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Great Wall’s great leap forward

Climbing the wall: The X240 is Australia's cheapest SUV and comes fully loaded, but lacks diesel engine and automatic transmission options.

China’s Great Wall makes progress against the odds, to open the door for other makes

12 Oct 2010

PIONEERING Chinese motor vehicle brand Great Wall Motors has more than doubled its share of the Australian market in the past 12 months, overtaking household names such as Land Rover, Jeep, Volvo and Peugeot in the sales race.

While volumes are still tiny compared with the big boys, Great Wall’s dealers have sold almost 5000 vehicles this year for a 0.6 per cent share of the market – and growing.

In August, Great Wall almost achieved 1.0 per cent share after launching its new entry-level V240 cab-chassis variant in July.

 center imageFrom top: Great Wall V240 cab- chassis, Great Wall V240 dual-cab, Great Wall Voleex, Great Wall SA220.

Currently armed with just two models – the V240 ute and X240 compact SUV – Great Wall has defied those cynics who predicted such Chinese brands, with unproven quality and no brand awareness, would struggle.

Those predictions appeared well-founded after Great Wall became the first Chinese car-maker to launch in Australia – by independent importer Ateco Automotive in July last year – and the company’s utes were awarded just two stars in the Australian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) crash safety test.

A failed seat belt in the V240 test was not only embarrassing for the company, but forced a safety recall to rectify the problem.

The V240 was one of two utes the company fired onto the market when it opened for business in Australia. While the V240 made headway, the more basic SA220, with its 78kW 2.2-litre engine, struggled for 12 months before Ateco killed it off in the middle of this year.

Since then, the V240 ute range, which opened with a four-door dual-cab variant, has been expanded with the single-cab cab-chassis model, priced at $17,990 driveaway in 2x4 guise and $20,990 in 4x4, making it the cheapest ute on the market.

Ateco said the arrival of the cab-chassis has added incremental volume to the brand, gaining popularity with tradesmen and farmers. In August, V240 sales hit a new monthly high of 416 units, with both the 4x2 (251 units) and 4x4 (165 units) having their best months.

In September, sales slipped back a little to 375 units, but the V240 still helped Great Wall to a 2.7 per cent share of the light commercial market – well above its 1.8 per cent average this year.

But it was the arrival of the X240 SUV a year ago that might be considered the pivotal moment in Great Wall’s fortunes in this country.

With less polarizing styling than the utes and a much more satisfactory ANCAP safety rating of four stars, the rugged full-chassis dual-range 4WD X240 has effectively doubled the company’s volumes.

Armed with the same Mitsubishi-sourced 2.4-litre 100kW petrol engine as the ute, the X240 has carved out a 3.0 per cent share of the hot compact SUV segment, with volumes growing steadily.

Sold in just a single five-speed manual gearbox spec, the X240 is the cheapest SUV on the market at $23,990 driveaway, yet is loaded with leather, ABS, 17-inch alloys, twin airbags, four-wheel disc brakes and dual-range on-the-fly all-wheel drive.

Like its V240 stablemate, the X240 might do better if it had options such as an automatic transmission and diesel engine.

Ateco has confirmed that one of those issues will be addressed by the belated arrival of a turbo-diesel alternative in both models, though maybe not until next year.

In China, where the X240 is known as the Hover, two diesel engines are offered, in 2.5-litre and 2.8-litre TCI sizes with Bosch common-rail injection.

How soon an automatic transmission becomes available remains to be seen.

Also on the agenda is Great Wall’s first passenger car for Australia, the Voleex, a light car previously known as the Phenom and powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine with a choice of manual and CVT automatic transmissions. It is expected to arrive in Australia about the end of 2011.

As well, Great Wall is moving into crossover vehicles in place of the 4Runner-derived ladder-chassis SUVs it has been serving up to date, opening the way for lighter, livelier vehicles. It seems only a matter of time before at least one of these arrives here.

While Great Wall’s arrival Down Under hasn’t always been pretty, it has broken the ice for Chinese manufacturers in this country.

With compatriots Geely, Chery, Higer and JAC all in various stages of launching onto the Australian market, the steady progress by Great Wall might become a Chinese avalanche.

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