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...

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