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Chinese model blitz on the way

Foton: Australia is the first western market to get the all-new ute that is known as the Tunlander in China but which will be renamed for this market.

Trucks, utes and vans loaded into the 2012 launch cannon by Chinese auto companies

13 Sep 2011

A NEW Chinese-made Foton ute variant will be launched every two months next year as part of a new-model blitz from Sydney-based Chinese vehicle importer WMC Group.

WMC’s four-brand new-vehicle cascade from the world’s biggest motor market hits top gear in November with the arrival of JAC trucks and a Joylong van, to be followed in February by a JAC van and the first Foton ute – a diesel-powered dual-cab pick-up in 4x2 and 4x4 guises.

Other models, including JAC passenger cars to be built on two new platforms, are also in the pipeline for later launch, possibly as early as the end of 2012.

The headline act will be the Foton one-tonner range that will be progressively expanded throughout 2012, with additions such as single cab, extra cab and cab chassis variants arriving at about two-month intervals as Foton – one of the world’s biggest commercial vehicle-makers – targets the Japanese ute-makers in western markets.

Australia is the first western market to get the all-new ute that is known as the Tunlander in China but which will be renamed for this market.

The secret new moniker was scheduled to be signed off at a meeting of Foton and WMC executives in Sydney last Monday, ahead of the arrival in November of the first 10 appraisal vehicles.

The new-model rollout was confirmed to GoAuto by WMC Group managing director Jason Pecotic, who also revealed his company was adding a fourth Chinese brand, Joylong, alongside its existing signees, Higer, JAC and Foton LCV.

64 center imageFrom top: JAC Multivan, JAC light truck, Joylong van.

Van specialist Joylong is preparing a right-hand-drive minibus to be sold across the Higer bus dealership network in Australia (see separate story).

Mr Pecotic said the all four brands were now ready to begin their product rollout in Australia, and wanted to launch as early as possible.

“We are gearing up for a big end of the year and a big launch next year,” he said, adding: “It is the Chinese pushing us, let me tell you.”

The common denominator across all four WMC brands is Cummins, the world’s biggest diesel engine-maker whose newest Euro 5-compliant ISF four-cylinder engines will be used across all of the products bound for Australian consumers.

The Chinese-built engines – in 2.8-litre and 3.8-litre capacities and a range of tunes – will debut in the new JAC light-duty truck range, which will be pitched against the likes of Isuzu and Hino before Christmas.

The first Australian-spec example is set to arrive in Australia for final sign-off next week, and provided that all goes to plan, JAC will push the button for mass production of the right-hand-drive model for November launch in Australia.

JAC will follow up in February with a Ford Transit-style van – known in China as the Multivan – that the company says was styled in its Italian design centre in Turin.

In China, the six-metre-long high-roof van is powered by an 88kW diesel engine, and comes in a variety of configurations, from panel-sided work van to minibus.

Mr Pecotic said the JAC and Joylong vans would target different segments to avoid cannibalisation.

Potentially, the JAC van could be aimed at tradies and delivery drivers, with the Joylong model sticking to the minibus market, which appears to be the Joylong speciality in China.

The model that is likely to make the biggest impact is the new Foton ute, which – as GoAuto reported in June – has been designed and engineered from the ground up for western markets – a first for the Chinese company that is a subsidiary of the giant Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co (BAIC).

Measuring 120mm wider and 180mm longer than the top-selling Toyota HiLux, the big pick-up is primarily aimed at North America, but will be bedded down in Australia first before going Stateside in mid-2012.

Developed under the codename P201 and benchmarked against Japanese utes instead of Chinese light trucks such as the Great Wall V240, the Foton ladder-chassis ute is being built at a new plant in Miyun County, south of Beijing.

A Getrag manual gearbox will be the only transmission available at launch, but a ZF auto is said to be in the pipeline.

Mr Pecotic said Foton was planning to open for business in Australia with 4x4 and 4x2 dual cab models.

“Then, every two months, we launch another vehicle, like an extra cab, a cab chassis, utes – all the way through next year.”

Mr Pecotic said the fresh variants would into production as each was signed off by Foton’s research and development division.

The Foton range is expected to be expanded beyond the ute at a later date. A new SUV – codenamed U201 and based on the same platform as the ute – is said to be in the pipeline in China, along with a van, codenamed K1. As well, a light car is rumoured to be under development.

In China, Foton is partnered with Daimler in the truck business, and together they build more trucks than any other manufacturer in the world.

Mr Pecotic confirmed JAC – Jianghuai Automobile Co – was planning to expand beyond commercial vehicles into cars in western markets, including Australia, but not for at least a year.

“Right now, JAC are putting together two brand new models – two right-hand-drive platforms – but we are not looking at cars until the end of 2012 or 2013,” he said.

“Before the cars will be the JAC van that we are looking to launch in February next year. Our first prototype gets to Australia at the end of November.”

Unlike many other domestic Chinese car-makers, JAC has set the pace on styling for its passengers, employing famed Italian design house Pininfarina to pen at least one of its light vehicles.

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