Price: $32,990 to $39,990
The Chinese acquired Maxus, which has a deep history in the form of British Leyland DAF Vans, in 2010. The van was originally launched in 2004 as an LVD Maxus and built in Poland, it was once moved to Birmingham, and now, following a takeover by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC Motor), to Wuxi in China’s Jiangsu province.
Over an 18-month period the Chinese packed up almost the entire Birmingham factory and reassembled it in China. Following the 2012 Beijing motor show we headed south to visit Maxus’ Wuxi plant and drove a right-hand-drive Maxus V80 van, one very similar to what we will see in Australian dealerships later this year.
SAIC Motor, which last year produced more than four million vehicles (or just under, depending on who you ask), is one of China’s biggest vehicle manufacturers. It has its hands in everything from joint partnerships with international brands such as Buick, Chevrolet, Iveco, Skoda and Volkswagen to ownership of MG and Maxus. For the most part the company is simply doing all it can to meet the enormous demand of the local market, but there’s great ambition for expansion into international markets.
The initial Australian launch of the Maxus V80 will see seven variants in dealerships comprising of four passenger models and three cargo variants. Although the Chinese manufacture the V80 to pretty much any need (including prisoner transport, school bus and even super-luxury VIP models), Australian delivered V80s will initially include two 11-seaters – a short wheelbase version (4950mm total vehicle length) and a luxury-spec long-wheelbase (5700mm). In addition, two 15-seaters – standard roof (2345mm tall) and high roof (2552mm) versions, both on the long-wheelbase will also be available.
Prices are yet to be confirmed but CarAdvice believes they will start well below similarly specified competitors with the entry-level cargo van and passenger variants coming in around $30,000 to $35,000.
Technicalities and price aside, the point of our visit was to see just how these Maxus V80 vans are made. After all, despite the relative success of Great Wall (and Chery to a lesser extent) in the Australia market, Chinese cars are still a new concept to many buyers. Although it will launch here as a brand new vehicle, the V80’s research and development was done a while ago, which means the production process has been fine tuned over the years both in Europe and now in China.
The Maxus plant in Wuxi has so far produced around 5,000 V80s with more than 60 percent exported to other parts of Asia and even South Africa. Australian distribution will be handled by WMC group in Sydney, which also brings in Higer buses (and may even end up with new MG vehicles in a few years time).
Given its European roots, the manufacturing of right-hand models is a non-issue with both right and left hand drive V80s coming down the same production line. All are powered by a 2.5-litre diesel engine designed by Italy’s VM Motori but assembled locally by Shanghai diesel. With 100kW of power and 330Nm of torque, the V80s provide sufficient power to get going and are relatively peaceful inside (at least in the passenger model we tested). At the time of our visit only manual V80s were being produced but we are told that an automatic transmission will be available in the Australian market for launch.
Around the unusually clean Wuxi factory an army of Chinese workers currently work one shift per day to assemble the V80s. Maxus says it can produce up to 50,000 vans a year on two shifts and that number can be further tripled if there is high demand. In charge of the Wuxi plant operation is a man who’s spent more than a decade inside Volkswagen’s passenger car operations and a few years with General Motors. His aim is to produce commercial vehicles with passenger car standards, a noble goal for a company still in its infancy.
Given the factory is a near identical replica of the Birmingham operation, it looks pretty much like any other vehicle manufacturing plant we’ve been to, except we didn’t see much automisation. The company plans to expand the V80 range with a long-wheelbase chassis and dropside cab in the near future.
Behind the wheel the first thing we noticed was the lack of steering adjustment, but were pleasantly surprised by the smooth manual gearbox and relatively competent steering. Around the cabin the build quality is not exactly Ford Transit standard but it’s not far off. Maxus will throw in alloy wheels, reverse parking sensors, dual sliding side doors, rear barn doors on cargo models and electric entry step for passenger models, LED daytime running lights and dual-zone air-conditioning as standard equipment across the range. A reverse-view camera and tyre pressure monitoring system are available on the higher-spec models.
With slightly fewer restrictions on commercial vehicles, Maxus will not equip V80s with electronic stability control. Nonetheless, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, EBD and BA as well as dual front airbags will be available.
The success of the Maxus V80 series will depend on a number of things but most importantly on market perception of Chinese vehicles. With Higer buses having performed better than many would’ve expected, there’s a chance the V80’s unique selling point may not be just its price.