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Geely set to rush new light car to Australia

Geely CE: New Chinese hatchback pencilled in for the last quarter of 2011.

China’s Geely confirms new hatch to replace $12k MK launched just last month

8 Feb 2011

THE cheapest new car in Australia, the Chinese-made Geely MK available for $11,990 driveaway only in Western Australia, is set to be superseded before the year is out by an all-new light car to go on sale nationally.

The Geely CE – a stylish five-door 1.3-litre hatchback that was revealed in concept form at the 2008 Beijing motor show – is set to go into production in China this year, with the first shipments for Australia due to land in the last quarter.

Crucially, the new model will be equipped with electronic stability control – already mandatory in Victoria and compulsory across Australia on all new models launched from November – and automatic transmission – two shortcomings of the MK that stymied plans by Geely importer Chinese Automotive Distributors (CAD) to sell the older MK light car in all states.

Instead, CAD owner, West Australian businessman and multi-franchised car dealer John Hughes, elected to sell the four-door, five-seat light sedan only in his home base of Perth where it has been rolling out of his Victoria Park showroom in steady volumes since it went on sale last month.

So far, Mr Hughes’s dealership has sold 20 of the manual-only cars, and he estimates this will grow to 50 a month – higher than the 30 to 40 he targeted.

But Mr Hughes already has his eyes on a replacement, the CE, which he says is expected to join the baby of the range, the LC hatch – known in China as the Panda – and the larger, Corolla-sized EC7 sedan and hatch in a network of Geely showrooms across Australia within 2011.

The Panda and EC7 are both set to make their debut at the Australian International Motor Show in July, although the EC7 might be shown only in left-hand drive form as a preview to its on-sale launch later in the year. The CE is unlikely to arrive in time for a motor show preview.

The three-car Geely range will be joined this year in the CAD stable by a yet-to-be named brand of Chinese-made light commercial vehicles and SUVs that will go head-to-head with Great Wall in Australia.

203 center image From top: Geely MK from behind and in front, MK interior and Geely EC7.

The Geely and LCV brands are being offered as a package to dealers to sell side by side – something other potential brands from China are unlikely to approve of.

Mr Hughes, who was instrumental in the introduction of Hyundai to Australia in the 1980s, told GoAuto that he had received 60 expressions of interest from dealers so far.

He said he had written to the current crop of applicants in the past few days, asking them to firm up their intentions.

“Then we will go east in about six weeks’ time to sift out dealers,” he said.

“The dealers will be in business very early in the third quarter, and we will be exhibiting at the Melbourne motor show in July, even if a couple of the models like the EC7 will be in left-hand drive.”

Mr Hughes declined to name the second Chinese brand to be handled by his company, saying he was “millimetres” away from signing the distribution agreement.

“We will be launching in the middle of the year and possibly before the Panda,” he said, adding that the LCVs would also appear at the Melbourne show.

“We will be launching a range of 4x2 and 4x4 dual and single cab utilities, followed later in the year by an SUV, competing very much against Great Wall in terms of specification and size.

“In fact, it (the ute range) has the same motor as Great Wall, which is a Mitsubishi.”

Mr Hughes said the deal would give prospective Geely passenger car dealers the bonus of a complementary LCV/SUV range, making the combined franchise more attractive.

The Geely range will kick off nationally in July with the LC Panda, which will most likely be known by a different name once it hits the showrooms.

Mr Hughes said he was still considering alternative names, as ‘Panda’ could not be used because it was already taken by Fiat, while LC was a little unexciting.

The Panda – so called because it was inspired by the Beijing Olympics mascot, complete with black-ringed ‘eyes’ – is sold under Geely’s Gleagle sub-brand in China, armed with a choice of petrol engines – a 50kW 1.0-litre three-cylinder, 63kW 1.3-litre four-cylinder and a 69kW 1.5-litre four-cylinder.

While the 1.0-litre model is available only with manual transmission, the 1.3 and 1.5-litre models have an alternative automatic transmission. As automatic is essential in the light car range in Australia, the four-cylinder engines seem to be most likely to spearhead the model here.

The bigger EC7 – sold under the Emgrand sub-brand – is offered in China with two four-cylinder engines – a 78kW 1.5-litre and 102kW 1.8-litre.

Currently, it is available only with a manual transmission, but reports out of China suggest an automatic is in the offing to make the car more appealing in export markets.

The EC7 recently was awarded five stars under the Chinese New Car Assessment Program (CNCAP), although that program is regarded as less demanding than the European, Australian or Japanese NCAP safety test regimes.

The EC7 has spawned a compact SUV in the RAV4 mould, the EX7, which is also in the CAD wishlist.

While the Geely CE concept car was shown at the Beijing show with a 1.3-litre engine, the export version might end up with a 1.5-litre engine – the same size as the four-cylinder in the MK now on sale in Perth – by the time it lobs in Australia.

This would provide a logical engine progression from 1.3 litres for the Suzuki Alto-sized LC, 1.5 litres for the Barina-sized CE and 1.8 litres for the Corolla-sized EC7.

The original CE concept displayed a touch of Honda Jazz style, although the Geely design team added their own flourishes that, if anything, looked better than the Japanese inspiration.

It remains to be seen if that design translates into production for Australia.

Mr Hughes said that despite the lack of auto transmission and a “soft launch” so far for the MK in WA, it had sold above expectation.

“As we expected, it is appealing to used-car buyers more so than traditional new-car buyers, but unexpectedly, we are selling quite a few to young females,” he said.

“I would have thought most of them would have preferred automatics, and of course, we don’t have automatic available.”

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