The General Motors (GM) decision to pull out of right-hand drive markets could kickstart Great Wall's aggressive push into the Australian market.
Having yesterday officially withdrawn from the Australian and Thai markets, GM announced Chinese brand Great Wall Motors has committed to buying the Thai plant currently supplying the Holden Colorado dual-cab ute and seven-seat Trailblazer SUV.
Great Wall has set huge sales goals for its latest dual-cab ute, claiming the as-yet unnamed load-lugger has been engineered to be one of the world's three top-selling utes.
Purchasing the GM plant in Rayong, Thailand, is a sign Great Wall is serious about hitting that goal.
With sales slowing in the Chinese car market, growing in ute-crazy south-east Asia (ASEAN) and Australia – where the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux are consistently the best-selling cars in the country – will be critical for Great Wall going forward.
Thailand – dubbed the Detroit of south-east Asia – will be a manufacturing hub from which it can drive that growth.
It will also see Great Wall building cars in the same place Toyota, Isuzu, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, and Ford produce their dual-cab utes, allowing the Chinese brand to tap into Thailand's vast supply chain and manufacturing knowledge.
"Great Wall Motors will expand through the entire ASEAN region with Thailand as the centre, and export its products to other ASEAN countries as well as Australia," the company said yesterday in a statement.
The first signs of Great Wall's bold international aspirations came at the 2019 Shanghai motor show, where the company's Australian chief operating officer said the brand "is seriously seeking to develop the outside China business".
"In the past, Great Wall had a huge growing chance in the domestic market, so the Great Wall brand focused on the domestic market," he said. "Now, the situation has totally changed."
The GWM purchase of GM's Rayong plant hasn't gone unnoticed by Australian dealers, many of which run Great Wall and Haval showrooms alongside Holden dealerships.
"If you don't think the might of China is going to arrive, you're very naive," one dealer told CarAdvice.
"Buying the plant shows a lot of forward thinking," the dealer said, arguing it's an "obvious sign" Great Wall is going to give Australia and south-east Asia a "decent crack" – even if demand in China picks up again.
"Hopefully Great Wall can fill a few Holden dealership holes," the dealer told CarAdvice.
Great Wall Australia acknowledged the agreement to buy the Rayong plant, but said "at this stage we don't have anything to share" when asked about plans for the factory.
The company sold 1401 cars in Australia last year, up from 784 in 2018. Its only model is the bargain-basement Steed ute (pictured above).
Thailand isn't the only place Great Wall has swooped on GM's unwanted assets. Last month, it bought The General's last factory in India with plans to produce electric vehicles and SUVs.