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Shanghai show: China reloads for take two in Oz

Reboot: New-generation SUVs such as the Haval H2 are headed to Australia as Great Wall Motors launches import invasion 2.0.

Great Wall plots Australian relaunch spearheaded by upmarket all-SUV brand Haval

Haval logo21 Apr 2015

By RON HAMMERTON in SHANGHAI

AFTER nibbling around the edges of the Australian automotive market for several years, China’s big motor companies are preparing to attempt a bigger bite of the action by investing in factory-backed import operations and a wave of new-generation products designed and engineered to five-star levels for western markets.

China’s biggest SUV company, Haval – a sub-brand of Great Wall Motors – will be first cab off the rank on June 1 when it opens for business nationally in Australia as one of only four export markets to get the new Haval line-up initially.

GoAuto knows of at least one other giant Chinese motor company that is in the final stages of preparation for a factory-backed distribution operation in Australia, and more might follow.

Haval has hired BMW designer Pierre Leclercq – best known for penning the top-selling BMW X5 and X6 luxury SUV range – to give its products western appeal, with support from internationally recognised engineers.

Rather than operate through an independent distributor as it did with Great Wall’s ute and SUV line-up, the company has set up Haval Australia in the Melbourne suburb of Mount Waverley – just around the corner from the headquarters of Mazda Australia – with a mix of Chinese and Australian staffers.

While advancing plans for a national launch of Haval by the middle of this year, the company has also confirmed that it is in negotiation with independent importer Ateco Automotive over the future of the Great Wall franchise (see separate story).

For Great Wall, Haval represents a fresh start in Australia where it plans to shed its “cheap” image and take on a new sales pitch of “affordable luxury”.

Gone are old technologies such as recycled Mitsubishi engines, replaced with proprietary equipment such as turbocharged engines – in both petrol and diesel – and dual-clutch transmissions.

Initially, the line-up will comprise three models, ranging from a Mitsubishi ASX-sized H2 to a Toyota Prado competitor, the H9. In the middle will be the Jeep Cherokee-sized H8, with the just revealed H6 Coupe – with a Range Rover Evoque-style sporty roofline – to follow either later in the year or early 2016.

Great Wall CEO Wang Fengying told Australian journalists at the Shanghai motor show this week that her company had experienced “difficulties” in the Australian market, but would set about gaining the confidence of Australian customers through its new Haval products.

“We have nothing but our products,” she said. “We will win the confidence of Australians with our products.”

Madam Wang said Great Wall had elected to launch Haval in Australia because of the strong demand for SUVs in the country. She said the brand would launch with three products, but would add more models over the next three to five years.

“It will take time to achieve the goal, but the goal has been set,” she said.

The company says it has looked closely at other recent entries into the Australian market, including the fraught Opel attempt that lasted just a year, and developed a slow-burn growth strategy that it hopes will avoid similar pitfalls.

The first shipment of about 200 vehicles is already on the water, bound for the Australian launch in June. Another shipment is due in July.

Haval has taken a group of journalists and prospective dealers to China to immerse them in the Haval experience, including showing them new products just revealed at the Shanghai auto show.

Haval Australia chief marketing officer Tim Smith told GoAuto that the company was planning a lean, quality dealer network of 10 to 20 dealers, all of whom would be armed with a high-standard product range that would be supported by five-year warranties and five-star safety ratings.

He said Haval was well advanced on retail network rollout that would spread to all states, but because of commercial-in-confidence considerations, could not talk about it yet.

Mr Smith said Haval’s number one priority was branding to support the new generation of products.

He said the factory-backed operation was intent on changing perceptions of Chinese car-makers in Australia where Chinese-made goods were now bought by consumers every day.

The Haval range has been designed with a premium edge, with high levels of standard equipment, he said.

“We like to think of it (Haval’s range) as affordable luxury,” he said.

Haval’s mid-sized H6 SUV is the top-selling SUV in China, outselling foreign-brand vehicles such as Volkswagen’s Tiguan, Toyota’s RAV4 and Honda’s CR-V.

Last year, the H6 achieved more than 315,000 sales in China – an effort that not only made it top of the SUV list but the second-best selling passenger vehicle behind VW’s Lavida sedan.

This year, Haval SUV sales are up a whopping 99 per cent in China, even though the market has slowed from its days of boundless growth.

Parent company Great Wall is China’s largest independent motor company, ranked seventh overall behind a list of other manufacturers that has at least some state ownership and partnerships with major western car-makers.

Haval started out as a single model in the Great Wall range, but was spun off as a prestige SUV sub-brand with a burgeoning range of SUVs in every category, offering a choice of 4x2 and 4x4, diesel and petrol and four-cylinder and V6 engines.

The largest model, H9, has a rugged ladder chassis, but all others are built on car-like monocoque platforms.

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