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Great Wall set to focus on cars next

Next: Great Wall’s ageing C50 sedan is one of three models that will be replaced by the Chinese company when it sets out to make a Haval-style overhaul of its passenger car business.

Haval SUV revolution to be followed by Great Wall passenger car pull-through

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Great Wall logo27 Apr 2015

By RON HAMMERTON in BEIJING

GREAT Wall Motors’ (GWM) unremarkable passenger car line-up is said to be next on the hit list for improvement by the company’s billionaire part-owner and chairman Wei Jianjun, who has wrought a complete overhaul of its SUV range under the Haval brand in recent years.

While Haval was ranked number one in Chinese SUV sales in 2014, thanks to all-new models built to western standards of design and engineering, Great Wall’s passenger car sales ranking slipped to 26th place.

This year, sales of GWM’s three-model passenger car line-up have slipped again, while Haval has consolidated its number-one ranking with sales soaring 53 per cent year-on-year, thanks to newly released models such as the compact H2 and large H9 flagship.

These days, SUVs account for 80 per cent of GWM sales, and the division has been the biggest driver in the company’s handsome profits that have ballooned by 17.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2015.

The Havel line-up is destined for Australia this year under a new factory owned distribution company based in Melbourne, but passenger cars are off the agenda until Chairman Wei turns his gaze to a similar revolution on the smaller vehicles that currently comprise the C20R mini crossover hatch, C30 light sedan and one-size-larger C50.

The C30 and C50 both date from 2010, and are powered by 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engines with 78kW and 98kW of power respectively.

Last year, the C30 was China’s 73rd best-selling passenger sedan, while the C50 came in 91st.

For now, GWM is continuing its massive investment in Haval that includes at least three new models this year, including the all-new H6 Coupe that was shown at the Shanghai motor show last week and a revamped Ford Territory sized H8.

The new Haval range is only now being introduced into export markets, with Australia among the first countries to get the SUVs, from June.

Remarkably, Haval has engineered all export models for right-hand drive from the outset, with RHD export markets getting them at the same time as LHD markets.

Haval Australia chief marketing officer Tim Smith said told GoAuto that passenger cars were “not even on our radar”, but added that GWM had indicated that its focus would turn to that side of the business at some point.

Australian GWM importer Ateco Automotive has had several false starts on Great Wall passenger car imports over the years.

In 2010, Ateco had its sights on the Great Wall VX10 light hatchback, but that plan was put on indefinite hold in 2013 when the sums did not add up.

Since then, Ateco and GWM have been at loggerheads over the Australian distribution operation which has withered on slowing sales of the ageing V-series ute and related X-series SUV.

A newer V-series ute, called Wingle 6 in China, is all ready out in that market, but there has been no sign of it here.

The two companies are currently in negotiation over the future of the light commercial business, which might be handled in future by Haval Australia.

If the passenger car revamp follows the blueprint set by the Haval revolution, GWM is likely to invest billions in research and development facilities and western-trained staff to start from scratch.

Unconfirmed reports suggest Chairman Wei – reportedly China’s 10th-richest person – is said to have talks with Volkswagen about a joint-venture budget car for the Chinese market.

Even if that happened, it is unlikely to be the end of the story, as GWM is on a mission to develop its business as a competitor to western auto-makers, not only in the huge Chinese market but in western regions as well.

When it introduced its first sedans in 2010, GWM experimented with the Voleex sub-brand, but scrapped that in 2013, instead simply calling its passenger vehicles Great Wall.

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