This is the week where Australia’s monthly new car sales are released, and while most eyes are elsewhere, a battle for supremacy of a different kind is being waged.
The battle in question is between a pair of fledgling Chinese brands. In the blue corner we have the established champion Great Wall, to this point the only one out of several Chinese contenders that has made any headway locally.
In the red corner we have hungry up-and-comer Foton, maker of a larger and more ‘premium’ ute, and a company that has recently inked a new distribution deal with independent company Ateco, which interestingly also distributes Great Wall.
And last month, in what must be called a (minor) shift to the status quo, Foton’s single model line-up outsold Great Wall’s two-model range and thereby assumed the mantle as Australia’s top-selling Chinese vehicle maker.
According to VFACTS figures, Foton sold 102 Tunland utes (92 in more expensive 4x4 guise) in November, whereas Great Wall sold 78 cars, comprising 56 V-Series utes and 22 X-Series SUVs.
Yes, we are talking small numbers, but considering Great Wall has been generally synonymous in Australia with the notion of Chinese car brands of any stripe, its defeat at the hands of the relatively unknown Foton is interesting.
For some perspective, Great Wall sold 331 units in November last year, while Foton under its previous distributor didn’t even submit its figures to VFACTS at all. At its peak in 2011, Great Wall sold 926 units for the month.
Great Wall sales this year are in fact down 58.4 per cent, and are a fraction of what they were a few years ago.
Why? The reasons are numerous. Mainstream brands from Japan and South Korea are now offering sharper deals than ever, while currency flows have not favoured Ateco (which buys Great Wall from China in US dollars). Great Wall also has an aged product line-up and has taken image hits from recalls.
By comparison, the Foton Tunland is cheaper than it was under its previous distributor — though still costs more than the Great Wall V-Series, Tata Xenon or Mahindra Pik-Up — and it features a newer design and a decent Cummins diesel engine.
Ateco’s spokesman for Chinese brands Daniel Cotterill told us today that numerous things had gone against its Great Wall distributorship in recent times. As we reported a few months back, its plans for a wider product rollout were shelved.
“With Great Wall we’ve had some well-documented success but also some well-documented issues. But I think its fair to say you could attribute to Great Wall the basis of generating the competition that has come home to roost," Cotterill said.
“Look at comparative pricing between more established brands to a Chinese entrant now compared to 2009 and you’ll see a much tighter position. We’re in the currency business as much as the car business.”
Disadvantageous movements between the Australian and US dollars have been amplified by Japan’s policy of devaluing the Yen. It’s created a perfect currency storm that has eroded Great Wall’s value message, and this along with its weary product has yielded the sales result you see here.
Incidentally for followers of Chinese brands, Chery sold 24 cars in November (down 58 per cent).