Chinese utes are playing an increasing role on the NZ market. We look at what’s available.
THOUGH CHINESE-BUILT UTES ARE RELATIVELY-SMALL PLAYERS IN the New Zealand market, they make up almost 20 percent of the brand mix going into the final months of 2017. Fifteen brands compete for sales in NZ, and three of them are Chinese. The Chinese utes sell largely on price and a lot of sheetmetal for the money; among them are some competent vehicles.
The oldest-established brand is Great Wall, followed by Tunland and now van maker LDV whose first ute, the T60, racked up its first sales in August.
Great Wall both left and re-entered the NZ market during the past 18 months as stocks of its V-series ran out – it lacked the mandatory electronic stability control (ESC) – and then the new Steed debuted early this year.
NZ Transport Agency registration data shows 15 Steeds were sold in August, with sales of diesel and petrol versions virtually level-pegging at eight and seven respectively.
Year-to-date (YTD) to August 31, the mix was markedly different. The old petrol V240 was much stronger in sales than its V200 stablemate and Steed sales in the first eight months of this year were split at 75 petrol and 47 diesel versions.
The double cab Steed is understood to use the same centre section as the superseded V-series, but with a longer wellside load tray grafted on the back and new sheetmetal and more contemporary styling at the front.
We have yet to test the Steed but people who have driven it and were familiar with the V-series, says it’s a big improvement. The straight-line directional stability problems that plagued the V-series have been solved.
Great Wall’s Australian division markets the Steed here, from an office in Auckland’s Mount Wellington. Previously, the V-series was marketed by Australia-based Kiwi Neville Crichton’s Ateco Group.
Ateco also used to market the Foton Tunland which is now distributed by Hamilton-based Foton NZ, a part of the Ebbett Group.
The Tunland was a top 10 player in both August and YTD; the August sales were uncharacteristically low at 38, but in the first eight months of 2017, Foton retailed 434 Tunlands. That compares with 297 in the same period of 2016.
Tunland sales got a boost with the introduction of a long-awaited automatic gearbox variant – a must-have in a market where self-shifting gearboxes are favoured – and double cab 4x4 and 2WD models and single cab 4x4s make up the range.
The Tunland is a capable ute, maybe lacking a little finesse here and there, but it performed well in our road tests and tow testing.
It handles well, the manual gearbox and clutch are user-friendly (we’ve yet to sample a Tunland auto), and the Cummins-designed engine provides solid performance.
It’s maybe a little behind the current crop of Japanese utes but as we noted when we tested it, we wouldn’t feel short-changed if we drove a Tunland as our company vehicle.
LDV’S new T60 has gone on sale locally in base model workhorse guise, with a more upmarket T60 Luxury to arrive later.
LDV launched the T60 at the national Fieldays in June, and in August, its first month on the market, the double cab hit the pavement running.
It racked up an impressive 20 registrations, with no real promotion to speak of. The ute was to be given a gala launch in Auckland in late September with hundreds of guests, including a large contingent of executives and journalists from China.
But that was well after its first month on the market. LDV New Zealand, part of the Taupo-based Great Lake Motor Distributors, presold the second shipment of 20, and a third group of 50 was largely spoken-for.
The base model T60, the first to hit Kiwis roads, runs a VM Motori designed 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel developing 110kw and 360Nm. The ute is offered with a choice of Zf-designed six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes.
LDV quotes fuel economy of 8.8 litres/100km for the manual version and 9.6 for the auto. The T60 is rated to tow 3000kg and has payloads of 1025kg (manual) and 995kg (auto).
Safety kit includes six airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD, hill start-assist, hill descent control for off-road driving, ESC, traction control, Isofix child seat anchors, and a tyre pressuremonitoring system.
The workhorse model has heavy-duty wishbone front and leaf sprung rear solid axle suspension, but the Luxury gets softer suspension tuning.
A brief preview drive of the base model revealed strong performance, good handling and accurate steering. There was a moderate amount of engine noise, and the ride on the heavy-duty suspension was firm.
The seats provided decent comfort and the controls were logical and user-friendly. Unusually in a vehicle designed initially for left-hand drive, the windscreen wiper and indicator stalks were on the left-and right-hand sides of the steering wheel respectively.
Cabin trim was largely grey and used a lot of hard plastics – mirroring the brand’s vans – but the T-60 Luxury will get leather upholstery and more upmarket trim.
We look forward to getting a longer test of the T60. But on the strength of our brief experience of this Ranger-sized ute, we figure that at the prices Great Lake is asking, it will strike a chord with priceconscious NZ pick-up truck buyers.
In the Chinese manner it offers a lot of sheetmetal and features for the money and it can piggyback on the solid reputation LDV’S vans are forging.
Expect single cab and extended cab two-door versions to join the local range, but it’s unlikely that the extended-tray double cab will come here.
The three Chinese utes are poised to make solid inroads into the NZ market; at this point the Great Wall is the poor relation but that may change as the local operation hits its straps.
The Tunland is something of a no-frills but honest truck and the LDV shows real promise, even if some aspects of its make-up don’t quite meet western tastes.
Forty-odd years ago, Japanese vehicles struggled for a foothold in New Zealand and we’ve seen what’s happened since.
Chinese manufacturers are willing to put their products on the line in guinea pig markets, listen to the end-user and make improvements. LDV has done it with its vans.
So we can expect the Chinese utes to get very competitive as time passes.
LDV T60 has a toothy grin – it’s more muted on the workhorse version which lacks the chrome of this pre-production Luxury model.
Right: LDV T60 is well-proportioned with dimensions ballpark with the market-leading Ford Ranger. Far right: Foton Tunland can hold its head high in any company – looks good, drives well and is value-for money.
Left top: Tunland is powered by a 2.8-litre Cummins four-cylinder engine developed specifically for the Chinese manufacturer. Left: Great Wall’s Steed hit the NZ market at the start of this year and is a good-looking ute. Above: Steed dashboard layout is clean and workman-like.