Who’s Hu

The Motorcycle diaries

Zuo Zongshen

The Motorcycle diaries

Zuo Zongshen was born in Shanghai in 1952 and grew up in Chongqing. Like many people his age, he was sent to a rural area during the Cultural Revolution. Later he took a job as a kiln worker in a Chongqing porcelain factory. He dabbled in a more entrepreneurial life, selling books and fruit. Then at 30, he started to learn how to repair motorcycles. Zuo turned out to be a natural: “When a motorbike passed by I could tell if the engine had got problems just by listening,” he recalls.

In 1982 Zuo opened his own motorcycle repair shop. He started to reassemble the engines himself, winning a series of contracts with a local motorcycle plant. After a decade accumulating capital and experience, Zuo founded Zong Shen Motorcycle Technology Corporation with Rmb500,000 in funds.

Big break

Zuo was in the right place: by 2010 Chongqing was said to make half of China’s motorbikes. Back in the 1990s, Zong Shen, started out producing engines for others, before launching its own 70 cc brand in 1996. With sales passing Rmb3 billion by 2000, Zong Shen had became a major player in Chongqing, and began to export.

Going out

Then Zuo was hit by the global financial crisis in 2008. Orders fell 60% and production lines, which normally ran day and night, slowed. “I couldn’t sleep for months,” Zuo told the Economic Observer. “Then I realised we needed to make changes.”

One change was to target new countries, as sales in traditional markets were suffering. In 2009 Zuo invested in Thailand to build a production base and he then took over Brazilian brand Kasinki, the third largest local motorcycle maker, as part of a Brazilian joint venture called Zong Shen CR.

By the end of 2010 sales of Zong Shen CR reached $104 million, up 261% year-on-year, and this October Zuo announced that Zong Shen CR plans to IPO in Brazil.

In the Chinese market, a ban on motorcycles in more than 170 cities has hit manufacturers, many of whom have tried to diversify into other businesses. But Zuo continues to believe there is still growth to come, especially in the rural areas. “China has a large population with limited space,” he warns. “Compared to cars, the motorcycle is more convenient and efficient, and it could be more environmentally-friendly.”

In October this year, Zong Shen also launched its first electric motorcycle at an industry show held in Chongqing. “We’ve got the core technologies now but the cost is the biggest problem,” Zuo told 21CN Business Herald.

Need to know

Zuo is a huge fan of the Harley-Davidson brand and has a collection of Harleys at home. He also owns a motorbike team that has competed in the MotoGP world championship since 1999, ranking in the top 10.

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