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ZX Auto set to land GrandTiger

Touch down: ZX Auto’s Chinese-built GrandTiger is a direct competitor for Great Wall Motors’ utes.

Claws out in Chinese ute battle with October launch of ZX Auto GrandTiger in WA

14 Aug 2012

AUSTRALIA will get another Chinese vehicle brand in October when ZX Auto begins selling its GrandTiger ute in Western Australia ahead of a national roll-out about April next year.

Independent importer Chinese Automotive Distributors (CAD) has told GoAuto that about 180 GrandTiger one-tonners will be shipped to Perth in the last quarter of this year as a toe-in-the-water exercise to bed down sales and marketing plans ahead of the national launch.

A direct competitor for Great Wall’s V240/V200 ute range, the GrandTiger will be sold in cab-chassis and dual-cab ute styles with a choice of 4x2 and 4x4 drivetrains.

The only engine available initially will be a Mitsubishi-sourced 93kW 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder – the same petrol engine as used by Great Wall in its V240 ute range – matched with a five-speed manual gearbox.

A Toyota-based 2.5-litre turbo-diesel is due in the GrandTiger in Australia about April next year, when the whole range will go national through a dealership network that will also carry the Chinese-sourced Geely passenger-car range that will kick off with the EC7 small car about the same time.

CAD director Rod Gailey said some east coast dealers had expressed the view that they would rather launch with the complete ZX Auto ute range, with both petrol and diesel engines.

160 center imageFrom top: Geely MK EC7 GX7 CE concept.

“We will have the diesel ready to be launched at the end of the first quarter or the start of the second quarter next year,” he said.

“Some of the feedback from the dealers is that they say they like the petrol and they want to run with it, but the strength is in the diesel.

“They would rather wait until the diesel comes, if it is not too far away, rather than do a launch A and a launch B. And I think that makes sense.

“In the meantime, it gives us time to test the vehicle in the market (in WA).

“We are testing the price, the vehicle, consumer reaction to the marketing programs, to see how well it succeeds.”

A fleet of 20 GrandTigers are already running around WA as part of a product quality evaluation program and to test modifications made by Melbourne-based Prodrive Engineering – a sister company to Ford Performance Vehicles and the Ford Performance Racing V8 Supercar team.

Prodrive was given the task of tuning the ride and handling for Australian conditions and local customer tastes.

Mr Gailey said some of the vehicles had been driven across Australia to WA after being refitted by Prodrive ahead of the customer evaluation program.

“We have taken 20 vehicles and allocated them to commercial clients – for example couriers, fleet companies, landscape enterprises – to test the vehicles in the real world and to give us driver feedback,” he said.

Mr Gailey said production vehicles would begin arriving soon for October launch in WA dealers, in batches of 60 units a month over the final three months of the year.

He said ZX Auto sales were expected to open in five dealerships in WA, including the Perth outlet of CAD owner and founder John Hughes – one of WA’s biggest vehicle retailers.

Mr Hughes recently switched Chrysler into the Geely showroom where he has been selling the MK light car for about 18 months, but Mr Gailey said the MK could still be bought at the site, which was due for a transformation to handle new brands.

The 1.5-litre MK was never sold on the east coast due to a lack of ESC – mandatory in Victoria – and automatic transmission.

Instead, the Cruze-sized 1.8-litre EC7-1.8 small sedan and hatch will kick off the Geely range nationally about April or May next year – about two years later than originally planned.

Mr Gailey said the “SUTI” (Single Uniform Type Inspection) car was due in Australia for ADR (Australian Design Rule) certification in October.

“The ADR process is already underway and, subject to going through all the necessary requirements to satisfy DOT (the Department of Transport), we believe there will be a vehicle ADRed by January 2013,” he said.

“What does that mean in dealer stocks in the market? I would add three or four months to that. We are talking realistically and conservatively April-May (sales launch).”

The EC7, which scored a four-star safety rating in European NCAP tests, is equipped with ESC, along with six airbags.

Initial cars will be offered only with a five-speed manual transmission, with a six-speed automatic transmission from DSI – the Australian transmission manufacturer taken over by Geely during the global financial crisis – following about six to eight months later.

“We are still finalising the specifications for the Australian market – that’s why we don’t have the SUTI car yet,” said Mr Gailey.

“There will be two models (sedan and a hatch), and there will be a so-called base model and a luxury model.”

The luxury model will be power by a 102kW/172Nm 1.8-litre engine and is expected to get items such as sat-nav and leather to entice buyers.

The EC7 is expected to be joined in 2014 by the SUV version, the GX7, armed with a 2.0-litre petrol engine mated with manual and automatic transmissions.

A third model, the CE light hatchback with a 1.3-litre turbo-petrol engine, is also on the cards to replace the WA-only MK, but Mr Gailey said a decision on that car had yet to be made.

Like the MK, the sticking point is whether Geely can engineer the car with ESC, which is now mandatory across Australia.

“That is still on the discussion table at the moment,” Mr Gailey said.

“This is the one that was going to replace the MK. It was about to be brought in, we had it ADRed, but we didn’t proceed with it because it didn’t have ESC.

“We thought, why go through all those hoops and worry and then have a gap waiting for the ESC version to arrive.”

Most of the 30-plus dealers who have put their hand up for Geely are also expected to take ZX Auto, as the two brands are seen to be complementary.

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