NEW INVESTMENT: SA could see the roll-out of locally built Chinese models at Coega, just outside Port Elizabeth, from 2018. Pictured here is a Senova X35. Image: Supplied
Port Elizabeth - Chinese automotive giant BAIC (Beijing Automotive International Corporation) plans to produce up to 100 000 vehicles at its new assembly plant in Coega, close to Port Elizabeth, by 2018.
The state owned vehicle group recently announced it will invest R11-billion in the new Coega plant - scheduled to begin production in November 2017 - making it the biggest automotive investment in the country in the last 40 years.
The auto giant consists of a plethora of affiliates - including BAIC Motor, BAW, Beiqi Foton Motor, Hunasu and Jiangxi Changhe, and also has joint ventures with Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and Suzuki.
Growth in Africa
BAIC has been doing business in South Africa for a while, though.
It started about twenty years ago when for a while BJC (the Beijing Jeep Company) marketed their ageing BJ2020, powered by a Chrysler engine, locally. BJC is nowadays known as Beijing Benz.
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Some BAW one-ton pickups were also imported here in the early 2000’s (they became CAM Rhino later on) before a SAIC company and two local partners in 2012 invested R196-million in a new facility in Springs to assemble 16-seater BAW Sasuka taxis here.
Meanwhile Foton, under the Imperial banner, also entered the SA market with its Tunland bakkie range. Chairman of the SAIC group Xu Heyi, as quoted by china.org.cn, said continued investment in infrastructure development will be key for the company's sustained growth in Africa over the next decade.
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Why invest in SA, Africa?
Heyi said: "We will continue to invest in our South African factories to make pickups and light trucks. Having factories in Africa will help the company move closer to the market and avoid it paying duties of up to 25%, and more than 50% of the plant’s production will be exported."
New Senova, Weiwang models
With Foton and BAW products already available locally it seems the models earmarked for assembly in Coega will be BAIC Motor branded, using its Senova and Weiwang ranges.
After numerous unsuccessful attempts to acquire Western technology SAIC in 2009 managed to take over troubled Swedish carmaker Saab, procuring three platforms (the Saab 9-3 and 9-5’s included), two engines (2.0-litre and 2.3-litre turbo’s) and two transmission systems.
This led to the introduction in 2013 of the Senova D70 and D50, with the smaller D20, mid-size D60 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class based D80 following a year later.
In 2015 a range of SUVs - the X25, X55 and X65 (bases on the Saab 9-3 platform) - followed, but it seems BAIC Motor is set on producing the new X35, introduced in April this year at the Beijing Motor Show, in South Africa.
This model, powered by a four-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine (85kW and 148Nm of torque) mated to a five-speed manual or four-speed auto transmission, fits in between the X25 and X55.
BAIC maintains the X35, with a wheelbase of 2 570mm, has an independently developed platform, but experts are of the opinion it is based on the underpinnings of the Mitsubishi ASX.
Other possible models that may be considered for local assembly includes the BJ Series or E Series, and perhaps even a derivative of the Tunland bakkie…
BAIC is the fifth largest automaker in China in terms of sales, and BAIC Motor has this year up until now sold 232 000 units worldwide, compared to 162 600 in 2015.