Behind-the-scenes factory tour in China shows strong future
The biggest name in utility vehicles that most have never heard of likely won’t be a sleeping giant for very long now that it’s launched its own brand. Considering the room for growth at the company’s 7.1 million-square-foot factory near Chongqing, China, there is plenty of reason to believe that dealers in North America will be seeing Hisun side-by-sides and ATVs for years to come.
After launching the Hisun brand in 2014 at AIMExpo in Orlando, dealers are beginning to take notice. Retail outlets, many in rural America, also have been eager to carry the franchise, yet another sign that the stigma that comes with Chinese powersports product may be easing.
There’s no doubt that Hisun knows how to make side-by-sides. From 2011-14, the company ranked No. 6 on the list of the largest UTV producers in North America. Its new location in ChangShou, located 50 miles from the Chongqing Central Business District, has prepared the company for tremendous growth potential. Its previous factory in the central city was 2.1 million square feet. The spacious new location, opened in 2012, sits on 150 acres and employs 1,500. Owned by Mr. Li, the Hisun factory offers plenty of amenities, including an 18-story office tower and two-story hotel. A restaurant and 15-seat movie theater for suppliers and guests also sets the facility apart.
Sitting in his immaculate office for a few minutes between his meetings and my trips around the test track, Mr. Li makes no bones about it: Those who like Hisun now are really going to like Hisun later. If Hisun’s not on your radar, don’t be surprised if it’s on your neighbor’s.
The factory currently has capacity for about 50,000 ATVs and side-by-sides annually, nearly all for export. Mr. Li, chairman of Chongqing Huansong Industrial (Group) Co. , Ltd., has plans over the next two or three years to increase that number to 100,000 pieces per year. The capacity for production of motorcycles, scooters and generators already is more than 500,000 annually. Since 2006, Hisun’s combined ATV and side-by-side production has surpassed 100,000.
A total of 16 buildings include two research and development locations, along with an assembly plant and engine building plant. Engines and frames are built on site, and the factory provides injection molding as well as powder coating, painting, welding, assembly and packaging.
Two buildings are empty, set aside for future growth. The assembly plant features a pair of 400-foot-long production lines, a packing line and several sub-assembly stations. A six-acre test track, complete with both on- and off-road surfaces, whoops, rocks, mud, sharp turns, inclines pot holes and even small jumps was designed by a U.S.-based consultant with North American riders and drivers in mind.
Hisun manufactures about 75 percent of the ATV and side-by-side components, including the engine. Electrical components and tires are bought from suppliers. Delphi Electronic Fuel Injection systems from the U.K. are used on all products, and Canada’s CVTech clutching systems are used on many models. Bando transmission belts are imported from Japan.
Hisun’s UTVs all meet current and proposed stability standards as being considered by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Testing on a banked track, the Level Flight Suspension certainly brought added confidence as this driver made his worldwide debut in a 1000cc UTV. In fact, Hisun is one of the first Chinese manufacturers to bring a 1000cc UTV to market, topping out a range of 14 different UTV sizes that start at 250cc. There are another 10 ATVs to choose from, from the Axis 110 (sport quad) and Forge 110 (with cargo racks) to the Forge 550 and 750, and the Tactic 800 and 1000 EPS, with its 976cc EFI 8-valve V-twin.
The lineup of 2015 side-by-side product alone is impressive. The four sport side-by-sides in the Strike series include the 250 (MSRP $4,549), 800 ($10,499), 1000 ($13,999) and 1000 Crew ($15,999). The utility side-by-sides include the Sector 250 (MSRP $4,749), 450 ($8,449), 550 ($8,999), 750 ($9,999) and 1000 ($13,999). Finally, the HS Series offers the HS 400 (MSRP $7,499), 500 ($8,499), 700 ($9,499), 700 Crew ($10,999) and 800 Crew ($11,999). All models are EPA and CARB compliant and come with a 1-year factory warranty. In fact, Polaris is the only other company in the world that boasts a more complete line.
All engines manufactured by Hisun are used in Hisun-built products; no engines are sold to competitor UTV manufacturers.
Ryan Daugherty, vice president of sales and marketing for Hisun Motors USA, the wholly owned subsidiary of the parent company, says powersports dealers are intrigued by the warranty program. Aftersales service and parts are available via the company’s massive assembly facility in McKinney, Texas. About
50 employees work on two assembly lines. More than 14,000 Hisun-built vehicles were sold in North America in 2014. All of them undergo a 31-point inspection and at least six miles of testing prior to their shipment to dealers and retailers. Units are shipped fully assembled to dealers 5 to 10 units at a time in a dedicated 53-foot trailer.
Hard top roof, two-piece windshield, side mirrors, nitrogen assisted performance shocks and a heavy-duty winch are all standard on side-by-sides. The HS series includes taillights, aluminum rims, camouflage and a receiver hitch.
Daugherty figures the best way to show off Hisun’s engineering and manufacturing acumen is for a behind-the-ropes tour, so we did just that and then some. The trek began with a 36-hour junket from Minneapolis to Detroit to Beijing, followed by a domestic flight to Chongqing, a municipality of 30 million in southwestern China.
It’s been a manufacturing hub ever since World War II, when its distance from the sea and the surrounding mountainous region allowed for much of the area to remain unscathed simply due to proxemics. We stayed at the luxe Westin Liberation Square in the Jiefangbei Central Business District, not far from the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers.
An exceptional breakfast buffet provided the perfect start for the hour-long van ride to the factory. ChangShou is a smallish city of less than 1 million that has been growing rapidly in recent years due to the establishment of companies such as Hisun and other expanding manufacturers. Hisun’s growth in the U.S. has helped it establish solid footing financially in recent years. Hisun’s primary markets are North America, Europe, Australia and Russia.
Due to the robust product lineup within the 2014 and 2015 model years, Mr. Li spends most of his time in the R&D facilities, which cover more than 230,000 square feet and house more than 100 engineers. Mr. Li has a background in mechanical engineering, so he has found the R&D facilities to his liking. These days, he’s more likely to be spotted on the assembly line to become more familiar with those challenges. Henry Li, Mr. Li’s U.K.-educated son, oversees the daily operations as president of the company.
The CNC machining center is our first stop on the tour. A constant temperature workshop (it’s permanently 22-26 C) sits on 25,000 square feet and includes 100 workers. CNC-machined engine parts, when made under varying temperatures, expand and contract often. A part that was machined at one temperature and assembled at another temperature could lead to an inexact fitment. It’s easy to see that jobs in the CNC building are highly sought due to the pleasant year-round climate. Among powersports manufacturers in China, it’s known to be the only controlled temperature CNC machining facility.
The engine plant is also a constant temperature (22-26 C). German Bosch torque assembling systems and BASF catalytic converters are part of the engine development.
The die casting building is the crown jewel of the tour. Newly minted in October 2014, it allows Hisun to die cast parts for its own engines. Prior to opening up the die casting building, Hisun depended on outside factories for its engine parts. It appears to be a difficult and nasty process, but it’s a step forward that Hisun views as critical to controlling the parts and pieces of its engines on its own terms. It’s a newly opened building, but already designated for growth in the near future.
The frame production plant is divided into a molding and fixture workshop, stamping and welding. The injection molding plant also is an impressive creature. The machines vary from 90 tons to 3,300 tons.
Next we were treated to a water transfer camouflage process, which was mesmerizing entertainment. A triple submersion cleaning process similar to that used in to the auto industry highlighted the power paint coating section.
The assembly plant houses 400 workers, two assembly lines and two packing lines. Air conditioning coming down from above each line also is a bonus.
Mr. Li then treated us to one of his favorite seafood restaurants, where he pointed to a fish in an aquarium, motioned to the waiter and watched the waiter scoop out the fish with a net. He repeated that about a half-dozen more times, and our party of six was gladly attended to a half-dozen waiters and waitresses.
An impressive R&D center features a parking test bed that turns the units every way imaginable for stability testing. The suspension dynamics also get high-level treatment here. Engineers are able to tell the compression ratio of all the suspensions and how they’re going to perform in a particular situation by a machine that puts individual pressure on the suspension.
A Horiba emissions testing machine, like other Horiba testing equipment found in U.S.-based engine testing labs, is another sign of the company’s commitment to quality. The machine is calibrated frequently, so that when production line testing is performed, Hisun knows that its products are passing EPA requirements. Test gasses are imported from the U.S., and combined with the proper calibration of the EPA machine, they make for an accurate measurement of emissions.
The following day was time to get dirty, so I hopped aboard the Strike 1000 on the test track. Never having driven a 1000cc UTV, it’s everything it’s built up to be and then some. Plenty of power and torque, and the Level Flight Suspension was put to the test on a banked end of an oval, with rocks imbedded into the ground. Riding up or down the embankment at speed continually brought confidence. So much so, in fact, that I was ready for more after lunch.