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Battle lines drawn by Chinese auto giants

Big boy: SAIC’s Maxus D90 large SUV concept – shown at the recent Beijing motor show – is a hint of what is to come on the Australian market where Chinese brands are getting serious.

SAIC’s upcoming LDV ute and SUV put it on collision course with Great Wall and Foton

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LDV logo31 May 2016

SAIC Automotive’s decision to add a one-tonne ute and related SUV to its fledgling LDV van range will put it head-to-head with similar products from fellow Chinese vehicle manufacturers Great Wall Motors (GWM) and Foton in Australia.

With Great Wall-branded light-commercial vehicles returning to Australian showrooms this year after the settlement of a long-running wrangle over distribution arrangements in Australia, SAIC’s LDV vehicle distributor in Australia – Ateco Automotive – has let it be known that it is preparing to attack the ute and SUV spaces with new vehicles now under development by SAIC in China.

Adding extra spice to the scenario is the fact that Ateco was the pioneering importer of Great Wall utes and SUVs for Australia until the arrangement broke down amid backroom wrangling more than 18 months ago.

A deal was finally struck last week for the dormant Great Wall distribution rights to be handed over by Ateco to a new factory-owned operation, Great Wall Motors Australia (GWMA), on July 1.

Ateco has not only filled the gap with the LDV light-commercial vehicle business from SAIC but also the Chinese-built Foton Tunland ute range, although sales numbers of both lines have been relatively small to date.

Foton is a subsidiary of the second-biggest motor manufacturer in China, BAIC (Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation), and one of the biggest truck-makers in the world via its joint venture with Daimler.

SAIC, on the other hand, is China’s biggest motor manufacturer with an annual turnout of about six million vehicles and major joint ventures with General Motors and Volkswagen, while Great Wall’s Haval sub-brand is China’s biggest producer of SUVs.

Shanghai-based SAIC and Beijing-based BAIC are both state owned by their respective provincial governments, while Great Wall Motors is a private entity, listed on the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock markets.

After having their noses bloodied by well-established rivals in Australia in round one, the Chinese manufacturers are redoubling efforts in what is seen as a curtain-raiser for the main event: an invasion of the North American market.

While Ateco has 37 LDV dealerships locked away, with a further 13 in the pipeline, Great Wall Motors Australia faces the task of taking its Haval/Great Wall franchise national.

LDV distributor Ateco is focused on lifting LDV from a minor van producer with just two products – the G10 and V80 vans – to a more viable operation with a minimum of four product lines by 2018.

Although details of the LDV one-tonne pick-up are still under wraps ahead of its expected unveiling at the 2017 Shanghai motor show next April, spy pictures indicate it is likely to be similar in concept to the Great Wall ute – the Wingle 6 – that has been on sale in China for two years and slated for Australian launch late this year.

GoAuto expects both of these utes to be powered by 110kW diesel engines and to have at least two cabin styles – single and crew cab.

While GWM already has a wide range of SUVs on sale or in the pipeline from its Haval sub-brand in Australia, SAIC is working on at least one SUV – a large ladder-chassis off-roader based on its upcoming ute – to bolster its LDV range.

Due in Australia in 2018, this SUV will likely go head-to-head with the Haval H9 – the biggest vehicle in that brand’s line-up to date.

SAIC recently showed a large SUV concept, called Maxus D90, at the Beijing motor show in what is thought to be a precursor to the production version, if only in styling direction.

However, that was larger in most dimensions than a Toyota LandCruiser, and we expect the production version to be trimmed to a size similar to the growing number of ute-based SUVs made in Thailand, including the Ford Everest, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Holden Colorado 7 (soon to be known as Trailblazer), Toyota Fortuner and Isuzu Ute MU-X.

While SAIC is tackling the Australian light-commercial and SUV markets via independent importer Ateco, it is forging its own passenger vehicle path in Australia with its MG brand through factory distributor SAIC Automotive Australia.

In take two for MG here after the failure of a Chinese-owned import operation, SAIC is preparing to relaunch this year.

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