Genuine, Grey Imports, Counterfeits and copies

I think most people expect that the items they purchase are what they are, and we’ve all seen the really awful copies of popular products, but I’ve been doing some research into radios. I’m taking at face value what some Far Eastern suppliers have told me.

I buy lots of radios. I sell some, but most I have always rented out short or long term. Not a lucrative business model and I’m not remotely at the kind of business level that would warrant becoming a main dealer. Brand wise, I’ve mainly traded with Icom radios from the 80s, with a few Yaesus, a very small amount of Motorola, and from the 90s onwards Kenwood. Kenwood probably make up the bulk of my hire equipment (sitting unused for months in the store since the Covid Virus wrecked everything).

~For some odd reason, Marine enquiries started to come in and I’ve been selling some marine equipment - hand-held and boat radios.

The suppliers in China have become friendlier and now they know what I do I get offered ‘branded’ makes. I’ve been a ham since 1980, so have a bit of ham kit for personal use so was intrigued when I got offered a Kenwood VHF mobile that I have had in my van a few years. The radio was described as “our own Kenwood brand”, which I took to mean a copy, but I bought one and it arrived. Curiosity got me, so I had a look inside, and while I cannot be absolutely certain, I think the probability is that it really is the same radio. You cannot buy this radio from Kenwood any longer (a TM-281) and it’s quite old - 2011 was the year of introduction. My investigation suggest this radio was either made for Kenwood in China and/or Malaysia but I cannot be certain. So I have a genuine Kenwood bought from a UK well known dealer and an absolutely identical one sourced from a Chinese dealer. I then wondered about programming - if you were producing a counterfeit, the chances of the programming software working are slim - especially as finding the right one for my many different Kenwood items is hard enough. I dug out the Kenwood one for my old radio and plugged it in and read the radio. It transferred with no hitches to the new one. Clearly there’s no warranty of any kind from Chinese direct purchases, which on a Baofeng matters little, but these are just into three figures by the time UK tax is applied on import - but my Kenwood has never gone wrong, so worth the risk.

So What I suspect is that when Kenwood stopped promoting the model, there was a lot of over production or maybe they just carried on producing them if the factory wasn’t actually owned by Kenwood? I don’t know.

I tried to buy some Kenwood hand held. One of my customers has about 20 (TK-2207) and he has 3, 6 way chargers. Quite a few are now knobless and pretty beaten up so he asked if I could find half a dozen new ones - as long as they fitted the same charger. The current Kenwoods don’t, the battery packs are a bit different, but one dealer said he could help if I could accept their own brand, labelled kenwood that they sell on the Chinese domestic market. He asked for a picture of the bottom of the radios my client has and he sent me some pictures. Again, I think the same thing is happening. Looking at the picture, these are either extremely good counterfeits, which at the crazily low price point seems unlikely, or again, these are old model over-runs of the genuine thing. If you were going to make a really cheap handheld that looked like a Kenwood, why would you go to the trouble of copying cable colours, exact connectors and pcb’s with the familiar empty component spaces that happen when designs change early on and can be removed without compromising performance. Inside, from the photos, they look exactly the same.

Has anyone spotted these things in the US? Is a radio made from authentic Kenwood parts, a Kenwood? If it’s made from different components and popped into a repro case, it’s not a Kenwood - but I really don’t know with the 281 I have here?

I’ve been offered Icom and Yaesu too - older models again, discontinued in around 2014/2015? This must cause the authorised dealers some issues? If somebody from a different part of the country brings a radio in for service - they’ll do it because inside, it’s what they expect. If they open up a look-alike and inside it’s different, that’s an easy one. I wonder how this impacts?

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More interesting information. A friend contacted me to say that a few years back, one Chinese factory bought a huge pile of Motorola parts and basically put together radios from the bits - which included faulty and failed QC boards - the model in Question was GP68. I understand this was quite a popular radio in the US and had an amateur version - with a different model and case printing. GP68 rang bells and I found two, brand new sitting on a shelf in my store. Date inside was 2015. He told me a common error was using a VHF board rather than a UHF one for frequency/channel selection and it resulted in frequencies that were all high. I got them out and charged the batteries. This morning I powered them up and programmed my UHF repeater - it’s probably a bit less than a mile from here in the office. Nothing! I programmed a TYT I had sitting here and that brought up the repeater fine. I put the TYT into my SDR on the mac, and took a picture, then took the same picture of the Motorola. It was indeed high.

It’s clear that great care needs to be taken with branding. I guess Motorola were powerless to do much about it because they were genuine Motorola parts - ones they happily sold. Put together badly and it still IS a Motorola, and genuine from the component perspective but poor from the quality perspective. I suppose this supports the manufacturer/dealer relationship. Here, the end product will be legit and meet the specifications. This can’t be guaranteed by direct purchase - important to remember I think. It will change I think my buying and selling practices. A brand new Icom, that I can sell as an old discontinued model at half the original cost is good value to many customers, who would perhaps be very happy with an ebay style guarantee - as in send it back in 14 days for a refund then never bother me again. Saving maybe $30 on the price a main dealer can do is I think pointless. Always good to know what’s going on in the radio world.

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