Telescope store sues Asian telescope manufacturers for fixing prices


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A San Francisco store that sells telescopes to the public is suing two Asian telescope manufacturers — who make almost all recreational telescopes sold in the U.S. — for conspiring together to fix prices and create that monopoly.

Orion Telescopes and Binoculars, which is headquartered in Watsonville and has stores there and in Cupertino, is seeking more than $180 million in damages in a lawsuit. A federal court in Northern California said the complaint against telescope maker Ningbo Sunny, filed in 2016, can go to trial. A subsidiary of Ningbo Sunny, a Chinese company, bought Irvine telescope maker Meade Instruments in 2013.

In the complaint, Orion alleges that Ningbo Sunny and a Taiwanese telescope manufacturer, Synta Technology, shared confidential information that competitors normally would not share, including product pricing, order forecasts and credit arrangements.

My question is this: Why are no American telescope manufacturers competing in this market? Are our labor costs too high? Our government regulations too restrictive? A little bit of competition could easily end this collusion by these Asian manufacturers, assuming it is happening.

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11 comments

  • Orion314

    Quality telescope optics are labor intensive and take time. 2 things US business despises. CNC machinery can take you to 95% or so of desired outcome, but the last 5 yrds to polish and finish still needs an experienced optical craftsman. Anyone can bang out cheap quality telescopes. , and naturally, most people have a discerning eye on par with Ray Charles. BTW, I have Meade & Celestron, so I’m a fan of both.

  • Wodun

    Is there are large enough domestic market to make the effort profitable? Maybe there is a niche but someone who can do the crafting part might not have the skills to do the programming part.

  • Frederick Jay

    Optics are a whole different level of physical tolerance and QC, but my understanding is that Meade and Celestron, at one time the GM and Ford of the world, became engaged in a patent battle over computerized telescopes which weakened them both and the Chinese simply swooped in. Domestic high-end makers are doing just fine; Astro-Physics has had a ten-year waiting list for as long as I can remember, and there are small firms like TEC, Questar, Televue and Zambuto Optical catering to the more elite end of the telescope and optics market. Celestron still has a manufacturing plant in California, where I believe it is headquartered. The interesting thing is how traditional Japanese suppliers, who at one time made all ancillary parts for Celestron and Meade (eyepieces, finders, etc), were also undercut and forced out in the same fashion.

    And I think Orion is probably right about the price-fixing.

  • Phill O

    Have not bought a telescope in over 30 years. Eyepieces have been my wallet drainage though, having a particular attraction to Al & Dave Naglers products. They are great in my Dobs (10″ f=5, 12.5″ f=5.6, 20″ f=4 and 32″ f=2.4).

    I remember the early 50’s and the poor quality optics in Meade and Celestron CATs. I have an 8″ Celestron from this era (the last scope purchased). The images are fine and have dedicated this to solar observing of spots. Not much to see lately in neutral density views.

    Great optics are labor intensive. Who would pay $250,000.00 for my 32″.

    The Chinese have the market in polishing compounds; another thing lost by politicians who sold out.

    Jean Chretien sold Canada to china some years ago. You know who all sold out America.

  • Phill O

    Correction, that should be early 80s not 50s. In the early 50s, people made their own mirrors.

  • pzatchok

    I would say the market is flooded.

    I can find those cheap Chinese ones in WalMart a few times a year. Cheap as in less than 80 bucks.
    Good enough for pretty views of the moon but not much else.

    The next step up is hundreds of dollars just for the telescope. Not including the mount or camera. And who wants one without a camera?

    Telescope kits might be something that is more affordable and possible. Parts that fit standard PVC pipe. A cheap camera adapter to fit your cell phone to the telescope. A blue tooth controlled mount so your phone can be the controller.

  • wayne

    Phill O–
    Good stuff.
    and yeah– in the 1950’s & 1960’s, practically everyone ground their own mirror. (and every University and Community College, constructed a Planetarium and/or built an observatory.)

  • Gary M.

    I got in the hobby 4 years ago with a Chinese 10″ f/5.0 Dob. Bought it used on Craigslist for $300. Found out I enjoyed the hobby and aperture fever struck. After a 14 month search I found a used USA made Custom 16″ f/4.0 Dob with a USA made mirror. I drove half across the Continent to get it. And just like Phil O I now spend a pile of dollars to buy eyepieces by the fine folks at Televue. The Chinese provided an inexpensive entry but a lot of the accessories I think I need are often made by small family companies here at home.

    I would drive half way across the Continent to get a peak through that 32″ f/2.4. Must provide some awesome views.

  • wayne

    Gary M.
    Great stuff!
    –the largest telescope I’ve had experience with was a 12 inch (Dobsonian.) Prior to that, a 6 inch Celestron, straight out of 1969.
    16 & 32 inches?— mind-boggling light-buckets!

    –Don’t know if this was mentioned in the original article– there are 2 major broad market segments for “telescopes,” ; mass market refractors, and “everything else” (of varying quality)

    Tangentially– http://www.archive.org has an extensive collection of “Sky & Telescope” magazines available from 1945-2000-ish or so.
    (highly recommend the 1960’s era issues for an ‘as-it-happened’ perspective on the space-race. And every issue had extensive info on telescope making.)

  • John Sexton

    Remember Hubble?

  • pzatchok

    hubba bubble

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