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Exclusive: Lifan test mule spotted in Australia

Out and about: The “LLL” badge of China’s Lifan Motors can be clearly seen on the back of this X80 large SUV snapped in northeast Victoria.

Chinese Lifan X80 SUV seen going through engineering testing in Victoria

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Lifan logo7 Nov 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

AN UNDISGUISED engineering evaluation vehicle from independent Chinese car-maker Lifan Motors has been spotted roaming the highways and byways of Victoria, presumably at the hands of Australian-based transmission engineers of Drivetrain Systems International (DSI).

The left-hand-drive Lifan X80 – the large seven-seat SUV flagship of the Lifan range – was snapped in north-east Victoria wearing Victorian registration plates.

Lifan is known to use six-speed automatic transmissions engineered in Melbourne and made in China by DSI, part of the ever-growing empire of Chinese motor manufacturer Geely Automobile since 2009.

The X80 was launched in China in March this year, but it is set to be rolled out to export markets such as Russia, the Middle East and South America in 2018.

Lifan already operates in these markets with smaller passenger cars and SUVs.

It is unclear if Lifan is planning to extend its reach to Australia where several Chinese manufacturers, including LDV, MG, Haval and Foton, already have a toehold.

Lifan’s brand name and logo have been trademarked here for the past nine years.

The X80 is a family SUV in the mould of the Haval H8 or Hyundai Santa Fe.

Powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 135kW of power and 286Nm of torque, the vehicle is 4820mm long and 1930mm wide.

Launched only in front-wheel-drive format, the X80 is expected to get an all-wheel-drive variant, which could explain the latest testing in Australia.

DSI engineers frequently import test mules for transmission calibration testing.

Earlier this year, a disguised Geely people-mover was photographed by GoAuto on Melbourne roads. That vehicle was shown in concept form as the Emgrand MPV at the Shanghai motor show earlier this year, but has yet to reach the market.

Although the Lifan X80 has previously been seen with a “Lifan” badge on the rear tailgate, the mule in our picture has the company’s “LLL” logo.

In the company’s website blurb, Lifan says the X80’s chassis was honed at Britain’s Mira vehicle development centre.

This appears to rule out a chassis development role for Melbourne-based Premcar, which has performed such work on Chinese vehicles from Geely and ZX Auto, among others.

Lifan Motors – a subsidiary of Lifan Group – was founded in the western Chinese city of Chongqing in 2003. It makes a wide range of motor vehicles, including cars, SUVs, small light-commercial vehicles and motorcycles.

Like Geely and Great Wall, it is a privately owned, stock-market-listed company, as opposed to state-owned corporations such as SAIC Motor, FAW and Beijing Auto.

In Chongqing, Lifan lives in the shadow of another of China’s automotive giants, Changan, which counts Ford, Mazda and Suzuki among its joint-venture partners.

Geely has hugely expanded its portfolio of motoring companies over the past decade, acquiring Volvo, Proton and Lotus, while also founding export brand Lync & Co which will be mainly aimed at western markets.

DSI was formerly known as Borg Warner, and produced transmissions at its Albury factory for companies such as Ford Australia.

It supplied transmissions to Mahindra and SsangYong before the Australian factory was closed by Geely in 2009, with manufacturing transferred to China.

However, the engineering centre in the south-east Melbourne suburb of Springvale has been retained.

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