Rival car companies batten down as China starts the second wave of its Aussie invasion. NEIL DOWLING reports from Beijing
NEW-CAR buyers should prepare for a fresh wave of Chinese models aimed at changing Australian perceptions. At least five new Chinese passenger cars and one four-wheel-drive are going through homologation to meet Australian design rules.
While the move appears sudden, it actually is China’s second wave of Australian-bound vehicles after the surprising success of two commercial utes. Imported by Ateco Automotive, the Great Wall Motors (GWM) utes sold 150 units within three weeks.
Now, Ateco managing director Ric Hull says, attention will turn to GWM’s small-car range and variants including a Captiva-sized 4WD to sell at about $25,000 and a seven-seat people mover for about the same price.
That will be followed early next year by passenger cars from China’s biggest carmaker, Chery. Exactly what the Chery range will comprise isn’t clear.
Other car companies are possible entrants into Australia, Hull says, but it is GWM and Chery that have been the most willing. In particular, Hull expresses surprise at the keenness of the privately owned GWM (Chery is owned by five provincial governments) and its ability to react quickly to demands.
GWM makes 200,000 vehicles a year and has the capacity for 400,000, so it’s actively seeking new markets. Last year the company exported 60,000 vehicles to 100 countries, but because of the global financial crisis, expects only 50,000 offshore sales this year.
Included is 3000 right-hand-drive units — South Africa is one of its biggest RHD markets— and this figure is set to increase substantially as countries including Australia come on board.
Since opening its doors in 1990, GWM has sold 600,000 vehicles in China. Domestic demand is so strong that it has continually increased factory space and mechanised production with German and Japanese robots.
The technology its vehicles borrow from Mitsubishi is already going through change. The four-cylinder engines are soon to be joined by 3-litre and 3.5-litre V6 petrol engines, a selection of diesels and electric cars within three years.
It has already tested a small electric hatchback, the Peri, using a lithium-ion battery good for a 180km/h range.
It will be succeeded by the the Kulla with a 160km/h range which is planned to be improved before domestic sale in 2012.
GWM built its first electric car earlier this year and the step didn’t appear to be — as may be usual in China — of its own making.
‘‘The Chinese Government created a policy for the manufacture of electric cars,’’ a spokeswoman says.
‘‘In some areas of China, there will be subsidies for buyers. We see it as small volume and not easy to develop. Cost is one problem.
‘‘The market in China isn’t definite. We will test the electric cars in domestic delivery trials— mainly inner city— and we won’t see private use for one to two years.’’
GWM also plans sales of a large car
Growing demand: the CHC011 concept, a future platform for a GWM large car. that uses the CHC011 concept car as a base. This saloon, with some profile styling similar to the Mercedes-Benz CLS, was shown at the factory with a 3-litre V6 petrol engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
It is this car that aims to showcase GWM’s future quality. The spokes-
New engines are expected in 2011, including V6 turbo-diesels and petrol units at 2.5 and 3-litre capacities.
GWM’s electric car may come to the showroom in that year, but more likely is a hybrid (2.5-litre V6 petrol and electric motor) for the future Hover H7 SUV.
‘‘We are waiting for the turbodiesel engine that should be available to us in the first quarter of next year.’’
Hull is also seriously considering GWM’s people mover— called Cowry in China — and expects a sub-$30,000 drive-away price tag.
‘‘We still have work to do on this to get the final configuration and specifications correct,’’ he says.
Ateco is also looking at the Phenom, a Florid-sized hatch with a radical V-grille design and that goes on sale in China next month. It’s forward launch date indicates it will have the best technology available to GWM.
Hull says it’s not only technology that improves at each new vehicle launch.
‘‘There is a huge quality step between the GWM SA220 (one of the two utes now on the Australian market) and a Hover 4WD,’’ he says.
‘‘There’s better panel fit, better trim, improved colour and material selection, updated engines and so on. The Chinese move very fast in comparison to manufacturers from some other countries.
‘‘GWN has a two-year turnaround to create its models but rival firms are four or five years.’’
Hull says Ateco is close to finalising the requirements for rival Chery’s A1 small car that will come with a 1.3-litre engine and likely cost less than $11,000.
‘‘We won’t launch the (Chery) brand on one car,’’ he says.
‘‘But if we see more in the pipeline, we will be ready to establish dealers. We’re not at that point yet.
‘‘Chery has some interesting passenger cars, but it also has an excellent diesel van that would easily fit into the hole left on the Australian market by the demise of the Kia Pregio.’’