Great Wall hasn't exactly hit its straps in Australia since it re-launching with factory distribution.
However, the next-generation ute premiering in 2019/20 as an intended Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger rival will be far, far more convincing based on discussions we've been having with company staffers in Beijing.
It'll be built at a brand new, billion-dollar factory in Yangchuan, within the Chongqing province, alongside a reworked version of the body-on-frame Haval H9 four-wheel drive (top) sold in Australia. Initial annual production will be a claimed 250,000 units.
As such it'll also share an architecture with the body-on-frame H9, in a similar arrangement to the Isuzu D-Max and MU-X, or Ford Everest and Ranger – expect leaf springs in the ute and coils/links in the H9 – and is expected to sport an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Above: Behind the wheel of the current Haval H9
We understand the engine will be a version of the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel unit briefly used in the H9 before being shelved, meaning we can expect outputs of at least 140kW/440Nm – that's what the engine was putting out in its previous application.
Expect a minimum 3000kg braked-trailer towing capacity, and both 4x2 and 4x4 derivatives.
The other ace up Great Wall's sleeve is the potential for a petrol-electric hybrid that'd give it a big point-of-difference, however this business case may hinge on when the company pulls the trigger and enters the US market, where it already has R&D centres in Detroit and LA.
The company is also promising SUV-matching cabin space, luxury and active safety which, if we look at the current H9, is no bad thing. Expect requisite tweaks to update the NCAP safety score from a below-par four on the current H9, to five stars.
Both global Great Wall Motors executives, as well as its Australian division staff, speak about this model with excited tones, as they should. Light commercials have market share nearing 20 per cent here, and the top-two vehicles on sale are the HiLux and Ranger.
You may laugh at Great Wall and Haval’s prospects, but don’t forget the former enjoyed significant success when it launched here in 2009, selling about 40,000 utes and SUVs (the latter is now the province of Haval) over a short tenure, peaking at more than 11,000 units in the year 2012.
Things went pear-shaped from there, as the distributorship moved from an external to in-house provider (blame for the breakdown in after-sales care shifts between the pair), and as rival Japanese utes got cheaper. But, Australians have been receptive to Chinese utes before...