China emerges from the mist to become a significant player in the auto industry – Report by Chris Mullett 

News reports mentioning trade imbalances and preferential tariff pricing are not generally topics that affect the average person. Export and import decisions are made by industry leaders or Governments, and the first the public knows about it is when a product turns up in the local store − or in this case, a local dealership − with a ‘Made in China’ sticker denoting its country of origin.

Most vehicle buyers in the Australian market have not yet considered buying Chinese, whether it be a passenger car, ute, truck or motorcycle. They have not been exposed to these products in their local high street, and nor do they probably consider the Chinese auto industry to be class-leading.

That position is going to change, and it will change in the short term.

The Shanghai Auto Show provides a window into the world of the Chinese automaker that could produce fear and concern about vehicle manufacturing − if only we had a vehicle manufacturing industry of our own. The population of Shanghai, as reviewed in 2019, is 26.3 million − a full million people more than the entire Australian continent. Back in 1950, it was 4.2 million. Shanghai is the country’s largest city, a global financial hub, and boasts the world’s fourth-busiest airport.

The total population of China is 1.4 billion, and that underscores just what it means when the talk turns to economies of scale. The median age of a population is an index that divides the population into two equal groups: half the population is older than the median age and the other half is younger. With a median age of 37.3 years, China is expanding; with a median age of 37.4 years, Australia is pretty much stagnant.

China is driving its economic expansion by energising large-scale development programmes that create roads, high-speed rail links and new cities and industrial centres. By contrast, Australia isn’t expanding, instead accepting the bickering of politicians and the lack of any long-term planning almost as a force majeure or unavoidable consequence.

RAM Trucks started local remanufacturing of the American-designed ute brand in Victoria and, with a rapid rise in demand, production is expected to reach 30 units a day, making it the largest local vehicle producer in the Australian marketplace, followed by truckmakers DAF, IVECO, Kenworth, Mack and Volvo.

SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation), China’s largest single auto manufacturer, and profiled in this issue of Delivery, last year manufactured 7.05 million vehicles. And SAIC is just one of many automakers gearing up for global expansion, with exports to 46 countries and regions.

The scale of Chinese industry is amazing, the more so when one considers the pace of its development and expansion.

Delivery visited Auto Shanghai 2019, the 18th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition, and through wandering its eight massive clear-span exhibit halls, consistently came across brands of which we had never heard, all of which appear to be designing and manufacturing world-class vehicles across a very broad spectrum.

As mentioned, SAIC is China’s largest automaker and achieved its rapid development through entering into joint ventures with overseas manufacturers to build Volkswagen, Skoda and IVECO, as well as General Motors brands Cadillac, Buick and Chevrolet. Along the way it purchased MG and Rover (rebranded as Roewe) together with LDV, which carries the name of the LCV and SUV products in the Australian market but is exported and sold domestically under the MAXUS brand name.

In commercial vehicles we’ve seen brief attempts to import into Australia from JAC and JMC, together with a current attempt to gain a foothold in the Australia market by Haval and Great Wall, as well as Foton.

Both JAC and JMC failed to establish a base, and without substantial investment it seems that only LDV and Geely, the parent company of Volvo cars, are so far able to achieve major inroads into our market. The reason being, perhaps, that distribution and support services were established by experienced importers, rather than relying on the manufacturer itself.

Acceptance of Chinese-built vehicles is only a matter of time as the brands establish their own reputation, terminate joint-venture agreements with overseas manufacturers, introduce products through existing independent importers, or set up their own factory-owned overseas operations, backed by a firm financial commitment.

SAIC under its LDV banner showcased its commercial vehicle line-up branded as MAXUS (excepting Australia and NZ), and with its passenger car line-up the company reinforced its position in the development of electric drive, electric control and battery technologies. Its FCV80 hydrogen fuel cell-powered version of the V80 minibus was presented to overseas guests at a recent function in China, and 55 EV80 units with pure electric power and zero emissions have been supplied for trial by Guangzhou SF Express.

The RV80, a recreational version of the V80, has been supplied as a fully factory-built motorhome to camper hire operators in New Zealand; meanwhile, 236 vehicles comprising G10 and V80 models have been supplied to Australia Post. In European markets, major retailer IKEA is currently operating EV80 models with pure electric power in Frankfurt, Kamen and Warau, as well as in Shanghai and the United Kingdom. The V80 is also available with specialist factory fitment for use as an ambulance, recreational vehicle camper, school bus, refrigerated vehicle, rescue vehicle and police command vehicle.

The LDV T60 ute range is gaining ground in the Australian market and is available globally as a single cab-chassis and single- and dual-cab ute.  A new four-cylinder single-or twin-turbo-diesel was on display at Shanghai, with safety features such as ABS and electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), driver and front passenger airbags and four-wheel disc brakes.

The V90, displayed at the Shanghai Show, moves on from the V80 to introduce a modular platform that offers front- or rear-wheel-drive configuration with electrically powered steering for left- or right-hand-drive nations and is capable of being powered by a variety of fuel sources drawn from pure electric, hybrid, fuel cell, diesel or petrol engines.

Fitted with the latest generation of intelligent inter-connectivity systems called Smart Spider 3.0, developed in conjunction with Bosch, it provides a customised fleet management function with real-time view and analysis on 11 different dimensions from two aspects of fuel economy and safety for fleet management and maintenance requirements.

Advanced systems can provide remote start functions for pre-heating the vehicle in cold-climate operation and safety features such as adaptive cruise control, AEB (Autonomous Emergency Braking) and visual analysis by cameras able to react to a situation faster than a human.

Power comes from the twin-turbo version of the new SAIC-designed and manufactured D20 diesel engine, which replaces the current VM Motori diesel engine of the V80.

The D20 produces 130 kW of power with peak torque rated at 400 Nm at 1500 rpm. High pressure, common rail fuel injection of 2000 bar is a first for a Chinese manufacturer, offering a power increase of 30 percent and a 15 percent improvement in low-speed torque. The latest generation of the Bosch MD1 ECU can create up to eight fuel injections per cycle to achieve precise combustion control, reducing fuel consumption by 20 percent, with full compliance to Euro 6 emissions legislation.

With the launch of V90, LDV will be able to offer up to 100,000 different configurations of customisation, with front- or rear-wheel drive, single or dual rear wheels, seat numbers, body configurations, transmission choices of 6AT, 6AMT and 6MT options.

Throughout the eight exhibition halls it was possible to evaluate a considerable number of commercial vehicle makes. JAC offers its N-Series light and medium duty truck range, plus a Transit-sized panel van, the X200 cab chassis, and medium to heavy-duty trucks.

Changfeng Motor is wholly owned by the GAC Group and produces Mitsubishi Pajero variations under licence, plus the Leopard CT7 – itself a variation of the Mitsubishi ute. Engine choice is limited to a 1.9-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel or 2.4-litre petrol four cylinder, with power outputs of 110 kW at 4000 rpm or 108 kW at 4600 to 5000 rpm. Peak torque ratings are 350 Nm at 1800 to 2800 rpm and 230 Nm at 2600 to 3600rpm respectively. Transmissions are 6MT with the diesel, and 5MT with the petrol.

The FAW (First Auto Works) brand has now divested its car division to a new product name of Bestune, keeping the FAW identity now purely for its range of trucks. The range extends from 4×2 light trucks through to 4×2, 6×2 and 6×4 rigid trucks and prime movers which, in the higher weight ranges, offer 9-litre, 11-litre and 13-litre engines.

Foton Truck in China still produces the Tunland ute, plus a Transit-sized passenger minibus called a Toano, a HiAce-sized panel van it calls the View CS2, and a small cab-chassis light truck called the Gratour T3. The power deal here with Foton is for Cummins ISF 2.8- and 3.8-litre engines, built in China by Cummins/Foton Beijing and with links up the weight chain to Daimler.

Haval, the importer to Australia of the Great Wall ute, used the Shanghai Show to preview its replacement for the current Steed ute range. Due for release in the Australian market by 2020, it’s expected the company will be relying on a seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty it applies to its car line-up, pulled back to a 150,000km limit for commercial vehicle operators.

The extended warranty was introduced to foster better relations with its customers after the lack of confidence experienced by previous owners when the company pulled its distribution agreement from an experienced local importer and decided to go it alone and re-enter the Aussie market as a factory-backed entity.

The new Great Wall ute will be available in three versions to compete in the loosely-termed one-tonne ute segment. As is becoming customary in the current crop of softer off-road ute models, features will include autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control, 360-degree camera, possible multi-link coil-spring rear suspension and rear disc brakes.

While retaining a ladder-frame chassis, there appears to be some product sharing with the Haval H9 SUV by way of the same platform to include independent double-wishbone coil-spring front suspension and, for more commercial or adventurous applications, a leaf spring live rear axle.

Expected power alternatives should provide a choice between the 180 kW, 2.0-litre petrol engine used in the H9 or a 145 kW, 2.0-litre turbo-diesel. Transmission options include a six-speed manual and a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, with four driving modes: auto, economy, sport and 4-low, plus an electric/auto park brake system.

The off-road model could arrive fully equipped with a winch, snorkel, crawl mode and front and rear diff locks.  Dimensions are 5425 mm length, 1972 mm width and 1893 mm in height, sitting on a wheelbase of 3230 mm.

The enthusiasm for EV models in China has dropped commensurate with a reduction in Government incentives to purchase, plus there’s a noticeable concern amongst vehicle makers of a potential shortage of minerals required for battery manufacture. That said, Great Wall has suggested that an EV model and a Hydrogen Fuel Cell version could be available from launch in 2020.

While the Chinese manufacturers are well on their way to developing EV or HFC alternatives, the rapid rate of improvement in range and accessibility could well shift the focus towards HFC technology sooner than we first thought possible.

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