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China a year away

Cut-price crossover: Great Wall Motor's Hover SUV.

Australia’s first $9999 car gets closer as Ateco plans to show China models in 2007

General News logo3 Oct 2006

AUSTRALIA’S first sub-$10,000 new car appears to have taken one step closer to reality following confirmation at the Paris motor show that Ateco Automotive hopes to announce a deal to import Chinese-built vehicles before the end of this year.

Ateco governing director Neville Crichton, who has signed letters of intent with a number of Chinese manufacturers and was in China within the past two weeks, said he hoped to be in a position to announce Australia’s first Chinese vehicle franchise by late this year, before previewing some of the models to be imported at the 2007 Sydney motor show.

The Australian distributor for Citroen (since 1997), Alfa Romeo (since 1998), Ferrari and Maserati (since October 2005) and Fiat passenger cars (since July this year) has had an investigative team in China for some time and because of confidentiality agreements remains tight-lipped about brands it could import.

But recent talks appear to have gathered momentum and Ateco officials have for the first time publicly targeted 2008 as the year in which Chinese imports will begin.

"The aim is to have a preview at the Sydney show next year with an on-sale date in 2008," Ateco spokesman Edward Rowe told GoAuto. "It’s possible we’ll announce something by the end of this year. Things are progressing but remain fluid.

"We’ve had a number of meetings at the highest level with a number of companies. There’s no secret we’ve signed a couple of letters of intent and all that means is we’ve started the process of negotiations with a number of Chinese manufacturers. Negotiations are continuing," he said.

The billion-dollar Ateco operation last year delivered more than 35,000 vehicles in Australia and New Zealand through a 180-dealer network, but has been on the hunt for a Chinese brand(s) to replace the Kia distribution rights it held in Australia since 2000 before being relinquished earlier this year.

If a business case can be established, Australia’s first Chinese brand could become a reality in the same year that Ateco relaunches Italian brand Lanica, which could make its Australian return as early as 2008, and just months after Czech marque Skoda is reintroduced (see separate stories). Dodge is the most recent brand to be relaunched into Australia’s booming new-car marketplace, in August this year.

However, while Ateco says it’s likely to import at least two Chinese brands (one for commercial vehicles, which are likely to kick-start imports from China, and at least one for passenger cars – which would follow), it’s unclear what badge or badges the vehicles will carry here.

"Most brands not associated with a major non-Chinese brand tend to be focused on one or two models. So if you want to have a range including cars and entry-level commercial vehicles you must have a few manufacturers," said Mr Rowe.

Either way, Ateco stresses no current models are on the agenda, and that "it’s too early to say" if one could become Australia’s first $9999 new car. "The vehicles on display at moment won't be the cars with which we will launch - we're talking about the next generation of models."

 center imageLeft: Landwind X-Pedition

Mr Rowe said that Mr Crichton’s appearance between international yacht races at Paris, where Chinese brands Great Wall Motor and Landwind exhibited their wares for the first time, was "of no significance".

Great Wall showed five models led by the compact Hover SUV, which measures 4620mm long, employs a Mitsubishi-sourced 2.4-litre four-cylinder and went into production in April.

Great Wall hopes to export around 30,000 Hovers from China this year (including up to 12,000 in Italy, where European importer Eurasia Motor Company is based). Hover is expected to make its US debut at Detroit in January, and automatic right-hand drive production is also in the pipeline.

Meantime, Landwind offered Parisians its X-Pedition, which is already on sale in Germany and the Netherlands and is due on sale in France in January. Manufactured by Jiangling group, X-Pedition’s French importer Asie Auto says it will be priced 20 to 30 per cent lower than its compact SUV rivals at €16,000 (around $A26,000).

If sold here, smaller models like the Great Wall Sing would be much cheaper, and could be priced under $12,000 to compete with city cars like Kia’s Picanto, which is due on sale here in March, Nissan’s Micra, which remains under evaluation, Hyundai’s Amica/Atos Prime, which is sold in the UK, and Daewoo’s Matiz, which could be sold as a sub-Barina Holden by 2008.

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