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The Maeda Iron Works Company was founded by Shikanosuke Maeda in 1912 in Kawati-Nagano. Maeda made freewheels and sprockets for bicycles and agricultural machinery. Maeda was owned by the Maeda and Kawai families. The original sprockets and freewheels were called 8.8.8. It was a good time to start a bicycle component business. WW-I ended bicycle imports into Japan. Osaka was a center of Japan's small arms production. After WW-I, many of the Japan's newly established small arms factories started producing bicycles. Similar swords-to-plowshares transitions took place in Saint Etienne, France and Birmingham, England. In 1931, Mr. Taizo Kumagai married Shikanosuke Maeda's daughter and changed his name to Taizo Maeda. During WW-II, Maeda Iron Works merged with eleven other small factories. The new company was called Toa Seiki Kosakusho. Taizo Maeda was elected President. The merged company was taken over by the Japan's military government in 1943. It became a subsidiary of the Kure Military Factory and produced ammunition.
On July 10, 1945, a major B-29 raid on Osaka burned out the Maeda factory. The factory was rebuilt after VJ Day and by 1946, 58 employees were producing freewheels at prewar volumes. Twenty-five year-old Junzo Kawai joined Maeda Iron works in 1946. He moved ahead rapidly and became President when Taizo Maeda passed away in 1975. At the end of WW-II, there were about 7 million bicycles in Japan. The Japanese bicycle industry was centered in Osaka, which had been heavily bombed. The industry slowly rebuilt after WW-II. There was a large demand for basic one-speed bicycles to provide transportation for a Japanese population that had few motor vehicles and little money for gasoline. The company name changed from Toa Seiki back to Maeda Iron Works in 1949. By 1950, Maeda Iron Works had 122 employees and annual sales of about forty million yen ($110,000).
By 1965, SunTour and Shimano taken over the Japanese domestic market for derailleurs and freewheels. Until about 1968, SunTour sold only to the domestic Japanese market. SunTour made better derailleurs but Shimano was the better marketer and by 1970, Shimano had the largest share of the domestic Japanese market. From 1965 to 1970, "High-Risers" or "Sting-Rays" were a hot item in the U.S. The more expensive models had a five-sprocket freewheel with a "Stick-Shift" lever mounted on the top tube. American high-riser bicycles were one of the first markets for Japanese components. SunTour sold a few derailleurs and stick shift levers but Shimano and Huret were the main suppliers. In 1968, Junzo Kawai made extensive studies and concluded that it was time to enter the international market. SunTour attended the European and American bicycle shows, ran ads in the trade magazines, and made sales calls on the bike makers. Shimano did better in the U.S. market. Shimano made a first class three-speed hub and they aggressively marketed hubs, freewheels, and derailleurs. They established the Shimano American office in New York in 1965. By 1969, AMF, Columbia, Huffy, and Murray were equipping their low priced lightweight bicycles with Shimano components. SunTour started advertising in American magazines in 1968, but they had to wait for Japanese bicycle makers, like Panasonic, Fuji, and Bridgestone, to develop an export market for Japanese bicycles with SunTour derailleurs. The Japanese bicycle industry recognized the potential for export growth of the light weight bicycle market. The Japan Trade Center exhibited Japanese components at the 1970 Amsterdam show. The Japan Trade Center set up bicycle show rooms in Los Angeles and New York in the early 1970s.
1970 was a turning point for SunTour. They started construction of a new factory in Shiga. They changed the company name from Maeda Iron Works to Maeda Industries. The SunTour brand name was used for all products. Maeda Industries had 244 employees and sales of 900 million yen ($2,500,000).
By 1980, Maeda Industries had 330 employees and sales of 8000 million yen ($38,000,000). They made 1,500,000 one-speed freewheels, 4,500,000 multiple freewheels, and 3,800,000 rear derailleurs.
SunTour's struggle to keep up with the market changes was exacerbated by the revalued yen. In 1985, the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Great Britain were suffering massive trade deficits with Japan. The five governments met in mid-1985 and signed the G-5 agreement. Over the next six months, the value of the yen went from 240 to 125 per dollar. The "Yen Shock" had a profound effect on the bicycle market. In 1985, the major Japanese bicycle makers exported full lines of bicycles to their U.S. dealers. After the yen shock, Japanese bicycle makers could not compete profitably in the low or medium-priced market and that market quickly shifted to Taiwan and later to China. As Japanese wages rose and the yen kept appreciating against the dollar, only high-priced bicycles were exported from Japan. Many Japanese component companies, including SunTour, rushed to build branch factories in Taiwan but the Taiwan construction industry could not build the new factories fast enough. Shimano had built its Singapore factory in 1973 and they quickly shifted production of the lower priced lines to Singapore.
BMX (Bicycle Moto Cross) was a major market and SunTour had full BMX gruppos in three anodized colors. Nevertheless, SunTour's share of the U.S. market fell from 60% to 50%. [Note: 'Gruppo' is a complete set of components that go together as a 'series']
Shimano took over most of SunTour's customers in the low priced Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) market. Shimano's costs were lower because their low-priced components were made in the Singapore factory. SunTour's Japanese factories were still suffering from yen shock and could not match Taiwan or Singapore prices. SunTour's U.S. market share fell to about 40% and Shimano passed SunTour in 1986. SunTour lost more money and SunTour-USA borrowed against their inventories to help cover the losses.
In 1987, SunTour's U.S. market share dropped below 30%. SunTour posted a large loss and they had to borrow more money from the banks. To raise cash, they sold the old Sakai factory that sat on valuable land. The head office relocated to the Mihara factory, which was out in the country and required a long commute by bus. (By 1989) .. the working relationship between Maeda SunTour in Japan and SunTour-USA turned sour. Both sides blamed the other for SunTour's misfortunes.
In late 1989, Mori Industries Inc., a Japanese steel tubing company, bought Sakae Ringyo Ltd. Sakae made handle bars, chainwheels, pedals, and seatposts. In mid-1990, Mori bought Maeda SunTour. Essentially, Mori assumed SunTour's debts. Shortly afterwards, Mori combined the two acquisitions.
The new company was named SR SunTour.
Disclaimer: The information above was based on the original article written by Frank J. Berto, which can be found at: http://www.hadland.me.uk/page35.htm. I had posted the information leaving out most of the details on road/ mountain bikes as I thought this part of bicycle history might be of interest to OS riders and collectors. This I feel should only be a temporary measure until a link to the full-length article can be added here, after which the excerpts should be removed without reservation.
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SunTour XC-II Pedals
Used on: LaserLite
SunTour Pro-Size Stem
Used on: KZ-1, KZ-2, KE, Survivor, and LaserLite
Used on: LaserLite and Survivor.
SunTour 16-tooth Freewheel
Used on: Almost every Kuwahara.
SunTour Seatpost Clamp
Used on: KZ-1, KZ-2
SunTour Mini Stem
Used on: KZ-1
Used on: KZ-1, KZ-2, and LaserLite
SunTour Hi-flange Front Hub
Used on: KZ-1, KZ-2, LaserLite
SunTour Low-flange hubs
Used on: Survivor and LaserLite
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Latest page update: made by ringer
, Dec 1 2006, 2:54 AM EST
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