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Ateco takes on Foton utes

Second chance: The Foton Tunland has struggled to make an impact in the 18 months it has been on sale in Australia, but that could change under new distributor Ateco Automotive.

Foton to hit the re-set button mid-year as Ateco Automotive takes the reins

Foton logo3 Apr 2014

By TIM NICHOLSON

ATECO Automotive has confirmed it has taken over distribution of fledgling Chinese brand Foton in Australia with plans to re-launch the brand mid-year with a refreshed line-up and more competitive pricing.

The new distributor also plans to expand the line-up beyond its sole offering – the Tunland utility – as well as increase the dealer network and improve service and parts support in a bid to have an impact in Australia’s hugely competitive new-car market.

Ateco already had the rights to import and distribute Foton trucks in Australia, but until now the Foton light-commercial vehicle range was distributed by Queensland-based FAA Automotive Australia.

FAA launched the Tunland in late 2012 with a starting price of $28,000 excluding on-road costs for the two-wheel drive Quality dual-cab and topping out at $35,000 for the all-wheel drive Luxury variant.

The Tunland failed to ignite in Australia, largely due to high pricing, a small dealer network and lack of brand awareness. Fierce competition and keen pricing from established Thai-built competitors such as the Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara also kept the Tunland off a lot of potential buyer’s radars.

FAA shuffled the line-up in September 2013 and brought the opening price down to $26,990 drive-away, and then in December of the same year added a single-cab body-style to the range kicking off from $24,990 drive-away for the two-wheel drive tray variant.

Ateco Automotive’s public relations consultant for Asian brands, Daniel Cotterill, told GoAuto that Foton Trucks Australia and Foton’s utility sales would continue to be two distinct businesses under the Ateco umbrella, with former Hino executive Alex Stewart taking the reins of the heavy commercial brand.

The new distributor is yet to appoint a chief for Foton’s utility operation, but Mr Cotterill said it was likely to be someone within Ateco with light-commercial or general automotive experience.

The Tunland’s pricing places it at a slight premium over Ateco’s other Chinese LCV brand, Great Wall, with its V200 single-cab diesel tray ute priced at $22,990 drive-away compared with the equivalent Tunland variant which starts at $26,990 drive-away.

Mr Cotterill said it was too early to discuss the adjusted pricing for the Tunland as negotiations with Foton were ongoing, but he hoped to improve the value of the newcomer.

“It is our ambition to get the Tunland to market here with a better price than it has been,” he said.

To date there has been little promotion for the Tunland in Australia, but Mr Cotterill hopes to change that with the re-launch mid-year.

“I would like to think we would do a good job of marketing the brand, we think it has got great potential,” he said. “It’s a pretty good product as it stands and we would like to work along with Foton to improve it over time. But marketing takes money and it will be a matter of getting things started in a sensible fashion.”

Previous importer FAA did not provide sales data to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) for its monthly VFACTS sales rankings, so it is not possible to determine how many Tunlands have found homes since it was launched almost 18 months ago.

While the re-launch is expected to boost interest in the brand, Mr Cotterill said he was not expecting a dramatic increase in local sales.

“We are not predicting explosive growth,” he said. “As we have done with previous brands we have started, we just like to chip away at it and grow things sensibly over time in a sustainable fashion.”

The Tunland range is not fitted with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), but Mr Cotterill said he hoped that the models that arrived for the re-launch would be fitted with the safety technology.

“Whether or not it is feasible in that timeframe I am not certain,” he said.

“But it has been Ateco policy to incorporate safety equipment into our vehicles as and when it is available.” The federal government has mandated that ESC on all new light-commercial vehicle models that launch in Australia from 2015, meaning any LCV launching in 2014 is exempt. However by 2017, ESC must be fitted to all LCVs on sale in Australia regardless of when the model launched.

By September last year, Foton had 21 retail outlets in Australia, and Mr Cotterill said some of the existing dealers would continue with Foton while others would not.

He said there was a possibility of dual Foton trucks and utes dealerships in the future, but that combined Foton and Great Wall dealerships were less likely.

“I don’t think that would necessarily be ideal but I couldn’t rule it out,” he said. “As our dealer development people go around the country and look at what PMAs (prime market areas) we have available and the best way to fill them, who we have pre-existing relationships with and so on, I think there will be a fairly pragmatic view taken to making sure we get the coverage we need to represent those brands.”

While a range expansion beyond the Tunland is on the cards down the track, Mr Coterill said it was not the main priority for Ateco in the short to medium term.

“We will concentrate on utes initially and as part of our process we are going through now, have a thorough exploration of what else is in the Foton line-up that we really can bring here. It is too early to say what that would be.

“We want to get things off to a good solid start, build a sustainable business and then look up and see where we go from there.” Ateco Automotive is responsible for the distribution of fellow Chinese brands Chery and Great Wall in Australia as well as Indian-owned Korean brand SsangYong and Malaysian owned Lotus sportscars, while its European Automotive offshoot imports Maseratis.

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