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The Mercury Cars Guide : May 1st 2010
Saturday, May 1, 2010 Classifieds 62 300 400 • carsguide.com.au ---15 Buyers will be Chinese checkers LEADERS: The Chery J1 hatch and J11 front-wheel drive SUV will lead the Chinese push. There is no question it will happen, the only questions are when and how big. Paul Gover takes a look at the motoring revolution in China CHALLENGE: The Chery J11 needs more work to take on Corolla. BABY: The Chery J1 is tiny but surprisingly good. CHINA is the next power- house in Australian motor- ing. I have visited the compan- ies, seen the cars, driven the pioneers in the first wave, and I am convinced there is enough commitment and substance to establish a significant Chinese foothold in Australia. Chery, Great Wall and Geely all have adventurous plans for small-car assaults on local showrooms over the next 18 months and the first of the new arrivals --- the baby Chery J1 hatch --- will lead the way from September. ''From the very beginning, Chery has a policy to sell cars, not just in China, but also abroad,'' says Chery Automobile vice-president Biren Zhou. ''Chery is a new company, and from the very beginning we pay high attention to quality and new tech- nology. If there is some shortcoming we will make an improvement in the shortest period of time.'' The baby J1 is tiny but surprisingly un-bad, while the Chery J11 SUV looks like a Chinese-style RAV4, the J3 needs more work to challenge in the Toyota Corolla class, and the Great Wall Phenom could the sur- prise star. Import agents for the three Chinese brands are forecasting first-year sales of more than 5000 cars and many as 100,000 inside five years --- less than half the time it took the Korean car industry to hit the same benchmark. But no-one should expect Chinese cars to be rock-bottom priced in the sub-$10,000 range, or to match Japan- ese cars --- or even the Koreans --- for start-up quality or refinement. There will be very rapid improve- ments, and we have already seen Great Wall reacting quickly to sub- standard crash-test results for the ute it sells in Australia. But the cars are currently not as good as they need to be for long-term success. Until then, the Chinese approach --- firstly from Chery, then Great Wall, with Geely advancing more slowly from a base in Perth --- is to give buyers a lot of 'stuff' for the same price as the Korean brands. ''It's a hamburger-with-the-lot ap- proach,'' says Ateco Automotive gen- eral manager for new ventures Dinesh Chinnappa. ''In our preferred world we would come in slightly below the Koreans, but with a meaningful value advan- tage. There will be one grade of car.'' In the case of the J1, that means a 1.3-litre engine to take it up against the $13,990 Hyundai Getz, with two airbags, anti-skid brakes, alloys, power windows and remote central locking in a five-door body, but only with a manual gearbox. The J11, which comes second in the Chery plan, is targeted against the outgoing $24,990 Kia Sportage, with a 2-litre engine, manual and automatic gearboxes and a similar suite of equipment to the J1. ''We tend to negotiate towards the super-luxury range in the Chinese lineup,'' Chinnappa says. The J3, which will not arrive until 2011, is the first Chery car aimed at Europe. That means four airbags, a 1.6-litre engine, five-door hatchback body, rear parking radar and more. It is intended as the breakthrough car, with a sub-$20,000 pricetag for a fully-loaded car. ''We really see a decent volume opportunity with the J3 because it will be competing in a bigger seg- ment,'' says Chinnappa. The Chery plan is the same, but different to, Ateco's other Chinese brand, Great Wall. The importer has set up it oper- ations so the dealer networks are completely separate, with minimal early conflicts in the product place- ment. Great Wall is already running with its ute and SUV, and even a potential Kombi-style motorhome, while Chery will be focussed on passenger sales from day-one. ''Product will not be a problem, the challenge will be pricing the right vehicles for our market,'' says Chin- nappa. ''Chery will, over a relatively short time, expand rapidly.'' driving The Chery vehicles are surprisingly ordinary. That's a good thing because, depending on the final price, they will not be a giant shock or a giant disappointment for Australian buyers. There is none of the total weirdness I saw at Auto China 2010, and nothing snapped or fell off during my trail runs. I have to admit my preview drive in WuHu in China was less than 10 kilometres, on a soaking wet concrete test track, but at least I have now driven the J1, J3 and J11. All three look pretty good --- although you can argue their shape is inspired by Japanese vehicles --- and the quality is acceptable. There is plenty of room for improvement, but only one---aJ3 with a noisy power steering pump --- has a problem which would be obvious to a bargain-basement buyer. The J1 is very small, in the Daewoo Matiz class, but gets along alright, seems well equipped, and has a reasonable gearchange and quality to the plastics and seat materials. The J11, a front-drive SUV, could be the big winner at the right price. It's roomy, goes well enough, and will tap the same vein of Gen- Y buyers that Kia is currently aiming to convert. The J3 is less convincing, with nothing-special looks and quality, and will be up against tough opposition. And by the time it hits Australia the Korean brands, and probably even the cheaper Japanese, will have a counter-strategy in place. It's hard to make any sort of serious judgement on the Chery cars after such a short drive, but the brand is massively enthusiastic on every front and it is committed to global success as part of a sales push which will take its production total to nearly a million cars in 2010. 281 Main Road, Glenorchy Phone: 6213 3315 Hans Kerkvliet 0411 174 411 Robert Heuke 0438 289 277 Hobart Great Wall $23,990. Drive away. The V240 4x2 Ute -- Leather trimmed seats, airbags, CD/radio, ABS/EBD, air conditioning, electric windows, alloy wheels and a 3-year/100,000km warranty... Great. 4x4 $3,000 extra. Metallic paint $350 extra. The Great Cars of China are here! $23,990. Drive away. The X240 4WD -- Leather trimmed seats, airbags, CD/radio/mp3, ABS, climate control, electric windows/mirrors/driver s seat, alloy wheels and a 3-year/100,000km warranty... Great. Metallic paint $350 extra.
April 24th 2010
May 8th 2010