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Exclusive: China’s Foton vans on the way

Shipped: Foton K1 van’s likeness to Toyota’s HiAce is no coincidence – it is built under licence from the Japanese company.

Foton set to branch out into vans – and more – with new Australian distributor


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2 Dec 2014

CHINA’S biggest commercial vehicle-maker, Foton, will begin rolling out its van range in Australia in January as part of a range expansion that will include up to four more models including an SUV over the next few years.

The first shipment of Toyota HiAce-like Foton K1 one-box vans is already on the water from China and due to arrive before Christmas.

Rather than being distributed by Foton Ute and Truck importer Ateco Automotive, the vans and related models are being handled by Queensland-based VSA Distributors, the importer of Australian-designed, Chinese-built Brahman AWD buses from Dongfeng Motors.

Foton Van is one of at least three new Chinese auto brands set to nail up their shingle in Australia in the next few months. Others confirmed for this market include Great Wall’s SUV brand, Haval, and Ford partner JMC (Jiangling Motors Corporation), both of which have already established factory-backed distribution organisations in Australia.

Foton’s K1 will go into battle against Chinese-made LDV V80 vans imported by Ateco from Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), as well as a multitude of established players such as the top-selling HiAce, Hyundai iLoad/iMax and European equivalents.

VSA Distributors chief executive officer Jason Pecotic – a former CEO of another Chinese vehicle importer, WMC – confirmed to GoAuto that Foton Van would be launched in the second week of January with a long-wheelbase K1 in cargo and luxury 13-seat passenger guises.

The vans will be offered with a choice of two four-cylinder powertrains – the same 120kW/360Nm Cummins-built 2.8-litre ISF diesel engine as used in the Foton Tunland ute, and the ubiquitous 100kW/200Nm Mitsubishi-sourced 2.4-litre petrol engine that powers a multitude of Chinese-built vehicles, including Great Wall’ s V240 ute.

Both will be mated with a five-speed manual transmission.

The range will be expanded in mid-2015 with the arrival of short-wheelbase K1 variants that are also expected to mark the debut of a new Foton-developed 2.0-litre diesel powertrain as an alternative to the 2.8-litre Cummins that is made in a joint-venture Foton-Cummins factory near Beijing.

Called Foton View C2 in China, the long-wheelbase K1 is 5380mm long, with a 3100mm wheelbase, while the shorter version is 4840mm long, sitting on a 2570mm wheelbase.

The vans are also sold in China in two widths – 1695mm and 1920mm.

The passenger minibus version, dubbed CS2, can carry up to 19 passengers, but VSA Distributors has opted to start with the less crowded luxury version with 13 seats – a layout favoured by companies running shuttle buses.

Mr Pecotic said the K1 would have a showroom life of about two years in Australia before being replaced by an all-new model, V1, that is about to be revealed in China.

He said the K1 had been re-engineered for Australia by the same team employed to ready the Foton Tunland for this market.

The team took about eight months to prepare the K1 for export, making a “dramatic change” to the vehicle to meet Australian Design Rules and Australian customer expectations.

“We are not looking to set any sales records with this van,” Mr Pecotic said. “With K1, we are looking at hundreds, not thousands.

“But when we get the V1, which is the one we really want, we will build from there.

“The V1 has been designed and engineered for right-hand drive right from the start and with Europe in mind, and it should make five-star NCAP and all those things.” Mr Pecotic revealed that the van range would be joined at VSA Distributors by up to four other Foton vehicles over time, including an SUV.

He said it was too early to discuss details of these vehicles.

Foton launched a new SUV, the Sauvana, at the recent Guangzhou motor show in China. At 4830mm long and 1910mm wide and powered by a choice of Cummins 2.8-litre diesel and 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder engines, the body-on-frame large SUV is a likely contender in China against the Australian-designed Ford Everest and HiLux-based Toyota Fortuner, among others.

Foton also sells an MPV wagon called Midi, but the overwhelming strength of the company – founded in 1996 as a subsidiary of the giant state-owned Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC) – is in commercial vehicles where it has forged a joint venture with Germany’s Daimler to become China’s biggest truck-maker pumping out more than 600,000 vehicles a year.

It has established factories around China and overseas in developing markets such as Brazil and Kenya, and has an aggressive growth strategy with a target of three million vehicles a year by 2020.

In Australia, Foton has had a confused start, with a number of distribution changes for its truck, ute and – now – van ranges.

The Tunland ute initially was slated for import by WMC – at the time headed by Mr Pecotic – which dumped it because it could not get Foton to agree to what WMC saw as realistic pricing.

The range was finally launched by fledgling Queensland distributor FAA, but that ended in tears with lacklustre sales. More recently, the Tunland has been imported by Ateco, which also has picked up the Foton heavy truck distribution rights.

Mr Pecotic’s partner in VSA Distributors is Hans Hobelt, who founded the Brahman Bus business and whom was one of the first Australian retailers of Chinese-made Higer buses – imported by WMC (formerly White Motor) where Mr Pecotic was CEO until 2013.

VSA Distributors has its head office at Southport, on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

The company has advertised in this week’s issue of GoAutoNews for expressions of interest from commercial vehicle dealers for its Foton Van range.

VSA Distributors is seeking between eight and 10 dealers to handle its Foton products across Australia.

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