Dongguan firm shows off its answer to the Segway
Three long-haired teenage models in colourful hot pants and tight tops glided freely along the carpeted runway on motorised scooters while flashes popped as hundreds of men took their pictures.
It wasn't a fashion show but a demonstration of a new product at the spring session of the Canton Fair, the mainland's oldest and largest trade show, which opened in Guangzhou on Tuesday.
Dongguan Robstep Robot was displaying the newest models of its motorised scooters, a Chinese version of America's Segway.
"This is the fruit of our research and development, based on technology from Taiwan and design from the mainland," said Li Peng, marketing head of the firm, based in Dongguan, a manufacturing hub in Guangdong province.
"Many Chinese consumers still don't know about the product, but sooner or later they will, because it is environmentally friendly and fun."
Formerly a supplier of moulds and dies for exporters, Dongguan Robstep was forced to reinvent itself in 2010 as wages and production costs soared, labour shortages worsened and the province encouraged industrial firms to upgrade themselves.
The firm is among tens of thousands in the Pearl River Delta that are repositioning themselves as the region loses its low-cost advantage, its reputation as "the factory of the world" showing signs of rust.
Li said that since 2010, the firm had shifted its business focus to producing motorised scooters, creating its own brand, Robstep, importing technology from Taiwan, setting up a research and development department with about 30 people, and making a foray into the mainland market. It also exports products overseas.
He said the motorised scooters cost about 13,800 yuan (HK$17,300) each on average, and the newest models will be priced even higher.
At the Canton Fair, officially known as the 115th China Import and Export Fair, a twice-yearly trade show, Dongguan Robstep rolled out several newer models, which offer a 50 per cent longer battery life, are 15 per cent lighter and come in a wider choice of colours.
The firm's efforts appear to have paid off, with the new business generating about 80 million yuan in revenue last year.
"The future is about competing on technologies and brands," Li said. "When I was riding on a Robstep at home in Dongguan, many passers-by stared at me in awe, and some even stopped me and wanted to try it out."
The Segway is a two-wheeled electric vehicle made in the US. It is seen as an environmentally friendly means of transport.