The first Chinese passenger car brand in Australia, Chery, is not quite squashed for the Australian market yet, but is very much on hold.
But it’s not as though Chery had no reason for being in the Australian market.
For most of the time the brand was present in the market, it was offering the country’s cheapest cars in a few different categories.
In the light car class there was the J1, a $9990 driveaway five-door hatchback. Above that was the J3, a Corolla-sized hatch priced at $13,990 driveaway. The brand also sold the nation’s most affordable SUV, the J11, which for the majority of its time in the market was priced at $17,990 driveaway.
However, no new stock of those variants has been brought in for months.
Daniel Cotterill, spokesman for Chery’s distributor, Ateco Automotive, told CarAdvice in no uncertain terms that the plans for the brand haven’t been completely abandoned.
“Chery is paused,” Cotterill asserted. “Quite honestly, that situation can turn around very quickly.”
However, Cotterill admitted that getting the brand back up and running at this point in time is something of a hard task.
“At the moment we’ve got headwinds in terms of currency. The Australian dollar is lower than it has been. At the same time, some of the more established players, particularly the Japanese, have enjoyed a currency advantage with the devaluation of their currency by the Japanese government. So pricing becomes much more difficult.
“Here’s an example – you look at the gap that used to be between a Great Wall ute and say a Mitsubishi Triton. You look at what the gap would be now – it’s nowhere near there, particularly when they had the early model Triton in runout, it was almost one for one.”
Cotterill said that along with pricing, product is the other big sticking point for the brand in Australia.
Chery’s J1 city car suffered a bad reputation in the local market for a number of reasons – poor build quality and lacklustre safety (three-star ANCAP crash rating) among them.
“The other thing that would change that aside from pricing is getting the right products. Chery do have a lot of new-generation product coming through that has a lot more of the technology we would require both in terms of consumer requirements and safety.
“However, getting that in to right-hand drive at a time when they’re undergoing a rationalisation in their own country is a bit tricky,” he said.
The rationalisation of which he speaks is one that centres around the Chery brand in China cutting its costs and maintaining a modern product portfolio without too many models figuratively tread on each others toes.
“Frankly they did lose their way a little bit in terms of brand diversification and myriad of models and so on. They’ve learnt from that, to their credit, they’re back on track with it.
“You couldn’t rule out a couple of good right-hand-drive products at the right price. And that could all happen again.”
Examples of models that could eventuate include a production version of the Chery Beta 5 concept car, pictured above.
Tell us what you think – can Chery feasibly return to the Australian market?