Chi­nese revo­luti

Ri­val car com­pa­nies bat­ten down as China starts the sec­ond wave of its Aussie in­va­sion. NEIL DOWL­ING re­ports from Bei­jing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report -

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.’’

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