Foton is using our roads and dealers to refine its product before taking on the North American and European markets.

Foton will use the Australian market to test and enhance its products before taking on the European and North American markets, with the Chinese brand affirming its commitment extends beyond chasing sales and profit Down Under.

Speaking to CarAdvice at the launch of its new trucks and the updated Tunland ute, the company’s general manager, Robert Zhang, confirmed the importance of the Australian market.

“Australia and New Zealand are really tough markets,” Zhang said.

“We are really not expecting a lot of volume. But we need this market to enhance the product quality, and at the end of the day the company will go to USA and Europe as well... we will launch in Australian and New Zealand markets as a test bed, to see how good our product is and what we are able to do and what we can improve," he continued.

"It’s critical stuff, we will stay here, we are not expecting volume but we need to be in this market.”

It makes sense for Chinese carmakers to use Australia as a proving ground, given our close proximity and similar timezone. There are also plenty of similarities in customer demand and expectations compared to the European and North American markets.

“We have constant feedback from dealerships, we have customer surveys, whatever the issues and feedback we have, we send to R&D in China and they can see how they can better tune the vehicle.”

Foton already is already testing utes and trucks in the Northern Territory, Western and South Australia. Its next-generation Tunland ute, expected to launch here in the second quarter of 2021, will begin localised testing in August this year.

“We have to test the market and understand what the customer needs, what the market is expecting, we need to live up to the expectations otherwise it doesn’t make sense to us to rush. Our product development and R&D people come every quarter to do the research and have a feedback and discussion with us. They do a circle visit along the country.”

For now though, Zhang says the company’s long term vision for Australia is incremental improvement on its planned 750 sales per year – made up of 500 trucks and 250 utes.

“Our long-term vision it to bring in the new-generation trucks, this year is really a test to see how the market reacts, [gather] customer and dealer feedback... this year we started pretty low, we may not be able to achieve 750 units, next year we will gradually increase 10 per cent every year, that’s the ultimate target for the coming five years."

One company that Foton is hoping to learn a fair bit from is Japanese manufacturer Isuzu, which Zhang admits sets a good example.

“Japanese makers have been in the market for a long time, they are really a good example and benchmark for us, not really a direct competitor for us [yet], we have a long, long way to go, but we have an example to follow.”

Foton is Chinese largest truck manufacturer, with over 300,000 sales in 2018, plus another 60,000 in overseas markets. The company is mostly owned by the Chinese government and was founded in 1996 and currently employs roughly 40,000 workers.