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by Tim Beissmann

The future of Australia’s first and best-selling Chinese vehicle brand, Great Wall, remains up in the air as the long-running dispute between the car maker and its local distributor continues.

Sales of Great Wall’s V-Series utes and X-series SUVs have ground to a halt in recent months. Dealers registered just 73 Great Wall vehicles across the country in the first three months of the year, down from 941 over the same period last year and miles off the 2863 record set in the first quarter of 2012.

Great Wall’s Australian distributor, Ateco Automotive, is understood not to have imported any new vehicles for months, forcing dealers to sell only the stock in their lots.

Both sides are reticent to talk about the origins of the falling out, which has now been complicated by the arrival of Great Wall sub-brand Haval, which will launch as a factory-backed subsidiary rather than managed by an independent distributor in June.

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Speaking with Australian journalists at the Shanghai motor show, Great Wall Motor Company general manager Wang Fengying revealed the company was in negotiations with Ateco and trying to reach a quick resolution.

“This has affected the market sales and the market campaign, but we are trying to establish a long-term strategy and operations in the Australian market,” Wang said.

She said bringing sales of Great Wall vehicles in Australia in-house wasn’t the company’s sole focus, revealing that her company was “willing to work with” Ateco if an acceptable agreement on a long-term strategy could be reached.

Wang said protecting existing Great Wall customers and dealers needed to take priority over stoushes between the manufacturer and the distributor, and guaranteed that Great Wall owners would be protected by the parent company if it reclaimed distribution rights for the brand in Australia.

“Of course,” she said emphatically.

“We will support the customers. We will do our utmost and our best to provide our support in aftersales and spare parts, not only for Great Wall customers but also for Haval.

“We are building the Haval network, we have put in a lot of resources for that. Definitely we are also discussing with Ateco, because we have to guarantee the service of the customers of Great Wall.

“We want the customers of the Great Wall brand to have the confidence [in] the service provided by the Great Wall Motor Company.”

CarAdvice contacted Ateco Automotive about the matter but the company’s spokesman said Ateco would prefer not to comment.

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Haval Motors Australia chief marketing officer Tim Smith agreed that protecting customers and finding a quick solution needed to be the priorities.

“Great Wall’s situation is obviously unfortunate for everyone, it’s obviously a difficult situation,” Smith said.

“We’re still talking intensely with Ateco and we’re in discussions with them to try to rectify and fix the situation as early as possible.

“There’s no time frame to that unfortunately, but both parties want it resolved ASAP, which means that, whatever arrangement we come to, we can get back to servicing the customers and dealers of Great Wall.”

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Smith admitted his fledging division “didn’t know how both brands could work” under the same umbrella at this stage, but revealed more would be made clear in about three weeks’ time when Haval Motors Australia presents its launch plans to Great Wall Motor Company management in China.

“It’s hard to say right now. We’re still working on plans to see how they would integrate locally, so that decision hasn’t been made yet.

“I think it’s important for us not to over-extend ourselves and that means we must focus on Haval right now. It’s important for us as a group to do what we do best, and setting up a dealer network, homologating some products, launching that product effectively, getting the right promotion, gearing a nice niche point for every single model…

“But in saying that we’re doing some study right now to see how it could work and whether we could support it locally.”

If a resolution can’t be reached between Ateco and Great Wall in China, and Haval Motors Australia doesn’t then pick up distribution its staggering sister company, there’s a chance Great Wall would disappear from the local market entirely.

The brand was introduced to Australia in 2009 and has sold more than 40,000 vehicles since then, including 11,006 at its peak in 2012.




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