Great Wall’s Australian expansion is on hold indefinitely, with the local distributor of the Chinese brand putting the brakes on the H6 and all other potential new models.
Great Wall importer Ateco Automotive initially planned to launch the mid-sized H6 SUV late last year, but spokesman Daniel Cotterill said an unsatisfactory business case meant the model was off the local division’s agenda at least in the short term.
“In the final analysis of specification and price, when you look at what else is available in this market … it just didn’t make sense to do it, at least not at the moment,” Cotterill revealed.
He said Great Wall and Ateco remained optimistic, however, that a change in market conditions could make the case for the H6 viable.
“Things can change quite quickly in this business. If there was an appreciable shift in the currency situation – either ours versus the US dollar, which is what we buy cars in, or the Japanese currency, which was devalued some time ago by their government which allowed the Japanese brands to be extraordinarily price competitive compared with where they were some time ago – those sorts of shifts as much as anything else could yet make the difference for vehicles like that.”
Documents seen by CarAdvice reveal Great Wall had plans to introduce front- and all-wheel-drive variants of the 4.6-metre-long H6 SUV, both powered by a 105kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine.
Cotterill also confirmed Great Wall’s first planned compact passenger model, the VX10 city car, was off the table for similar reasons.
“We would have liked to have gotten that to market but … for us as an independent distributor we need to get them both at the spec that is suitable for this country, so equipment level, safety, design appeal, the whole range of factors that make a car saleable, and at the right price.
“If you don’t have any of those factors correct, if the fundamentals of a particular offering aren’t correct, then people just won’t buy it, and there’s not much point importing cars and giving them to dealers if people won’t buy them.”
Great Wall had plans for manual and CVT versions of the 70kW 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-powered VX10, which would have competed at the very bottom of the market against the likes of the Mitsubishi Mirage and Suzuki Alto.
“That car, both cars actually, were put together very nicely,” Cotterill said of H6 and VX10 test vehicles brought to Australia while assessing them for our market. “I remember the early prototype of the VX10 we looked at was particularly impressive, and the H6 was also very good.”
Cotterill said troubles with Great Wall in its home market meant the company had been forced to prioritise its business in China before focusing on overseas markets like Australia.
“Great Wall has got some other issues on its plate at home, the launch of the H8 that didn’t quite go as they’d hoped, so I think they’re now focused on their domestic market at least in the immediate future to get things back on track there.
“We’ll keep looking at any new models that they present for our consideration, but as I say they have to be the right spec at the right money if they’re going to work in this market. We’ll just persist and keep an eye on new cars and keep an eye on new developments with Great Wall both in a technical and in a business sense, and see where we go.”
Cotterill said the two cars offered by Great Wall in Australia, the V200/V240 ute and the X200/X240 SUV, would continue to receive “small, under-the-surface product improvements” but said there were “no specific model changes or updates” planned for either model.
He admitted the brand’s stagnant range was largely to blame for its dismal 2014 sales, which have more than halved so far this year, down from 4222 to 1880 to the end of July.
Cotterill said the poor numbers were disturbing, but said Great Wall was committed to succeeding in Australia in the long term.
“It’s always a concern when you don’t sell as many cars as you’d like to, and it comes back to the fact that we can do nothing.
“There’s a model range that we have not been able to expand as we would like – we would dearly have liked to have seen that small car on sale, and the H6.
“We’d like to be more competitive in terms of price – the brand was quite successful when there was a bigger gap between the price of a V200 ute, for example, and its more established competitors. When you don’t have that gap it’s a more difficult proposition out in the market.
“It’s hard work. It’s been hard work for us, hard work for Great Wall and hard work for our dealers, but we need to persist and look to a time when various factors change and our level of competitiveness is improved.”