Chinese newcomer LDV is hard at work developing a new ute for the Australian market.
The Chinese company – which currently sells the G10 van (pictured) and people-mover and the larger V80 commercial van – is looking to expand its footprint in Australia with a ute model that will no doubt follow a similar formula to the models it currently sells.
As such, the as-yet-unnamed LDV utility vehicle will be sharply priced. The brand’s van models start at $29,990 driveaway.
Pricing for the ute is still to be confirmed, but it is likely to sit alongside vehicles such as the Foton Tunland, sold here under the same distributor as LDV. The Tunland starts at $21,990 driveaway in single-cab 4x2 guise and tops out at $29,990 driveaway for the 4x4 dual-cab, and is pictured further down the story.
Daniel Cotterill, Ateco Automotive Australia's public affairs consultant for Asian brands told CarAdvice that plans for the new ute are well advanced, and that the vehicle is slated for arrival within about 18 months.
“Late 2016 is the goal, but more realistically I think early 2017,” Cotterill said, before going on to explain how the process of coming up with a ute was spurred by simply asking what was possible of parent company SAIC Motor Corporation Limited, a company that has ties with General Motors and Volkswagen in its home country.
“When SAIC started to work with us on LDV we had discussions with them about all sorts of vehicles,” Cotterill said. “The existing V80, their forthcoming people-mover, which is the G10 – that’s where the idea of the goods van came from, by the way – from that discussion came the idea of a ute.
“They then sent a working group of a good half-dozen or more people out here, including engineers and others, to look in to what Australians want from a ute.
“That’s meant talking to dealers, looking at competitors' utes, looking at all sorts of things.
“Over time – they’ve had a number of trips here – they've gone in to a lot of detail, and they’re hard at work back in China coming up with the LDV ute,” he said.
The vehicle is being developed first and foremost for the Australian market, but it could also be used in other developed markets with the requirement for right-hand drive.
As for what the vehicle will look like, or indeed what underpinnings it will have, that remains unknown. However, it is likely that the ute will be built on a ladder-frame chassis that may already underpin a domestic market SUV.
“The architecture that underpins it, I’m not certain about,” said Cotterill. “But we’ve seen in the past that an SUV and a ute sharing a ladder chassis can be a fairly interesting combination. It makes sense, the powertrain and so on is already set.
“They’ve come out here with, I think, a very open mind, just to look and see what’s here, what do these guys want, and how do we do that.
“Of course they’ll go away and look at their own inventory of different vehicle architectures and decide what they can do,” he said.
Cotterill said the move to have LDV investigate the Australian market comes down to the freedoms with which the company can explore.
“Australia’s a good test market for a bunch of reasons. You’ve got all the consumer and legal requirements common in other western markets – Europe and the United States, wherever you choose – but we’re on a scale where you can experiment on an economically viable basis.
“While certainly they’ve come here to do their research, they have a good relationship with us, and hopefully [by 2017 when the ute launches] they’ll have a nice ground of commercial success to go ahead with it and then use it elsewhere.”
Cotterill suggested that there’s a strong degree of trust between Ateco Automotive and LDV’s parent company SAIC.
“They’ve got joint-ventures with Volkswagen and GM, they are an enormous player in the Chinese car industry.
“They’ve got a lot of depth in their engineering and their production capacity. Of course we’d like to expand links with them.
“We do have a good relationship with them now – you’ve got to keep it in perspective, though. Australia is still a long way away. We’re a small market. We’re right-hand drive. So, getting corporate attention is not always easy.”
However, it appears highly likely that LDV will continue to explore the Australian market potential moving forward, according to Cotterill, with the possible disbandment of the Australian Design Rules in favour of simpler global rules surrounding the safety and specification to which cars sold here are judged by.
“You wouldn’t develop a car just for one country. The way things are going, with Australian manufacturing ceasing within a few years, I’m not certain we’ll persevere with unique Australian Design Rules given we’re already aligning with the ECE,” he said of the European standards.
“I think it’ll level things out quite a lot in that space,” Cotterill said.
As for the LDV brand, Cotterill admitted there’s little clarity from the distributor’s’ end.
“I really don’t know what SAIC’s long-term plans are for that brand [LDV],” he said, before going on to suggest that it would seem relatively logical to offer both commercial and passenger vehicles, as it is with the G10 van and people-mover (the latter of which is available with seven or nine seats).
“The day will come – and it’ll be based on quality, I think – when the transition from commercial to passenger becomes less of a challenge,” Cotterill said.
“I reckon you’ll see it in the G10, with the underpinnings of folk who are good enough to deal with Volkswagen and GM, I’ll be interested to see what you think of the van.”
Stay tuned for that.