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Chinese burn in light-car market

Launch pad: The Great Wall C10 light-car is set for a likely Australian launch before the end of this year.

Four-way Chinese battle looms as Great Wall joins hunt for $10,990 Chery J1

3 May 2011

THE price battle at the bargain-basement end of the new-car market, where Chinese brand Chery has just announced a $10,990 drive-away price for its entry-level J1 city-car, has the potential to turn red hot before the end of the year with the arrival of up to three more Chinese-made light hatchbacks.

Great Wall Motors importer Ateco Automotive has all but confirmed that its first Great Wall passenger car – a five-door light hatchback called Voleex C10 in China, where it was launched last year – is on the launch pad for the fourth quarter of this year.

And, as GoAuto has previously reported, Perth-based Chinese Automotive Distributors this year is planning to nationally launch not one but two new Geely light cars, the diminutive LC mini hatch – called the Panda in China – and the one-size larger CE hatch – replacing the WA-only Geely MK.

The pressure will ratchet up even further in late 2012 with the arrival of passenger cars from a fourth Chinese brand, Jianghuai Automobile Company (JAC).

Although the JAC models destined for Australia are yet to be revealed, the Chinese company is equipped with a Pininfarina-designed light sedan and hatchback range, known as J3, as well as a mini hatchback called the J2.

61 center imageFrom top: Alternative Great Wall Voleex C10 grille designs, Great Wall Haval IF concept, Great Wall V240, Great Wall X240.

All these Chinese newcomers are expected to come in below most existing contenders, such as the Indian-made Suzuki Alto and Malaysian-built Proton S16, as well as other potential players such as the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto from Korea.

The Great Wall C10 is a five-door, five-seat hatchback offered in China with a choice of 1.3-litre 68kW/118Nm and 1.5-litre 77kW/138Nm four-cylinder petrol engines, each in a choice of two equipment levels, Luxury and Elite.

Unlike many Chinese light cars, the C10 comes with an automatic transmission alternative – a continuously variable transmission (CVT) – alongside the standard five-speed manual gearbox.

Standard equipment includes air-conditioning, ABS four-wheel disc brakes, electric windows and central locking.

Asked if the Great Wall C10 was locked in for Australian launch this year to kick off the brand’s passenger car range, Ateco’s Chinese brands spokesman Daniel Cotterill told GoAuto: “We wouldn’t be far from that. I think that is where we get started.” Mr Cotterill said Ateco and Great Wall still had some details to finalise, including the design of the front fascia.

“There are a couple of different grilles and I think it would be fair to say it is not actually finalised as to which one Australia gets just yet,” he said.

One of the grilles – the most public variant seen in China – has a distinctive toothy vertical chrome bar design, while the other is a more conventional horizontal affair.

For Great Wall, the arrival in about November of the C10 – which is also known in China as the Phenom – will cap a hectic six months in which it will also introduce long-awaited diesel versions of its two current sister models, the ‘V’ ute and ‘X’ SUV.

The diesel version of the latter – to be called X200 TDi – will also get an automatic transmission option, greatly expanding the market reach of this small crossover wagon entry.

The 105kW diesel engine will generate more power than the current 93kW 2.4-litre Mitsubishi-derived petrol engine that will continue in the range, as well as delivering more than 300Nm of torque.

Mr Cotterill said the diesel was the missing link in the Great Wall ute and SUV range.

“The sooner we can get these on the market, the sooner this business becomes better in terms of Great Wall,” he said.

Mr Cotterill said he could not speculate on the incremental sales the diesel powertrain would bring to the ute and SUV, but said it would be significant.

Asked if the engine had the potential to double volume, he said: “If those cars have already proved to have been such a good value proposition to so many people now, I would not be surprised to see things of that magnitude.” So far this year, Great Wall has registered 990 V240 petrol utes and 662 petrol X240 SUVs, according to official VFACTS figures to the end of March.

Mr Cotterill conceded that the showroom introduction of the diesel engine had been delayed, saying that the company just wanted to ensure the engine was fully ready for the Australian market.

The V200 TDi ute is now expected to arrive about July, with the X200 TDi to follow a little later in the third quarter, along with the optional five-speed automatic transmission.

“We are down to the finer points of homologation and production orders and so on, and we expect it (the V200) about the third quarter,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a manual ute or two a little bit before that.

“The auto will be in the SUV, and that’s a third quarter proposition.” The single-cab V-series ute is also expected to receive the same cosmetic facelift that was applied to the dual-cab earlier this month, when the facelifted X240 crossover was also released.

Mr Cotterill dismissed the chances of an Australian launch for Great Wall’s large Ford F-150-rivaling pick-up concept, the CL, which was shown at last week’s Shanghai motor show.

“It’s not in our current planning, no,” he said. “We are pretty happy with the Great Wall line-up as it is, but clearly we would like to add some depth to it where it makes sense.

“We think a small car makes a lot of sense.” Although the massive 5550-metre-long CL – standing for ‘China Leading’ – was said to be powered by turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, reports from Shanghai say a Great Wall executive revealed that the company has a 3.0-litre V6 diesel on the way.

A new Great Wall small car, the Corolla-sized C50, is a more likely contender for Australia, but not before 2012. The first sedan from Great Wall, the C50 will be powered by a choice of two 1.5-litre four-cylinder engines – a turbo with 98kW and 188Nm or a naturally aspirated version with 77kW/138Nm.

The production version, which is set to be released in China this year, was shown at Shanghai, where Great Wall also revealed a large SUV, the Haval IF, which mimics the coupe-SUV styling of the BMW X6.

“That’s more in the lines of a show special than something we would have on sale here any time soon,” said Mr Cotterill.

Great Wall was the first Chinese passenger vehicle brand to go on sale in Australia, in July 2009, and last year sold 6690 vehicles here.

In March, Great Wall notched up 10,000 total sales in Australia and Ateco executives have said publicly they expect a further 10,000 sales in 2011.

However, an official press release on Great Wall’s Chinese web site says the company is targeting 12,000 sales in Australia this year, meaning Great Wall is expecting to almost double its volume in 2011.

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