Chinese crank up pressure on established brands

REMEMBER the Chery vehicles of about a decade ago?

If the name doesn’t ring the proverbial bell, well, you’re not alone.

The Chinese vehicles came as quite neat hatchbacks and an SUV, but despite being the most affordable on the market, the brand disappeared after failing to impress safety authorities and Australia’s buyers — notoriously sceptical of anything out of the ordinary.

However, they’ve become big news in South Africa and they are sure to be back with a vengeance in Australia within a few months with several smart new SUVs.

Chinese brands are now powering ahead and are emerging as a significant threat to the established carmakers on South Africa’s sales charts.

This time last year South Africa’s best-selling Chinese car was the Haval Jolion, but it has since been overtaken by the very similar-looking Chery Tiggo 4 Pro which took top honours in the second half of 2022, with a monthly average of 771 sales. 

It was closely followed by the Jolion, which averaged 697 sales per month, while Haval’s H6 was in third spot with 491 units a month.

The figures are certainly impressive and the Chery Tiggo 4 is already nipping at the heels of the Volkswagen T-Cross, the nation’s third-best selling SUV, which averaged 866 a month during that period. 

Vehicle model names differ from those we know in Australia, but for the record, the new Chery beat the Renault Kiger, which tied with the Jolion at 679 units a month, while both Chinese contenders beat the Suzuki Vitara Brezza (636), Renault Magnite (598), Hyundai Venue (559) and Ford EcoSport (427).

There’s also serious talk of some Chinese contenders setting up production plants in South Africa, from where they can be exported to countries to the north and overseas.

Editor of the IOL Motoring website Jason Woosey, said: “Let’s just hope that at some point they put their money where their mouths are and start building vehicles in this country. Toyota, Volkswagen, Ford and Nissan contribute hugely to the local economy while providing thousands of jobs.

“Another one to watch is BAIC with its striking new X55 that was launched late last year, and is also looking set for local production at the new Koega facility in the Eastern Cape.”

And how do Chinese bakkie (ute) sales compare?

“It would appear that when it comes to our beloved bakkies, South Africans prefer to stick with the tried and trusted,” Woosey said.

“The country’s best-selling Chinese pick-up in the second half of 2022 was the GWM Steed, with a monthly average of 361 units putting it ahead of its more modern P-Series rival (which managed 268) and underlining the country’s need for more affordable bakkie options.

“However, these sales figures still pale in comparison to South Africa’s locally-manufactured bakkies.

‘Toyota, for instance, sold an average of 2702 Hilux bakkies in the second half of 2022, followed by the Ford Ranger (1752), Isuzu D-Max (1654), Mahindra Scorpio (698) and Nissan Navara (516).

“But China does reportedly have a potential ace up its sleeve. 

“It is believed Chery is planning to launch a range of Tiggo-badged unibody bakkies in South Africa and if they come in at the right price, they could certainly spark a lot of interest.”

Five years ago, China was not even in the Top 10 vehicle manufacturing sources for Australia, but the rise since then has been meteoric.

Cars from China overtook those from Germany and the US two years ago and the country is now the fourth largest source of motor vehicles for Australia.

MG, Great Wall Motors-Haval and LDV have made massive inroads into the local new-car market in the past few years.

MG, owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC) last year sold close-on 50,000 new motor vehicles in Australia, more than triple MG’s annual tally in Australia three years ago. 

It outsold Hyundai and Mitsubishi to rank fifth outright in December, 2022 new-car sales, its highest result to date – and finished the year in seventh place, ahead of Isuzu, Subaru and Volkswagen.

And GWM sold 25,000 of its Havals in Australia in 2022, more than five times its annual tally just three years ago.

The times, Bob Dylan once sang, are a-changin’.

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