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Saab Australia to consider Hawtai imports

Mid-sized: Hawtai's B21 sedan is 38mm shorter than a Toyota Camry and comes with a choice of 2.0-litre diesel or petrol engines.

Chinese-made Hawtai cars a chance for Australia alongside Saab’s Euro line-up

Hawtai logo6 May 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

SAAB’S Australian distributor has confirmed it will look into importing Chinese-made Hawtai cars from Hawtai Motor Group – Saab Automobile’s new global partner and part owner.

Saab Cars Australia (SCA) managing director Stephen Nicholls told GoAuto that while Chinese-made Saabs were off the agenda for Australia, Hawtai’s own-brand vehicles were “obviously something we would look at” for a separate sales channel alongside the Saab import business.

The Chinese brand – which has publicly expressed an interest in launching its product range in Australia – this week signed an agreement to buy up to 29.9 per cent of Saab’s parent company Spyker Cars NV for €120 million ($A163m), while also lending Saab €30 million to help resuscitate the Swedish brand’s production which stalled last month due to unpaid bills at parts suppliers.

The arrangement paves the way for Chinese production of Saab cars in a joint-venture with Hawtai, starting with the next-generation Saab 9-3 – Saab’s best-selling model – from 2013.

While the Saab-badged cars made in China are strictly for the Chinese market, Hawtai is looking west for export markets for its newly-minted Hawtai-branded three-model range of cars and SUVs that ultimately could benefit from a new technology agreement with Saab.

A Hawtai executive told Australian journalists at the recent Shanghai motor show that it was planning to build right-hand-drive products for markets such as Hong Kong and Australia.

76 center imageFrom top: Hawtai B11 interior, Hawtai Boliger, Hawtai Terracan, Hawtai Santa Fe.

Mr Nicholls said an importing arrangement with Hawtai had not been discussed, as the new strategic alliance had just been announced.

“It is a hypothetical at the moment because nothing has been formally discussed about that,” he said.

“I guess that there could be economies of scale and synergies for setting up an import operation, but we would be looking obviously to maintain a complete brand separation.

“But it is theoretically a possibility that we could do something with the back office and maybe also potentially look at sharing network, but it is nothing that has been discussed.

“We are open to any discussions like this. But it is a little a little premature.” Other Australian importers are introducing Chinese brands alongside their existing franchises – a path that Mr Nicholls said SCA might consider.

“There would obviously be a number of options for anybody coming into that space, but it is obviously something that we would look at depending on how things look down the track,” he said.

In China, the 11-year-old, privately owned Hawtai Motor Group is an automotive spin-off from the large Hawtai industrial conglomerate that has interests in a wide range of industries from chemicals to logistics.

The company started building Hyundai SUVs for China in 2003, offering Terracan and Santa Fe models – vehicles that it still builds.

Last year, its Hawtai-Hyundai Santa Fe was China’s fifth best-selling SUV, trailing only the Honda CR-V, Great Wall Haval H (X240 in Australia), Toyota RAV4 and Toyota Highlander (Kluger).

However, Hawtai is reported to have recently scaled back its joint-venture links with Hyundai, which has a strong relationship with China’s third biggest motor company BAIC (Beijing Automobile).

Last year, Hawtai ventured into its own products, starting in December with an upmarket sedan, the large B11 that is 50mm longer than a Holden Commodore, followed this year by the smaller but also luxurious – by Chinese standards – mid-sized B21.

Later this year, it will launch an SUV, the Mazda CX-7-sized B35 Boliger, which is said to be built on a superseded Santa Fe platform bought from its former partner.

With Jaguar-style grilles, generous dimensions and luxury interiors, Hawtai clearly has aspirations to reinvent itself as a prestige car-maker – hence the Saab deal.

It also has set its eyes on being the largest producer of ‘clean’ diesel car engines in China, where most passenger cars and SUVs still run on petrol.

Hawtai says its engines have been developed using technology from Italy’s diesel specialist, VM Motori, and although only one diesel – a 110kW/310Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder – is listed among its models, others, including a 1.5-litre three-cylinder and 3.0-litre V6, are said to be in the pipeline.

The company also sources a 118kW/215Nm 1.8-litre turbo-petrol engine from China’s biggest car-maker, SAIC – the major partner of General Motors and Volkswagen in China – which fits it to its Roewe 550.

Hawtai also offers Mitsubishi-sourced 2.4-litre and 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines producing 121kW/217Nm and 106kW/183Nm respectively. These engines are widely used by independent Chinese car-makers such as Great Wall and JAC.

The new venture with Saab is likely to open up new avenues for petrol engine technology, as Saab is a world leader in four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines.

Like Saab, Hawtai has forged strong links with German-based transmission maker ZF, producing four-speed ZF automatics under licence in China. A six-speed automatic transmission is also said to be under development by Hawtai, and it might make its debut in the B35 Boliger in the fourth quarter of this year.

Hawtai also makes a five-speed manual transmission at its Inner Mongolia factory, where it is proposing a dramatic expansion to not only greatly grow engine and transmission production but also increase its car-production capacity to 500,000 units a year.

The Hawtai B11 – the company’s first sedan – was launched with aggressive pricing in December after being shown at last year’s Beijing motor show.

With styling that is clearly a nod to Britain’s finest limos, the B11 is a Commodore-crunching 4943mm long and 1852mm wide, making it one of the biggest domestic-developed Chinese cars.

Three Euro 4 engines are offered – the 1.8-litre turbo-petrol from SAIC, the Hawtai-built 2.0-litre diesel and Mitsubishi-sourced 2.4-litre diesel.

It comes in three specification levels – standard, comfort and luxury – with the base model offering power windows, six-speaker stereo, air-conditioning, alloy wheels, front airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, parking sensors and five three-point seatbelts.

The mid level adds items such as side and curtain airbags, a DVD player with seven-inch screen, sunroof, rear-view camera, cruise control and climate-control.

The luxury level comes armed with leather upholstery, heated front seats, electronic stability control, a bigger DVD screen, satellite-navigation, Xenon automatic headlights and LED tail-lights.

The smaller Hawtai B21, at 4777mm long - 38mm shorter than a Toyota Camry – gets a choice of the 2.0-litre diesel or 2.0-litre Mitsubishi petrol engines mated with either the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission, along with the same three levels of specification – standard, comfort and luxury.

The five-seat B35 Boliger crossover, which is expected be launched with the same three engine choices as the flagship B11, rides on a MacPherson strut front-end, multi-link rear suspension and big 20-inch wheels.

The production-ready vehicle shown at the Shanghai motor show recently was the luxury level, but standard and comfort models are expected.

The high-riding Boliger has been described as a Porsche Cayenne knock-off, but it gets the same Jaguar-style mesh grille as the two sedans, giving the three vehicles a solid family resemblance.

Hawtai, which is based near Beijing, says it has a research and advanced engineering centre in Europe, with links to major European suppliers Bosch, Magna and Continental.

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