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Chery on a charge with new models

2011-03-16 07:12

SECOND IN LINE: The chunky Chery the J2 - hatch or sedan - has three spec levels and a 1.5-litre engine capable of 80Kw/140Nm..

Author: LES STEPHENSON

 
Chery, China's No.1 domestic automaker, is planning to add three models to its portfolio in South Africa over the next 12 months – a turbocharged "people-mover" and two sedan/hatch combos.

The company has been operating in SA since May 2008 under the aegis of Amalgamated Automobile Distributors (part of the Bidvest/Imperial Motors stable) and, while it doesn't disclose unit sales numbers, does say that the Chinese parent company's exports of 40 000 vehicles in 2009 grew to 90 000 in 2010 despite the world recession.

FOCUS ON QUALIY

That makes Chery China's top domestic-brand exporter and, in SA, the company says sales in 2010 were 70% up on 2009. Further growth of 10-15% is expected during 2011 – with the help of the new models.

Brett Soso, managing director of AAD, said at a media briefing in Cape Town that the company was now concentrating on quality. "It's a key stepping stone to future growth," he emphasised… something which Chinese automakers had at last cottoned-on to and which would be followed by more home-designed cars rather than what he frankly admitted were clones of Japanese and European products.

The company had also, he said, invested the equivalent of R1.5-billion in a new research and development centre.

The new models are the rather prosaically named J2 B-segment sedan/hatch, the C-segment J3 hatchback/sedan and the P10 people-mover which Soso sees as a new entry into the taxi/hospitality/school bus market – though he believes sales of this Toyota Quantum clone will be severely hampered by the inability of taxi owners to get finance and the collapse of the taxi recapitalisation fund.

CHERY J3: This pleasantly handsome model will be imported as a hatch or sedan with a 1.6-litre engine.

The first to arrive will be the J3, both versions fitted with a 1.6-litre engine developing 87kW/147Nm and available in three specification levels – TE, TX and TXE. Launch date is still not final, although the J3 has been SA-homologated already.

Next up will be the J2, also as a hatch or sedan with three spec levels but a 1.5-litre engine capable of 80KW and 140Nm..

The third will be the P10, a 15-seater complying with the taxi recapitalisation regulations it will also be targeted at schools, hotels and the hospitality industry with a turbocharged two-litre petrol engine capable of 125kW and 235Nm.

Taxi sales, Soso said, were only half those of 2008. Many buyers who did manage to get credit, he explained, took delivery, made the first finance payment, then went into debt counselling and took advantage of legally-permitted smaller repayments. Not a situation a finance company likes – and such companies had now fought back by tightening credit controls.

AGAINST THE TREND: Taxi sales are slumping in SA but AAD's Foton brand is going ahead with imports of its P10, 15-seat people mover.

Soso also expects Chery and its sister commercial vehicle company Foton to follow the example of automakers such as Hyundai and Kia in ramping up quality and reliability to "Toyota standards" within four to six years. There would also, Soso emphasised, be a special focus on after-sale service.

Foton already sells the Thunda bakkie range through 20 dealerships in South Africa but Soso warned that within a year a double-cab in two and (for the first time) all-wheel drive would be added to the portfolio to compete with Toyota's Hilux, Isuzu's KB range and Nissan's Hardbodys. These trucks will have a 2.8-litre Cummings turbodiesel engine and be offered in two specification levels.

Chery exports to 80 countries; South Africa is one of its main markets. How long things stay that way, only time will tell, as production costs in China, Soso said, were rising on the back of more-expensive raw materials and R&D costs – but not wages.

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