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Haval makes its premium pitch

Lucky 8: Haval’s H8 SUV makes its Australian debut at a dealer launch event for the Chinese brand in Melbourne.

China’s Haval launches three SUVs against entrenched vehicle marques in Australia

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Haval logo7 Oct 2015

CHINA’S biggest SUV-maker, Haval, opened for business in Australia today, armed with a three-model, premium-priced range tasked with going head-to-head with established brands.

More than 18 months in the planning and a few months later than originally forecast, the new factory-owned operation, Haval Motors Australia (HMA), kicks off with just four dealerships – in Sydney, Melbourne, Geelong and Perth – but with five more apparently in various stages of coming on board.

Australia becomes the first right-hand drive market for Haval, a sub-brand of Great Wall Motors and producer of China’s top-selling SUV, the Haval H6.

For now, Haval’s Melbourne-based operation will have no responsibility for the Great Wall brand which is in limbo in Australia after a breakdown between the distributor for Australia and New Zealand, Ateco Automotive, and the Chinese head office.

Under the Haval banner, Great Wall Motors has reinvented itself as a builder of upmarket SUVs, sparing no expense to develop its new range to what it says is western standards of safety, comfort and quality.

The roll-out in Australia has been designed to avoid the pitfalls of other Chinese marques in this country where poor safety ratings, dubious quality and low levels of technology have all-but skittled Chinese vehicle sales to date.

Designed by the man who penned the BMW X5 – Belgian Pierre Leclercq – and engineered by a team led by a one-time Toyota chief engineer Suguya Fukusato, the Haval range is topped by a serious off-roader, the ladder-chassis-based, dual-speed H9 that was benchmarked against the Toyota Prado.

At the other end of the scale, the range kicks off with the H2 compact five-door urban SUV that the company says was benchmarked against the Volkswagen Tiguan.

Priced from a lofty $26,490 plus on-road costs for the six-speed-manual, front-wheel-drive H2 Premium, the 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol H2 is $1500 more expensive than the popular Honda HR-V that includes a continuously variable transmission as standard equipment.

And it is a huge $6500 dearer than the $19,990 2.0-litre Mazda CX-3 Neo manual.

HMA argues that the Haval H2 is built to a premium SUV standard, with dynamics and specifications not usually seen in the small SUV class.

These features include multi-link rear suspension and a 7.0-inch high-definition touchscreen.

However, the base model buyer also gets cloth seats, four-speaker stereo and manual air-conditioning, like cheaper rivals.

The H2 is also available in a high-end Lux version priced from $28,490, in both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, with optional six-speed automatic transmission.

The mid-range Haval H8 is built on car-like monocoque platform and also comes in a choice of two specification levels, starting with the Premium at $41,990 plus on-road costs.

The sole engine choice is a 2.0-litre turbo-charged petrol engine producing 160kW of power and 324Nm of torque with a standard-fitment six-speed automatic transmission.

The H8 straddles the medium and large SUV segments, but – scarily – is slated to do battle against more powerful six-cylinder rivals such as Ford’s 195kW/391Nm Territory and 201kW/337Nm Toyota Kluger that also happen to be more affordable in their base guises.

The range-topping H9 is the only model priced significantly lower than its target rival, the Toyota Prado, with H9 pricing starting at $46,500 plus ORC for the Premium version, and $50,990 for the Lux flagship. The cheapest Prado is the $52,990 GX manual diesel.

But while the Prado comes with a choice of 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre diesel and 207kW/381Nm petrol V6, the H9 makes do with the same 160Nm/324Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine and six-speed automatic as the H8.

Four-wheel drive with rock-hopping two-speed transfer case is standard, along with selectable drive modes.

Diesel variants are planned, but HMA cannot say when they might arrive.

Also on the planning board is a fourth model, the mid-sized H6 Coupe that should touch down in Australia in the first half of next year.

HMA managing director Parker Shi said Haval dreamed of becoming Australia’s number one SUV brand, but that it was under no illusions about the size of the task.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he said. “We have to convince Australia to give us a go.”

Haval is planning a soft launch for the brand, using billboards and online advertising to establish the name, along with direct appeals to customers for drive experiences.

The company hopes to have a network of 10 dealerships by Christmas, covering all states. Ultimately, 25 dealerships are envisaged in metro, provincial and rural centres.

All Haval models will be offered with a 100,000km, five-year warranty, along with five years’ roadside assistance.

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