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Exclusive: Great Wall import rights up in the air

Change gears: Great Wall’s V-Series ute range might come down a different distribution channel in Australia if rumours that the factory will take over the franchise prove true.

Importer Ateco in talks with Great Wall over future of pioneering Chinese franchise

2 Dec 2014

CHINA’S best-known automotive brand in Australia, Great Wall Motors (GWM), might end up with new distribution arrangements in this market as a result of current discussions between the Chinese company and importer Ateco Automotive.

Industry rumours suggest the most likely outcome is an amicable divorce, with the factory paying out Ateco to acquire the import rights for Australia alongside its new Haval sub-brand that is preparing to launch a range of three Chinese-made SUVs in Australia next year.

However, sources say no deal has yet been struck, and that Ateco might yet keep the franchise rights alongside its other Chinese brands Chery, Foton and LDV.

The same sources say Ateco has been winding back stocks of its Great Wall V240/V200 utes and X240/X200 SUVs, potentially in readiness for a switch.

Neither side is prepared to comment on the discussions or likely outcome.

Ateco, Australia’s biggest independent importer, pioneered Chinese vehicle sales in Australia with Great Wall in 2009.

Sales peaked in 2012 when Ateco shifted 11,006 Great Wall vehicles, but then the bubble burst and volumes plummeted 44.5 per cent in 2013.

This year, sales are down a further 57.3 per cent, to 2328 sales to the end of October.

Great Wall sales were hit by the double whammy of an ageing range with no fresh models in sight and hot pricing from mainly Japanese rivals such as Mitsubishi which offered its run-out Triton from $19,990.

Two-star crash safety ratings from the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) for Great Wall utes when launched in 2009 did not help, although the single-cab variant now carries three stars and the X200 SUV four stars.

If Ateco does give up Great Wall, it should mean little to customers, as sales of vehicles and parts should continue uninterrupted, and warranties will be honoured.

Ateco will retain Chery, Foton Ute/Truck and LDV vans from China, as well as South Korean brand SsangYong. Lotus and Maserati are handled by affiliate company European Automotive Imports (EAI).

The most recent acquisition was LDV from another independent importer, WMC. The range of V80 vans – made by China’s biggest motor manufacturer Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) – started last month.

Ateco/EAI, headed by New Zealander Neville Crichton, has given numerous brands a sales start in Australia before handing them off to other operations, usually run by the factory.

These have included Kia, Volkswagen, Ferrari, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Citroen.

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