A few years ago KYMCO USA’s Director of Marketing Rick Pawelka said that one of the biggest differences between KYMCO and other OEMs of its size was its history. And as the company celebrates its 50th anniversary the statement seems somewhat apropos. With humble beginnings, KYMCO has come a long way in the last half century, and has consistently punched above its weight in markets all over the globe including here in the U.S. where it just rolled out a new line of off-road vehicles.
The Kwang Yang Motor Co. Ltd. with headquarters in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, started in 1963 in a joint venture with Honda, however, they bumped into problems forming the partnership at first because there were still tensions looming from Japan’s occupation of Taiwan and the government was leery of dealing with the Japanese at that time. Therefore, the date of the actual beginning of the company was postponed until June of 1964, which doesn’t make a lot of difference except when you’re celebrating an anniversary. Honda was, in a sense, the biggest investor in KYMCO because it provided the means for the company to begin buying back shares
By 2000 KYMCO had bought all of its shares back from Honda, becoming its own entity and one of the largest manufacturers of scooters in the world. Being recognized as a manufacturing powerhouse has had its advantages as the company landed some OEM supplier contracts with a few top Asian and European manufacturers, supplying everything from engines to complete vehicles and many things in between. Coincidentally, Honda’s other partner in Taiwan, SYM, also became independent at about the same time and is now the second largest scooter manufacturer in the country, although, it has yet to reach the kind of export penetration that KYMCO has.
On our recent visit to Taiwan for the Taiwan International Motorcycle Show, we made a special side trip to visit KYMCO’s headquarters in Kaohsiung (southern Taiwan), the second largest city in the country. On our walk through the buildings and campus the history of the factory seemed to seep through the walls. Even with modern machines and equipment, the facility had a certain heritage feel to it, like an old ballpark. Many of the workers were on the line producing various models from scooters to things we were not allowed
Our interpreter on the tour, Frank Laing, said that the factory would soon move to a new location because the city has grown too close to the old industrial center and city planners have determined that the growth of the city will mean the factory has to move further out of town. Fifty years ago, KYMCO was in the middle of nowhere, but times have certainly changed for the city and company, and for that matter, Taiwan
In the U.S. market, KYMCO USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of KYMCO Taiwan and the official importer, offering a full range of scooters and off-road vehicles in its lineup. A great deal of KYMCO’s success in the U.S. has been due to the hard work of the U.S. arm in setting up a quality dealer network and offering enough value and vehicles that dealers and consumers alike can get behind.
KYMCO USA has been the leader behind the company’s off-road products along with engineering R&D back in Kaohsiung. Considering that the parent company has primarily been a scooter manufacturer, with sales in excess of $1 billion, KYMCO USA recognized the manufacturing capabilities were already in place for developing a line of off-road models which started with smaller ATVs and then later moved into side-by-sides.
For 2015, KYMCO USA has an impressive offering of 32 off-road vehicle models, including four versions of its newest mid-sized side-by-side vehicle the UXV 450i along with an innovative take on the UXV 500i that is outfitted with a 5kW generator. On the ATV side, the company has introduced four EPS models of its popular MXU series and two newly designed youth quads.
We recently had a chance to test these new vehicles at the Big Buck Farm in Union, South Carolina, home to one of the rounds of the ever-popular GNCC series. Big Buck had a number of attributes that were key to showing the prowess of KYMCO’s new line – especially the 450i. The trails were tight and lined with trees, winding through the rolling hillside.
First impressions of the UXV 450i was that it was one of the smallest side-by-sides we had ever seen, but other journalists at the test noted that it was not as small as Honda’s Pioneer 500. Still, it was small enough to fit in the bed of a pick-up. The 450i is definitely narrow enough for maneuvering through tight trails and you could easily haul a passenger or maybe even two with its bench seat design. The seat was comfortable, however, if you were tall, the steering wheel would have to be tilted up to a steeper angle for the rider to fit in the vehicle completely.
KYMCO offers its new side-by-side in four trim levels – UXV 450i ($7,999), UXV 450i TURF ($8,499), UXV 450i CAMO ($8,499) and its 50th anniversary edition UXV 450i LE 50th ($8,699). All are powered by a fuel-injected 443cc SOHC 4-stroke 4-valve liquid-cooled engine, which had surprisingly good spunk for such a small powerplant. The 450 was easily able to climb the steep hills coming out of Big Buck Farm’s creeks that were sporadically covered in mud from the rainstorms that had passed through the area.
Most of the time the drivetrain could pull the rider up the hills with the rear differential in the just lock position, however, there were a few occasions when full four-wheel lock was necessary. The power is transferred via shaft drive with push-button on-demand 2WD/4WD and the transmission is a tough CVT with differential lock.
On the handling side, it comes with a front and rear independent dual A-arm set-up with 7.5 inches of travel, a 25×8-12 front and 25×10-12 rear tire/wheel package aids in achieving a log-crossing 10 inches of ground clearance (and we tested this a few times!), and it comes with a decent sized fuel tank at 8.5 gallons so you can venture out for long periods.
Some of the other model features include a True Timber CAMO pattern; a TURF model, featuring Tight Turn Turf Control with front differential lock and open, selectable rear differential with differential lock and Turf tires; and the Limited Edition (LE) 50th Anniversary model fitted with alloy wheels, 3,000-lb. winch, and Metallic Gold paint and an exclusive 50th Anniversary
UXV 500i G
Another new addition to KYMCO’s side-by-side lineup, is the innovative, mobile electric power generating UXV 500i G ($12,999) that combines all the features and benefits of a recreational standard side-by-side with a fully integrated, Totally Enclosed Fan Cooled (TEFC) 5kW Generator with a five-point integrated safety system and a GFCI safety circuit breaker to generate all the power you’ll ever need. We ran a pressure washer for six hours during testing and it only used about a bar of fuel. With full digital monitoring and automatic electrical load compensation the UXV 500i G produces consistent, spike-free power.
On the ATV end, KYMCO’s lineup features 18 models including three 50th Anniversary versions, two come standard with (EPS), electronic power steering for smooth responsive steering at all speeds and less arm fatigue; and three CAMO pattern models, with two featuring EPS. We’ve ridden them all except for the youth models, and while there were occasionally small issues with prototypes we rode, the build quality is as good as anything and the machines keep getting better with each new model.
The 700i is a big machine, no doubt, but with EPS it maneuvers through tight spaces easily with the power assist. At times we forgot which model we were on until we cracked the throttle. The 700cc engine is a beast with a lot of low-end grunt that should make it ideal for customers who want to combine work and play. But it’s not a racing machine by any stretch of the imagination. The MXU 450i is much more nimble and a good overall quad that offers just enough power, but also feels small enough to throw around.
The two 450i ATVs feature an automatic CVT transmission, on-demand 2WD/4WD, independent dual A-arm front and rear suspension offering 7 inches of travel, hydraulic dual disc front and single disc rear brakes, 24×8-12 front and 24×10-12 rear tires, 75-lb. front rack capacity, 150-lb. rear rack capacity and a standard 2-inch receiver with a 1,050-lb. towing capacity. The 50th Anniversary versions of the MXU 450i, 500i and 700i ATVs are outfitted with aluminum alloy wheels (chrome for the MXU 450i, black for the MXU 500i and 700i), 3,000-lb. winch and 50th Anniversary Emblems; the CAMO versions of the 450i, 500i and 700i ATVs all feature a True Timber New Conceal CAMO pattern.
KYMCO USA’s success in the market is not by luck. It’s not just another nameless, faceless Asian fly-by-night manufacturer. More and more dealers are seeing the value proposition that KYMCO offers and will carry the brand alongside the big Japanese brands for customers to see and compare and then make the choice that fits best. Budget isn’t the only thing that wins out either. The features offered on the 2015 models are impressive and rival many other big OEMs at a lower price point. And you never have to worry if they will stand behind their products, because after 50 years, they’ve proven they can keep generations of customers and dealers satisfied.