Reverberations of the India-China border crisis are being felt in the country’s bicycle manufacturing hub of Ludhiana. With China importing over 70 per cent of the total bicycle parts that land in the city, small and medium industrial units here are now looking for technical assistance from the big players to cut this dependence.
Bicycle units in Punjab, which contributes 90 per cent of the total Rs 7,000 crore turnover of the bicycle industry in the country with Ludhiana being the main hub, feel that imports must be cut down in a phased manner.
Taking a step in this direction, bicycle giant Hero Cycles held a meeting with members of United Cycle Parts and Manufacturers Association (UCPMA) on Wednesday where company chairman Pankaj Munjal offered technical support to small units.
“We need to make a start to end dependency on China in a phased manner if not altogether,” said S K Rai, MD, Hero Cycles.
He added, ”We have asked the UCPMA members to come out of their comfort zone of depending largely upon the sale of black roadster bicycles. In the present scenario we need to see the business opportunities for us when we are talking of stopping imports from China. We can guide them on good practices needed for making high-end bicycle parts, if they are keen to learn.”
Gurcharan Singh Gemco, UCPMA vice-president who also met Munjal along with others, said: “We are importing complete bicycles (high-end) gear shifters, brakes, clippers etc. from China. This will not end immediately, but we are ready to do away with this import in a phased manner. We will be learning new skills to start manufacturing.”
Charanjeet Singh Vishvkarma, former UCPMA president, added, “Alloy frames, fibre frames, carbon frames of high-end bicycles are not yet being manufactured in India. Therefore, over 1 lakh complete bicycles of high-end models are coming from China per month in our country . Manufacturing units of these frames need to be started in India to reduce dependency on China.”
Rai pointed out that the time was right to grab the market. “We are not experimenting in making these lightweight frames. We have to make a start. Hence, we need to grab the market by understanding the aspirations of customers,” he said.
Bicycle market: India vs China
Every year a total of 22 million of bicycles are manufactured and sold out in India, out of which 16 millions are sales of eight large units (one among them Atlas bicycles closed down last month). In this, 50 per cent share is of black roadster bicycles, 24 per cent of fancy models, 21 per cent of kids bicycles and only 5 per cent are exports.
China, on the other hand, manufacturers 90 millions bicycles per year, out of which 60 million are exported across the world. The competition, industry insiders, said is clearly tough.
They pointed out that while talk mostly centres around stopping imports of high-end bicycles and bicycle parts from China, many units were even importing parts for cheaper kids and fancy models too as they it was much cheaper to import them than manufacturing them here in India.
“Sentiments are strong as of now, but the government needs to give us a static policy for at least 10 years to favour manufacturing of various products which we import from China. Mere talks will not work,” said Badish Jindal, president of All India Traders and Manufacturers Forum.
Other countries as an option
Many manufacturers also feel that while imports cannot be stopped altogether, they can be shifted to countries like Taiwan, Vietnam and European Union instead of China for the time being as change cannot happen overnight.
Import of bicycle parts by India’s bicycle units in financial year 2019-20 stood at USD 118 million and over 70 per cent of it came from China. This figure of total imports was USD 255 million in 2018-19 and USD 241 million in 2017-18. While giving out these figures, All India Cycles Manufacturers Association(AICMA) pointed out that the decline in overall imports in 2019-20 was due to Covid impact in the final quarter majorly.
“Every year of the total imports, 70-76 per cent are from China and it has been an increasing trend always. First time there was a drastic fall and Covid was the major reason as supplies from China got restricted from November itself. However, now that a sentiment (against China) is building up in the country, its actual impact will be seen in the current financial year,” said Dr K B Thakur, general secretary, AICMA.
Meanwhile, after Hero Cycles said they will be happy to share technology for reducing dependency on China, the UCPMA has started making a list of willing units to undergo the change of acquiring new skills to help cut imports
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