very well suited for our market.
Historically, Chinese products have often been associated with quantity over quality, but it appears CFMOTO is bucking this trend. How is CFMOTO changing the stigma around Chinese motorcycles?
I’ve been working closely with Chinese brands for a long time now and I’ve seen first hand how CFMOTO is vastly different. The people in charge seek continual improvement and understand deeply the value of brand building for the long term – down to every vehicle produced with a CFMOTO badge. Much of this comes down to CFMOTO's business model: lower production volume and higher value compared with mass producers that take the opposite approach of lower-value and smaller-displacement motorcycles for developing markets.
Of China’s motorcycle marques, CFMOTO has always been first to market with new technology and the greatest advancement of product – first with liquid-cooled engines, first with EFI and first to develop larger-capacity engines. This includes 650cc parallel-twin for motorcycles, 800cc V-twin for ATV/UTV, and now the 1290cc motorcycle for the Chinese police.
There are distinct parallels between CFMOTO and Hyundai, too. The South Korean car maker has convincingly risen from its ‘cheap and cheerful’ roots to a high-quality, mass-volume, global giant. CFMOTO is doing just that, albeit at an even more rapid pace.
Partnerships between manufacturers isn’t uncommon but, given CFMOTO's growing global presence, the KTM partnership seems a little more significant. Clearly KTM will benefit from the arrangement in regards to manufacturing, but how will it help CFMOTO?
The joint venture with KTM gives CFMOTO a massive injection of experience and expertise from the best in the business, all of which will help accelerate CFMOTO's growth in R&D, manufacturing, marketing, aftersales and, of course, the products themselves.
But the JV is far more concrete than that with a brand-new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Hangzhou where future CFMOTO motorcycles will be manufactured. This includes a range of CFMOTO models that will share a similar platform to their KTM counterpart.
There have been plenty of murmurs about the new KTM 750 range being built in Hangzhou. What can you tell us about this? Will there be CFMOTO-branded versions of this platform?
Yes, there definitely will be. I can’t go into specifics yet but, needless to say, 2021 will be a very big year – a turning point – for CFMOTO motorcycles in Australia. The first bikes born from the KTM/CFMOTO joint venture are expected to hit local showrooms, so watch this space.
There’s plenty of movement in Hangzhou – what else can we expect from CFMOTO in the coming years?
CFMOTO currently competes in two of the four segments in the Australian market – ATV/UTV and also Road Motorcycles. This will expand to include a third segment before the end of 2021.
A number of new motorcycles, ATV and UTVs to be released next year that will be very well suited for the Australian market. In fact, during our 15-year history with CFMOTO here in Australia, we’re about to see a record number of new models arrive next year.
CFMOTO is also firmly committed to the Australian ATV market, and we’ll continue to roll out new models in 2021 as some of our competitors exit.
Can you tell us a bit more about the CF1250 civilian bike? What will it compete against, and when can we expect to see it?
The 1250TR-G, as it’s been revealed, is the largest-capacity motorcycle in CFMOTO's 30-year history. It is also the largest and most powerful motorcycle ever produced by a Chinese manufacturer. It was unveiled in May in the guise of China’s new official Police motorcycle, the CF1250J, which will soon be deployed across the country’s various law enforcement agencies.
It debuts CFMOTO's 1278cc V-twin powerplant that will produce 105kW (140hp) of power and 120Nm of torque. It’s a heavily re-engineered version of KTM’s LC8 V-twin, manufactured under licence.
The production/civilian version was recently unveiled in China.
The 700 CL-X range looks fantastic. What are your expectations for these bikes? Will they be a big boost for the brand?
Absolutely. As CFMOTO's first full-powered motorcycle range, the 700 CL-X range represents a significant milestone for the company by breaking out of the LAMS-only segment. So they’re extremely important for us.
The 700CL-X will be available in Australia in Adventure, Classic and Sport guises, kicking off with the wire-spoke-wheeled 700CL-X Classic naked bike early next year followed by the 700CL-X Adventure and 700CL-X Sport from around April.
From a design and specification perspective, the 700 CL-X range is very well suited to Australia. Pricing will be particularly sharp, too, so I believe the trio will become key models in our range.
Could we see CFMOTO dip its toes in the off-road world one day? We understand that a new KTM and CFMOTO 750cc twin-cylinder platform is coming, which will be debuted in the new CFMOTO 800MT adventure tourer early next year. Is that correct?
[Michael smiles and gives no comment]
As far as a CFMOTO enduro range, I personally hope so and believe CFMOTO has the capabilities...but it’s not confirmed.
Obviously CFMOTO has a long history with ATVs and UTVs. Are those segments still a major focus for the company?
For sure. They’re a huge part of CFMOTO's overall business. CFMOTO has been the top-selling ATV/UTV brand in Europe for some years, and the time has now come for the company to further invest and expand into other segments, such as motorcycles, to continue growth as a global player in the powersports industry.
As one of the largest motorcycle markets in the world, 17.1 million motorcycles were sold in China last year (Australia sells about 100,000), so it makes basic economic sense for CFMOTO to also focus on its domestic market. The Chinese motorcycle market is also maturing, which means we’re seeing more models better suited to both the domestic market as well as for export. The 300SR sportsbike is a solid example of this.When you break it down, there’s only a small number of so-called ‘major-manufacturers’ (Japanese big four, KTM, BMW, Ducati, Harley being the main ones). Do you think CFMOTO can one day join that illustrious list? And what do you think it will take to get there?
Absolutely, and, in many respects, CFMOTO is already there. If we talk stock market for a moment, as a publicly-listed company, CFMOTO has a market capitalisation, or true value as perceived by the overall market, of more than 18 billion CNY (Chinese Yuan). That’s about $A3.7 billion. Harley-Davidson, for reference, has a market cap of $US4 billion, or about $A5.5 billion, so CFMOTO is well on its way in that respect.
For the Mum and Dad investors out there, CFMOTO stocks are currently trading at around 135 CNY ($A27.40) – up more than 600 per cent from their initial public offering of 19 RMB ($A3.86) just three years ago.
CFMOTO was founded in 1989, so it’s still a relatively young company. In that short time, however, it’s become a seriously powerful player in the ATV/UTV markets across the globe, and we knew big, bold moves were on the horizon for the company’s motorcycle division.
With over 2600 employees, CFMOTO produces more than 600,000 units a year and distributes to more than 80 countries. The joint venture with KTM will only strengthen CFMOTO as it strides towards becoming a world-class brand in the powersports industry, for sure.
So, yeah, exciting times and we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do!
As a final note, what else is in the works for Mojo Motorcycles outside of CFMOTO?
The outlook across our current brand portfolio has never been brighter and, with the number of new models to be rolled out in 2021, we’ll have a lot on our plate! Our focus for next year is to continue to put all of our resources behind these brands and further grow their respective market share positions.