Team America. Free Trade Or Fair Trade?

I wrote this article at the request of Chris Callen, Editor In Chief of Cycle Source Magazine. It is published in the current issue. 

"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  purchase only 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 mechanichal 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 on the theme: “Why And How To Support Your America Team”. Cyril Huze 


8 Responses to “Team America. Free Trade Or Fair Trade?”

  1. 1 Jeremy Apr 14th, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Well said.

  2. 2 Mike Apr 16th, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    Well I agree that that foreign market is ripping off ideas and designs, and there is very little our great manufacturing country can do. It’s sad to see a springer for 389.00 that looks like a 2000.00 U.S.A. built one. Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. I know a few people that work at top notch U.S. manufacturing places that do build the best available. They get 20-25.00 hour and weld out 4-6 springers a day. Throw in the cost of the material and equipment you have the cost to produce. There are utilities and perishables like wire and blades, grinding discs, and other things that go into the total cost that all factor into the overall cost. Now comes the highest cost to the U.S. market EGO. Our manufactures produce the same item that was designed 50 years ago, granted the add a twist or a diamond here and there but as far as engineering goes a duck is a duck. I know I’m stepping on toes but damn why are your springers 2400.00 U.S. dollars? The chrome is better, the design is let us say, altered from the original with a new bearing thrown in. I live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood; both my wife and I work so we have some free income, but 2400.00. I have been a union member and a working class person for 40 years and I buy American as often as I can and that is 90% of the time due to alot of our companies moving overseas. But the market has pushed U.S. buyers to the point that we have to demand bang for buck not name for buck. I respect your work and I think you do some fine designs, but if you put yourself in the position of a great artist know that most starved will alive. If a person want to sell art call it that and make it on a one off basis not mass produce and expect praise at the alter. Enjoy the riches of the American dollar but make sure that if you want to continue to eat caviar you have to prove that it’s more than a name your buying. I bet this will piss off a lot of people but are they in line to pay twice the price for something if so get pissed.

  3. 3 Mike Apr 16th, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    I just wanted to add that this is not directed to any single element of the U.S.A aftermarket industry. Look at a Donnie Smith girder American quaility, but the price is higher than 7 or 8 times the cost. It’s just unbelievable that when you price at the extent of the market people will find away. So now who do we blame for this problem the maker or the user it has to be one of us, you decide.
    P.s. I saving up for your springer so don’t think I am against Cyril, it supply and design.

  4. 4 DRAGON Apr 16th, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    AMERICA has cut her own throat

  5. 5 moovinlightman Apr 17th, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Nobody has addressed the cost of liability insurance that these (artist)bike builders have to pay to create those works of art. So when you crash and burn on those cheap foreign made wheels,front ends, handlebars,etc… you’ll wish you paid the high but well worth it AMERICAN price. Maybe we need to regulate some american big BIZ first and help us out here at the bottom of the chain. THINK ABOUT IT!

  6. 6 John Apr 18th, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    There is some truth to the idea of arbitrary price points in the US bike manufacturing biz; Difficult for me to understand how the price on a WCC fender stamping increases three-fold in three years, but even more interesting is how competing domestic producers follow suit;

    It’s been more about what the market will bear, and limiting supply to support those prices, rather than operating in a true free-market economy.

    An example: Take a look at that weird little Ridley Auto bike- not much to it, just a little air-compressor motor tied to a simple snowmobile trans…. And yet, where is it priced? North of $18K. Hmm. Gee, think this price point is determined more by supply and demand, or by looking at Harley’s lineup and thinking “Gee, if they can get $18K for a new bike, then so can we…..”

    Point is, the argument for tough times in US bike parts manufacturing will be a LOT more compelling when we don’t see Paul Sr sitting among his mult-million dollar car collection at his lavish estate, complaining about how tough competition is-

    American producers CAN be more competitive- if they really WANT to be.

  7. 7 Mike Apr 20th, 2007 at 4:00 am

    Look at the disclaimers on the Artist’s front end and see if you can find a liability clause. I am not throwing rocks, I know the price of materials and what labor (the poor bastard doing all the work) is and so do you. I think the term artist is over used in America, in the 60’s it was biker trash that were artist, 70’s freaks, 80’s bike shops, 90’s is when we started calling people artist which is ok by me but if you want a ton of money for something just say it I want to be rich. It’s the dream, but don’t bitch when the buying public says toooo much. I think there is art in Cyril’s bikes thats why I ride a Shovel there is just as much art in it but I’m more Windberg print than Van Gosh. Lets pay our labor and our office workers more and the people that pick up the trash more, then lets talk price. Sorry I’ll shut up and not say another word about this topic but it’s a sore spot with me and one day the market will not bear it anymore and then the price can triple as it will be the other American habit “A Collector’s Item”

  8. 8 rick Sep 8th, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    How can a Donnie Smith Fork at $639.00 or less on ebay be 7 to 8 times the price of producing, packaging, distributing and advertising it? I might believe double but not 7-8 times. You aren’t buying from some shop that charge full list price or higher at 100 -300% markup are you?

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