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Exclusive: China’s top SUV brand eyes Australia

Lucky 8: The Haval H8 is a likely contender for the Australian market, possibly as early as next year.

Haval tests the water for a possible launch of its premium SUV range Down Under


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16 Sep 2014

CHINA’S most successful SUV brand, Haval, is laying the groundwork for the possible introduction of its range of premium wagons to Australia.

The company, an arm of Great Wall Motors, has appointed former Subaru and Kia Australia sales and marketing executive Tim Smith as its chief marketing officer, charged with getting the ball rolling on a potential Haval rollout in this market.

Great Wall registered the Haval trademark in Australia in 2012 and followed up by registering the company name Haval Motors Australia Pty Ltd in July this year.

Sydney-based Mr Smith told GoAuto that it was early days in the process, with feasibility studies still being done.

He said it was too early to say if or when Chinese-made Haval vehicles would go on sale locally, or what models could be introduced.

Assuming the factory-owned Haval operation goes ahead in Australia, it is expected to run in parallel with the current Great Wall network controlled by independent distributor Ateco Automotive.

In effect, Great Wall will remain the mainstream brand, with its workhorse ute and SUV range, while Haval will be the premium brand, armed with an upmarket SUV line-up.

This is the way the two brands operate in China and several export markets – including Russia – in a business model based on the Toyota-Lexus synergy.

However, Haval is strictly an SUV marque, offering a line-up of five prestige models – H1, H2, H4, H6 and H8 – with a sixth (H9) on the way.

Of these, the small H2 and large H8 are the most likely contenders to kick off the brand in this market, as they are the most recent additions to the range.

All going to plan, they could land in Australia as early as next year.

Although China is believed to be the intended source of vehicles for Haval’s Australian sales, Malaysia might provide an alternative. A joint venture between Great Wall and a Malaysia company, Go Automobile Manufacturing, is building a new $620 million plant in Kedah state to make the Haval H6 and compact Haval M4 for the ASEAN market.

In China, Haval’s mid-sized H6 is the top-selling SUV in the world’s largest motor market, racking up more than 20,000 sales a month. It outsells foreign-branded rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan and Toyota RAV4 – a distinction that Chinese-branded sedans cannot replicate.

The H6 has received certification for sale in Australia, but this is believed to have occurred as a potential replacement for the Great Wall X240 SUV via Ateco Automotive. As GoAuto has reported, negotiations have stalled between Ateco and Great Wall in China over the H6 coming here.

Unlike many Chinese motor companies, Great Wall has elected to go it alone, without western joint-venture partners, apart from suppliers. Last year, it shipped more than 754,000 cars and commercial vehicles to Chinese showrooms, placing it well within the top 10 of Chinese manufacturers, with or without partners.

The Haval arm has tapped into one of the fastest growing segments in China where SUV sales rose by almost 50 per cent last year – well above the 15.7 per cent growth rate of the motor market in general.

In China, all Haval models employ turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engines, in either 1.5-litre or 2.0-litre guises.

The H8 flagship gets the most powerful variant, a 160kW/324Nm unit matched with a ZF six-speed automatic transmission that drives either the rear wheels or all four wheels, depending on customer preference.

Diesel is not available in the Chinese market where petrol is king, but as parent company Great Wall has diesel powerplants in its armoury, a diesel does not appear out of the question for Australia.

As befits its premium SUV status, the H8 rides on a sophisticated double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension.

It also has a long list of safety equipment, including all the features required to achieve Australian approval, such as ESC, ABS, six airbags, anti-crash technology and rollover mitigation. It even has a Mercedes-Benz-style driver fatigue monitor.

Leather-clad heated seats, eight-inch touchscreen, Infinity sound system, sunroof and climate-control air-conditioning are all standard equipment over the four-model range.

The H8 has had teething problems with mechanical failures in its launch phase this year, being forced to withdraw the vehicle from showrooms twice to tweak it.

The H8 is a five-seater, but a bigger, seven-seat, Toyota Prado-sized H9 model is expected to land in Chinese showrooms soon, riding on a rugged ladder chassis and possibly powered by a 245kW/480Nm turbocharged V6 as an alternative to the four-cylinder turbo mainstream engine.

The H9 made its motor show debut in Beijing in April, where it was pitched as a “high-end cross-country” SUV – the first from a Chinese manufacturer.

In Beijing, Haval also revealed a sporty concept called the Haval Coupe – the company’s take on Euro-style sports SUVs.

It is unclear if the coupe will go into production.

In Australia, Great Wall was the first Chinese brand to launch in this market, signing on with Ateco in 2008 and hitting showrooms in 2009.

Chery – another Ateco signing – followed, along with a scattering of commercial vehicle brands such as Foton Trucks and Higer buses.

Geely and ZX Auto have sampled the market in Western Australia – the home base of importer Chinese Automotive Distributors – ahead of a planned nationwide rollout once new-generation, Volvo-based models come on stream in the next year or two.

Among the most recent additions have been Foton Ute and MG, with the latter run from a Sydney base by Chinese parent company SAIC.

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