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China's JAC set to hit the road

They're coming: JAC's Corolla-sized B-Class sedan could be among the vehicles exported from China to Australia in coming years.

First trucks and then light vehicles as JAC looks to cover all bases in Oz by 2015

JAC logo18 Nov 2010

By RON HAMMERTON in SHANGHAI

ONE of China's top-10 motor companies, JAC (Jianghuai Automobile Company), is proposing to target Australia with a full range of vehicles from mini cars to heavy trucks as part of an ambitious plan to expand its global exports from about 22,000 vehicles this year to 300,000 in just five years.

The first JAC branded vehicles – light-duty trucks from 3.0 tonnes to 8.0 tonnes – will arrive in Australia in the second quarter of 2011 to be sold through a network of more than 20 dealers established by independent importer White Motor Corporation (WMC) which already offers Chinese-made Higer buses in Australia and New Zealand.

 center imageFrom top: JAC A-Class, JAC B-Cross, JAC C-Class, JAC SRV Rein, JAC MPV.

JAC – 33 per cent owned by the Anhui provincial government where JAC is based in central China – also has longer-term ambitions to roll out light vehicles including cars, SUVs, people-movers and pick-ups around the world, although the import arrangements and schedule for Australia remain under wraps.

The Chinese vehicle maker's intentions towards Australia were made clear when visiting Australian journalists were not only briefed on current and upcoming light vehicles from JAC and given tour of its car plants but also allowed a brief test drive of a couple of cars straight from the production line.

WMC and rival importer Ateco Automotive both have their hands up for the JAC light vehicle distribution business, which has the potential to offer a massive Toyota-like range of vehicles at Chinese production prices.

JAC already exports products – mostly trucks – to 100 countries, mainly third world and developing markets in North Africa, Asia and South America. In Egypt, for example, it has carved out a healthy share that last month topped 10 per cent, while it is already number one in light truck sales in Chile and Peru.

It says it sees its immediate future in ramping up sales in Brazil, Russia and Turkey before targeting western markets with its passenger car range.

This means it could be at least two years and possibly up to five before JAC's offerings in Australia are broadened from trucks to passenger vehicles.

JAC plans to more than triple its total sales in domestic and export markets from 470,000 units this year to 1.5 million in 2015, with up to 20 per cent destined for overseas customers, including Australians.

The Chinese company – best known for its trucks in China where its has been number one in light-duty truck sales for a decade – built its first passenger vehicle, a seven-seat people-mover, just eight years ago. That vehicle became the top-selling MPV in the country.

It now offers a six-model passenger car range, as well as a one-tonne pick-up in both single-cab and dual-cab designs.

The car offerings range from the baby 1.0-litre A0-Class (a Toyota Aygo-lookalike mini hatchback), the light 1.3-litre A-Class sedan and hatch to compete with the likes of Toyota's Yaris and the Mazda2, the new Corolla-sized B-Class sedan and hatch (the latter a clone of the Honda Jazz, but larger), the B-Cross small crossover vehicle and the mid-sized C-Class (with 2.0- and 2.4-litre engines) that could easily be mistaken for a Mercedes-Benz from most angles.

As well, there is the compact Hyundai Santa Fe-lookalike SRV (also called Rein), in both front- and all-wheel-drive variants.

These vehicles are all powered by JAC's own range of petrol engines from one-litre to 2.4-litres, all made at its state-of-the-art engine plant at Hefei, the regional capital of Anhui province.

JAC also makes 1.9-litre and 2.8-litre diesels for its SUV, pick-up and light-duty truck ranges.

And in a move that will shake many western truck companies, JAC has signed joint venture deals to develop both heavy trucks and matching engines with American companies Navistar International and NC2, with many of those vehicles destined for export markets.

JAC's pick-up range is set to be expanded with a 4x4 model soon, and a van that can double as a small bus or cargo vehicle is also mooted.

While the company's trucks all carry 'JAC' badges on the nose, the light vehicles wear a five-pointed star badge that appears to take its inspiration from either Chrysler's Pentastar or Mercedes-Benz's three-pointed logo.

While JAC is coy on its plans beyond trucks for Australia, JAC International marketing director Eric Zhang told GoAuto: “We do hope we can come to your market.”

Like most Chinese car-makers, JAC is wrestling with achieving the high emissions and crash safety requirements of western markets such as Europe, the US and Australia, along with right-hand drive.

However, it says its A-Class small car already has been engineered to meet Euro standards.

Mr Zhang said the full European roll-out could happen in 2014 or 2015, as JAC was giving precedence to developing left-hand drive markets, especially Brazil, where it hoped to sell between 50,000 and 100,000 vehicles by 2015.

WMC general manager Shannon Taylor, who acknowledges that his company is in the running for the JAC light vehicle business, said the timing of JAC's entry into the Australia market was at least a couple of years away, and would probably coincide with its entry into other western markets demanding similar standards and right-hand drive.

He said JAC and his company were focussed on rolling out the truck range across Australia and New Zealand, starting with light-duty trucks and gradually expanding the range into the heavy end.

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