Say no to replicas!
This post has been rebroadcast from our Facebook fan page. To see similar updates, visit us at http://www.facebook.com/therealjdm.
Say no to replicas!
This post has been rebroadcast from our Facebook fan page. To see similar updates, visit us at http://www.facebook.com/therealjdm.
It’s been two and a half years since I wrote a blog post titled “An Inconvenient Truth…About JDM – AKA The Death of Innovation”.Â That blog post ended up being the most commented, emotional and debated blog post I’ve ever written. There is a lot of emotion from all sides on this topic. Clearly it would be easier and more convenient to simply ignore it and focus on positive lighthearted things that we all can agree on.
However when asked by our friends at night-import blog to chime in about the recent status of the industry I found myself free writing for about an hour on a variety of topics. One of those topics happened to be knockoffs.
Ultimately I think I may have given a far longer and more detailed answer than they were expecting. As a result it probably won’t be published in full by them so I wanted to share my section about knockoffs. This is just how I personally feel and a blog is nothing more than a venue for a discussion to be had. So lets have the discussion…
Here’s a segment from my email to them:
The knockoff discussion:
I can say with certainty that the amount of new parts being produced is significantly less than it was 6+ years ago simply and directly due to knockoffs. I think many people are already expecting that answer since they see it all around them and that answer is indeed true. Iâ€™ve heard this same topic come up in countless closed door meetings with Japanese tuning shops. Then again, thatâ€™s what I do for a living (representing innovators in Japan with new products) so Iâ€™m often in an environment where product development discussions are held.
Even in cases where the Japanese companies ignore all of the threats of knockoffs and produce something new, the knockoffs come out within a few months and instantly kill the chance for the company to recoup their investment into the R&D of the parts. Most people donâ€™t realize that designing a front bumper (for example) costs often $30,000 for proper design, prototype and tooling in Japan (I have quotations). When a knockoff comes out within a few months and at that time only a handful of the authentic items have been sold â€“ what do you think happens to the company who made the parts? They think twice about doing it again. And a lot of times they scale way back and come out with fewer and fewer new parts. If you were them and constantly struggled to make a profit, wouldnâ€™t you do the same? The saddest part is that the better the design is the faster it gets knocked off. They truly canâ€™t win regardless of how hard they try.
See this blog post and specifically the last paragraph within it for an example of just how predictable and sad this has become. That full kit was knocked off shortly after the release of it in the US.
People want to compare costs of knockoff bumpers to the cost of an authentic bumper as if the authentic bumper is unfair, overpriced and should be less. Let me make this point as clear as possible. When it costs $30,000 to produce the first bumper by the authentic maker and yet it costs $1000 for the knockoff maker to buy an authentic bumper and knock it offâ€¦do you think itâ€™s fair to compare the costs of each one side by side? Thatâ€™s assuming the quality is the same which it never is. If magically the authentic companies could remove all of the R&D costs from their products and have the same business model as the knockoff companies where it costs almost nothing to make a new product â€“ you can be sure the costs would be much less. People think it is price gouging but in reality most of these authentic companies canâ€™t even get their money back half the time, never mind make a profit. And the knockoff company that is paying $150 to produce a bumper and is selling it for $450 with no R&D costsâ€¦theyâ€™re the ones gouging by charging a 300% markup and making instant profit on sale #1 because they have no expenses into it. Which one will you support? Which one is getting your money to buy ads in the magazines and get the big booths at SEMA? Which ones are growing their companies on their customerâ€™s money? Which ones are left with a surplus of cash to be able to give away free product to hundreds of show cars and magazine cars to perpetuate the hype and legitimize the lie?
As a result of all of this, a standard is created that fake is acceptable and that whatever a car looks like on the surface is primarily what matters. The common excuse is that the parts cost too much and people think that running knockoffs simply saves them money and has no negative effect on the brand, however thatâ€™s far from true. For each person who fakes it and runs knockoffs it helps reward the companies who steal the design and produce those parts while at the same time it promotes the idea of knockoffs being ok and encourages others to do it by:
A. showing that itâ€™s accepted on message boards, local car meets and in magazines
B. creating more profit incentive for the knockoff producers to knockoff more things and promote and sell more knockoff parts since it’s easy and cheap to do and pays them well.
Itâ€™s a domino effect. But if you ask those guys who run the knockoffs they conveniently overlook all of those facts and remind you that they saved a bunch of money and that they couldnâ€™t have bought the parts otherwise.
Each year there are less and less exciting new parts to even bother knocking off. Meanwhile the most talented designers and engineers are struggling to pay their bills and I personally know of some that are out of a job and out of a career altogether.
This stuff is real, we all see it. The knockoff companies have been able to buy their voices in this debate by giving away free product and paying for advertisements anywhere and everywhere they can. The voice on the other side of the topic is left to you all who are reading this. Will you say something or will big money beat out passion and win this debate? This is an uphill battle, make no mistake about it.
Special thanks goes out to all of those who are down for the cause and speak up on difficult topics like these. You all know who you are, thank you for keeping it authentic and real in these hard times.
This man is one of them and deserves honorable mention: http://jdmego.wordpress.com
For the original topic two and a half years ago you can check out the link below:
Let’s have this discussion. What are your thoughts?
Update: We’ve put this blog post on facebook as well for discussion:
I was going through a couple of old folders today and I came across an old campaigns that still brings a smile to my face. It’s no secret that knockoffs have really hurt the industry and our company over the past decade since we started. Over the years we’ve done various things to raise awareness to this issue. As the situation with knockoffs got worse year after year and companies in Japan started down the path of bankruptcy my tone got more serious, but for this post I’d rather bring you back to a time when we could laugh about it at the same time we were fighting against it.
I’d like to present one of a few funny situations that we found ourselves in. If you guys like this perhaps I’ll share others later.
Here was the situation…
A company saw the popularity of the Varis intake ducts produced in carbon fiber for the 350Z. Despite the fact that we were operating Varis USA at the time, keeping a lot of stock and selling these at a really fair price ($140), some greedy guys came out with a knockoff. I think they were selling it for $95 instead of $140 or whatever…When they made their promotions online they clearly couldn’t write English well and they called them “ducks” instead of “ducts”. The fact that they kept promoting them as Varis replica carbon air ducks had me and the guys at our office constantly amused. At the time, a guy named Roo was working with me at Bulletproof and we came up with this image to combat the guys knocking off the parts. The photoshop credit and concept goes entirely to Roo and we happily hosted this image on our Varis website at the time just to play with the knockoff guys.
I got a good laugh out of this today when I saw it for the first time in 5 years.
Confused? So was I when I first saw this car at the local Supercar Sunday meet in Woodland Hills. Honestly, I was fooled and believed it to be a Lambo Murci at first because there was no reason for me to think otherwise. However, as I approached towards the car, the stranger it looked and then it hit me. The car was a fake.
If it weren’t for all the ugly addictions, especially in the front, it might actually look decent. It’s just a dead giveaway with how it looks right now. If I’m not mistaken, it think the car is for sale. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I’m sure some budget ballers would be interested in it.
Sometimes I get so frustrated with the automotive aftermarket because there is such a lack of respect for people’s life work of design and engineering. I continue to watch companies go bankrupt because the knockoff brands out there (you know who they are) just kill the market and make it nearly impossible for original companies to survive. Being a small aftermarket tuner who manufacturers original parts just doesn’t make sense in this environment…it is almost impossible to make a profit because production costs are so high to R&D parts. I know because I’ve passed on probably 20 chances now to start my own brand, the numbers just never made sense to do it. Actually, worse than that…one of the most talented designers I know is out of work right now for this same reason. The man’s life work is design and now he’s considering at working at a restaurant instead. I cant describe how depressing it is to know of his talent and yet know of his inability to continue his life’s work because the “enthusiasts” in the industry supported knockoffs instead of original parts like his. (I’m not saying names out of respect, so please don’t ask or comment about it…this story exists in multiple cases he surely is not the only one)
In general I don’t find knockoffs funny because in the context of the automotive aftermarket, the companies getting damaged by knockoffs of their goods are usually too small to survive the damage without huge problems (aside from the Nismos, TRDs and Mugens with big enough budgets to continue on).
Yet with all that being said, I can at times be amused by knockoffs in cases where nobody gets hurt too badly. In this case Bentley must be covering their heads in embarassment as they view the upcoming Hautai manufacturered unnamed car. No doubt this will still hurt Bentley’s image a bit, but I’m sure they’ll ultimately be fine. If anything, this hurts the image of Chinese automakers who are poised to inevitably enter the US and overseas markets. In their quest to become a legitimate source for world wide production vehicles this is a real setback to the image of Chinese car manufacturers.
(I wonder if Hautai is also one of the companies making those Top Secret, umm I mean… “TS Style” knockoff hoods that have eroded Top Secret’s hood sales over the years)
Here’s a front shot of the Hautai “B Style” as I’ll call it. At least the front is a little different.
Let me preface this post by mentioning that what I’m going to say here is something you’re probably not used to reading in magazines or other professional media. Unlike media which requires advertising money to survive (the same advertisers I’m about to talk about), I don’t have those biases and conflicts of interest which limit my ability to speak the truth. The cover-up of the damage being done is massive. Everyone (from magazine editors and website forum owners who happily accept their advertising money,Â to the very retail companies which sell these problematic parts and happily reap the profits) will admit behind closed doors that this is an industry crushing problem and yet everyone says they cant change it or do anything about it. The fact is nobody wants to stick their neck on the line to do anything about it and for that reason they are right…nothing can be done. On to the post.
I half jokingly can say that I’m the Al Gore of this particular topic. Much like how Al Gore made it his duty to explain to the world the disastrous consequences of global warming, I’ve been over the years trying to educate people about the disastrous effects of these companies making knockoffs and what our future will look like if everyone keeps supporting them by buying their parts.
I’m at the point these days where I’m tired of talking about it because the fact is that I always end up being the “bad guy” for just bringing it up. So rather than talk about how these US companies are stealing designs and putting companies in Japan out of business…and rather than talk about the horrific future of this industry that will exist when the only new product designs coming out will be original designs from the same knockoff companies that got rich stealing other peoples work and eventually have nothing left to steal (have you ever seen how awful their work is when they’re forced to make an original design?).
I’m just not going to go deep into talking about it this time. Instead I’m going to show you a concrete new example of exactly what I’ve been warning people about for the past few years. Nobody cares when I say it…so here are the facts and not my words:
(posted with permission of Driveline and Bulletproof, Voltex’s two distributors in North America)
Voltex just recently announced on their website that they are stopping all production of their wet carbon CT9A Lancer Evolution 8/9 hoods. Why? Because they learned that Seibon made a knockoff of their hood and that people were actually buying the knockoff. Out of concern that people could accidentally mistake the Seibon quality for Voltex quality if they saw it on a car at a race/street/show, Voltex made a statement on their website that they will no longer make that hood in wet carbon.
Here is a picture of the Voltex hood which they wind tunnel tested and did extensive R&D with the Cyber Evo over the years, at their expense of course…with the hope that they’d be able to sell enough to recoup their expenses so they could continue on making more innovative original parts:
And here’s Seibon’s version, which simply came from buying one authentic Voltex hood and then making a cheaper replica (which of course they can sell cheaper since they saved all of the R&D, molding and tooling costs):
So there you have it. Another product is now dead. Do people care yet? Probably not…Will people care the next time Voltex needs to look at the costs to decide if they want to produce an Aero hood for their next car and conclude that its not worth it? Probably still not. Will people care when there are almost no new products coming out with proper R&D because no company can find a way to make their money back? Yeah…probably then people will care…but it wont matter because by that point it’ll be too late to say we’re sorry and turn back the clock.
I hope everyone with their Seibon hoods out there are happy. And Seibon isnt the only company, there are many. I can name hundreds of examples of the same story, just swap Seibon for another brand and swap Voltex for another industry innovator. An interesting point is that if you pick up any US magazine you can find most of the companies that are making the copy parts with full page advertisements, yet you wont find nearly as many of the true innovating companies (the ones getting knocked off) because they cant afford the advertising rates to publish their own ads. This is because the knockoff brands are making far more profit than the companies who actually design the parts, and as such the innovating companies often cant afford the costs of full page advertisements whereas the knockoff brands are increasingly more rich and can afford the ads. As a result, the knockoff brands have the magazines and major media support despite the lack of ethics in the whole thing…like they say, money talks.
In a time when the Japanese tuning companies rely on overseas sales more than ever for their survival, they look over here and see cars on the covers of almost all US magazines with knockoffs of their products proudly sporting Seibon stickers and other like minded brands.Â Maybe you can tell me how to convince these companies in Japan to keep making new parts when their own fans who claim to represent JDM will drive around at the same time with a Seibon hood on their car. I honestly dont know how to convince them anymore…and quite literally I am the guy they often consult with when deciding what new parts to produce.
Sometimes I’m ashamed of elements of this industry that I’ve dedicated my life to. It saddens me that there is such little incentive and motivation for the innovators that are the ones who actually make the parts we love. Unfortunately nobody will care until its too late and the scene is dead. Or thats what it seems at least. I sure hope I’m wrong.
PS: People have often said to me that my no knockoff stance of how I handle my cars, my promotion, who I decide to affiliate myself and my company with, and which cars we sponsor would classify me as a “JDM purist”. I take no offense to the word “purist”, but I am not a purist simply because of my belief that I wont condone knockoffs. Being a purist implies some uncommonly strong belief in something. I would instead prefer to think that my belief of not wanting JDM to die is a fairly logical and common belief amongst anyone who loves this culture and loves the innovative cars coming out worldwide.