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Future models - JMC - Vigus

Chinese car-makers continue to punt on Australia

Another one: JMC’s Vigus ute will be launched in dual-cab body style with a choice of petrol and diesel engines.

Three new Chinese car distributors setting up Down Under, despite low sales to date

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JMC logo2 Dec 2014

By RON HAMMERTON

THE struggle by Chinese motor companies to find a toehold in the super-competitive Australian car market to date has not slowed the rush of manufacturers from the world’s biggest auto market to set up sales channels here.

Although official VFACTS sales data credits Chinese-made imports with just 0.3 per cent of Australian new-vehicle sales in 2014, with sales down 45 per cent compared with last year, at least three new Chinese import operations are in the process of joining the likes of Great Wall, Chery, Foton, Geely, LDV, MG, ZX Auto and Higer in Australia.

Jiangling Motor Corporation (JMC) – one of Ford’s two joint-venture partners in China and manufacturer of the Australian-design Everest SUV for that market – is about to kick off its Australian adventure by launching its Vigus ute out of its own Sydney dealership.

Great Wall Motors’ SUV arm, Haval – the top-selling SUV brand in China – also has established a factory-owned Australian subsidiary with the aim of launching three SUVs in a separate sales channel to Great Wall which pioneered the Chinese push in 2009 with its rough-and-ready utes via independent importer Ateco Automotive.

And as GoAuto has reported exclusively today, Foton Van is set to announce the arrival of its K1 van in January, courtesy of Queensland-based importer VSA Distributors.

The first shipment of long-wheelbase vans is already on the way, to be sold separately from existing Foton Tunland ute and Foton truck ranges, both of which are handled by Ateco.

GoAuto understands more Chinese companies are in various stages of planning their Aussie invasion, with Israeli-Chinese car-maker Qoros a frequent subject of rumour.

So far, Chinese vehicles have caused barely a blip on the Australian sales radar, brought undone by poor crash test results, development delays, safety recalls, indifferent build quality and unrealistic pricing against the likes of duty-free Thai-built vehicles from powerful global manufacturers.

Bruised by their lack of penetration, some Chinese manufacturers are effectively in a holding pattern in Australia while they await next-generation cars and light commercial vehicles with western levels of engineering.

Geely, for example, trialled its MK sedan and hatch in Perth through John Hughes’ Chinese Automotive Distributors, but is now awaiting the arrival in right-hand-drive guise of its new-generation Volvo-based models penned by former Volvo and Ford designer Peter Horbury and engineered with help from Melbourne-based engineering company Premcar – formerly Ford Performance Vehicles.

Even the most established player, Great Wall, is currently on struggle street, with sales down 57 per cent so far in 2014 as its V200 and V240 utes and X200 SUV come up against the likes of Mitsubishi’s sub-$20,000 run-out Triton ute.

Great Wall is about to face fresh competition at the cheap end of the ute market from newcomer JMC, whose Vigus ute launch is imminent.

Vigus will hit the market initially in New South Wales, starting with a dual-cab configuration with 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains, a choice of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines with only a five-speed manual transmission.

The single-cab variant and a seven-seat SUV, called Yusheng S350 in China, will follow in 2016.

Like Great Wall’s X200, the JMC SUV is based on the ute, with body-on-frame construction.

As GoAuto reported exclusively in September, Haval Australia Pty Ltd is about to spell out its model plans for Australia, which, according to its website, includes three SUVs – the compact H2, medium H8 and just-new large H9.

The company’s strategy is to pitch these vehicles at a luxury level, setting it apart from Great Wall.

However, that strategy would seem to place it head-to-head with entrenched Japanese, Korean and European manufacturers – a tough ask for any unknown brand, let alone a Chinese one.

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