CHINESE car-maker Chery has set a new price benchmark in Australia’s exploding compact SUV sector by releasing its J11 city-crossover at a drive-away price of just $19,990 (including on-road costs).
However, the tiny front-wheel-drive five-door wagon will not be available in Victoria for now because it does not feature electronic stability control (ESC), the potentially life-saving safety technology that became compulsory in that state for all passenger cars and SUVs with compliance plates dated from January 1 this year.
Powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine, the J11 is now on sale alongside the pint-sized 1.3-litre J1 hatchback, which as we’ve reported is priced at a bargain-basement $11,990 drive-away but has now been confirmed to also lack ESC, through 45 Chery Automotive dealers in every state except Victoria.
A further 15 Chery dealers will be added in Victoria by November, when a similar ESC law makes the safety device mandatory nation-wide and the latest date that Chery distributor Ateco Automotive – the same Sydney-based importer that brought China’s pioneering Great Wall Motors to Australia – expects both the J1 and J11 to become available to it with ESC.
Before then, Chery’s third Australian model, the Toyota Corolla-sized J3, will join the J1 and J11 on sale outside Victoria, despite featuring ESC and six airbags as standard.
“ESC is required in Victoria now and so we won’t be selling Cherys in Victoria now,” said Chery spokesman Daniel Cotterill. “Our 45 dealers are everywhere in Australia except in Victoria. There are a couple on the border, but they can’t sell cars in Victoria.
From top: Chery J11 exterior and interior, Chery J1 exterior and interior, Chery group shot.
“We will have an ESC car, the J3, mid-year and the plan is that we have ESC on the current cars either as soon as Chery can do it or by November this year when it’s required.”
Mr Cotterill said that unlike a number of other models that remain unavailable with ESC, Ateco Automotive did not receive an exemption to sell the J1 or J11 in Victoria – as it did for Great Wall’s compact SUV, the X240, which also does without ESC but remains on sale in Victoria.
“We would have rolled out an extra 15 dealers in Victoria,” he said. “We applied to VicRoads for exemption, and such exemptions have been granted to other models from other brands, but they took the view that because we weren’t on sale yet we didn’t qualify for exemption.
“With the dealer network that we had roughed out – and these are their figures not ours – they’ve missed out on 115 jobs in Victoria and $10 million in direct investment.”
Ateco Automotive says it will wait until both the J1 and J11 are available to it with ESC before releasing the J3 alongside them in Victoria. At that point, Chery will offer three models via national dealer network of 60 dealers.
“I don’t know that we could launch a Victorian (Chery dealer) network with one car,” said Mr Cotterill. “I would think we’d need the full range available before we could go to Victoria.”
Mr Cotterill said Ateco Automotive was prepared for criticism about the lack of ESC for Chery’s first two models in Australia, but said both vehicles should be compared with used cars in the same price range and that both models would be fitted with the now-commonplace safety device within months.
“People are allowed their view on that,” he said. “It’s an ADR-compliant car and you know as well as I do the process that goes on to get homologation approval to distribute cars in this country and both of those cars went through that process and passed.
“We don’t see why the rest of the country should miss out because Victoria decided to go (with ESC legislation) 12 months earlier.
“It becomes a decision based on a range of things – first of all availability of specifications from the manufacturer. It’s not like at the moment those cars are sitting there with those features and we’ve said no we want a cheaper car and we won’t have that. If they had them available we would have them.
“If they make it available later on in the model life then we’ll get it, so it’s based on availability rather than competitiveness and when you get down into that price bracket it’s not so much other new cars that you’re competing against – although of course you are – it’s used cars as well.
“You look at a $12,000 J1. What do you get for $12,000 on the used car market? People buy cars for a range of reasons and people import and distribute them for a range of reasons, but it will be interesting to see what happens.”
The J11 undercuts the most affordable SUV previously available in Australia, Suzuki’s utilitarian Jimny ($20,490, plus on-road costs), by $500 and is also $4000 cheaper than Great Wall’s conceptually similar X240 ($23,990 drive-away).
For the startlingly low on-road price, which is at least $6000 less expensive than the lowest-priced small 2WD SUVs from mainstream brands, the J11 comes fully equipped with leather seat trim, air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, a four-speaker CD/MP3 sound system, 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights and remote central locking.
However, unlike the most affordable Japanese and Korean crossovers such as Nissan’s Dualis (from $24,990), Mitsubishi’s ASX (from $25,990), Suzuki’s three-door Grand Vitara ($25,990), SsangYong’s Korando ($26,311), Kia’s Sportage ($26,490), Hyundai’s ix35 ($26,990) and Holden’s Captiva ($27,990), the J11 comes with only rudimentary safety features.
Standard safety equipment for both the J1 and J11 extends only to twin front airbags, ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and front seatbelt pretensioners, meaning both models will not be available with ESC or side or curtain airbags.
Unlike the J1, however, the J11 will at least come with the option of a (four-speed) automatic transmission, which is packaged with cruise control and steering wheel-mounted audio controls for an extra $2000.
For the record, full official J11 specifications revealed today show the J11 is powered by a 1971cc four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers 102kW at 5750rpm and 182Nm of torque at 4300rpm and returns average fuel consumption of 8.9L/100km in both manual and automatic guises.
Unlike the Toyota Yaris-sized J1, the Chery SUV comes with four-wheel disc brakes and a towing capacity of 600kg (900kg braked). A power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system gives the J11, which rides on MacPherson strut front and “semi-independent” trailing arm rear suspension, a turning circle of 11.0 metres.
The five-seater J11, which has an official base kerb weight of 1375kg and a 375kg payload, measures 4285mm long, 1765mm wide and 1715mm high, making it 10mm shorter and 5mm narrower but 100mm taller than the ASX. The J11 rides on a 2510mm wheelbase and has 168mm of ground clearance.
Australia’s first Chery SUV, which is known as the Tiggo in China, will be available with a host of optional accessories, including a towbar kit, nudge bar, side steps, bonnet protector, headlight covers, weathershield kit, floor mats, dash mat, roof bar, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, boot tray, rear sunshade and driving light harness.
As we reported earlier this week, when at least one Chery dealer jumped Ateco’s official March 1 launch date by advertising it at $11,990 drive-away, the J1 is powered by a 62kW/122Nm 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine matched only with a five-speed manual transmission.
New official data show it returns ADR81/02 fuel consumption of 6.7L/100km and comes standard with disc front brakes, 14-inch alloy wheels (with a steel spare), foglights, remote central locking, fuel use display, air-conditioning, power windows/mirrors, six-speaker CD/MP3 audio and a power steering system that delivers a 9.5-metre turning circle.
Optional accessories will include headlight covers, a front weathershield kit, floor mats, rear parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity.
As we’ve reported, the J1 (known as the A1 in China) is longer than Suzuki’s sub-light-sized Alto but shorter than the Yaris three-door at 3700mm long, 1578mm wide and 1564mm high. It rides on a 2390mm wheelbase, has a kerb weight of 1040kg and a 375kg payload.
Both initial Chery models will come with a three-year/100,000km new-vehicle warranty including 24/7 roadside assistance.
Chery is China’s largest vehicle exporter and last year produced more than 680,000 vehicles. Last year Chery, which has exported a total of almost 500,000 vehicles to 80 countries, accounted for more than 40 per cent of all vehicle exports from China.
In Australia, it joins fellow Chinese passenger car brands Great Wall and Geely, which has been launched in West Australia but plans a national model rollout by the end of 2011.
“Chery is the largest and most diverse independent vehicle manufacturer in China,” said Ateco Automotive managing director Ric Hull. “Chery is known for its focus on constant innovation and drive towards better quality, well appointed cars at an affordable price.”
In China, Chery also sells a number of electric and hybrid left-hand drive vehicles, and Ateco owner and governing director Neville Crichton has previously stated his company would import Australia’s first Chinese-built EV in 2011.