CHANGE OF FORTUNE

The mist of confusion starts to clear from Chinese and South Korean light commercials aiming at the Australian market.

The Chinese ute and truck manufacturers have certainly been experiencing a roller coaster ride when it comes to exporting their products to the Australian market.

In recent history we’ve seen the arrival of Great Wall, JAC, Foton Ute, Foton Truck, JAC Trucks and LDV vans. Each brand has experienced its highs and lows of acceptance into what is by comparison to China and Third World countries a very sophisticated market where entry-level pricing is not the governing factor to sales success.

Also competitive with the Chinese products, but more readily accepted by Australian buyers, are products from South Korea. Thanks to the high sales volumes and premium quality of Kia and Hyundai car products, Australians embraced these brands more readily, but buyers still showed a degree of hesitancy in relation to purchasing its commercial vehicles.

Kia no longer imports the K2900 cabover light truck due, apparently, to the lack of a suitable Euro V engine. Correspondingly, Hyundai has experienced continuing delays to the Euro V engined versions of its light truck range, but it now appears that supply restrictions have been solved and new models are on their way to dealerships after an absence from the market of over one year.

Another South Korean manufacturer that has experienced its ups and downs is that of SsangYong. A change of distributor from Sime Darby to that of ATECO could change its fortunes, and it remains to be seen if this new focus can attract some more substantial support for the brand than it has experienced in its previous life.

In assuming responsibility for the importation, marketing and distribution of SsangYong products, ATECO has hoisted its colours to show a commitment to developing its light commercial vehicle portfolio. SsangYong now settles into place amidst its ATECO bedfellows of Maserati and Lotus, joining the light commercial brands of Great Wall, Foton Truck, Foton Ute and the passenger car range of Chinese manufacturer Chery.China-Wall_6

SsangYong’s Actyon ute is available in two trim levels, that of the Actyon Tradie and the Actyon SX. Both offer 4×2 as well as 4WD models and they share the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 114 kW of power at 4,000 rpm with peak torque of 260 Nm rated at 2,800 rpm.

Buyers of the Actyon 4×2 can choose between a six-speed manual and automatic transmission, but while the manual 4×4 retains a six-speed gearbox, the automatic 4×4 drops back to a five-speed.

There are inherent safety advantages in selecting the SX, as this comes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, Brake Assist, Active Rollover Protection and Hill Start Assist, all as standard. This list compares to that of the Tradie that doesn’t include any of these items, but does come with ABS, dual SRS airbags and seat belt pretensioners, which are common to both models. Buyers of the SX also benefit from cruise control.

Fuel economy is relatively good from the 2.0-litre diesel, and buyers can expect a combined consumption figure of around 7.3 l/100 km from the 4×2 manual and 7.4 l/100 km from the 4×4.

Where the Actyon does impress is in its ride quality. Although it’s been some time since Delivery got behind the wheel of either the Tradie or the SX, we commented after our last stint that the double wishbone front suspension and coil sprung rear gave a well controlled and supple ride, better than many brands that use semi-elliptical rear leaf springs.

It says something for the acceptance of South Korean products, these days, that SsangYong is currently using a catchphrase of, “SsangYong – Boldly Korean”. They come with a three-year/100,000 km warranty and a three-year/24-hour roadside assist support, and the maximum towing capacity is rated at a sensible 2,300 kg.

Staying with the ATECO stable, and a brief look at Chinese manufacturer Great Wall, illustrates what we mean by the assumption of some vehicle makers that low cost will win the day. Buyers of the early Great Wall products have found to their cost that a low initial purchase price translates to an almost zero re-sale value. There were also early reliability problems and slow supply of parts, especially those required by paint and panel shops that were trying to repair vehicles damaged in accidents.

If you can cope with the name Great Wall, the actual vehicle itself is quite well appointed and suits a tradie that commutes short distances to work, leaving the ute parked up in the street whilst he supplies his labour on site. Driven regularly you’ll soon find you come to like the ute that doesn’t promise anything it can’t deliver.

It’s a little unfair to the brand that sales have plummeted, but, if there’s blame to be attached, in our view it’s due to the reliance on TV advertising that in most cases misses its target. With the plethora of channels available, either free-to-air or cable and satellite, there’s every likelihood that the sales message doesn’t cut through to the buyer. If the target audience is the trade buyer, which is where we believe the volumes lie for Great Wall, then a TV ad campaign is not the answer. Word of mouth and personal recommendation are the keys here to getting the brand back on track.China-Wall_4

The other Chinese brand to hit our market in Foton Ute, and this is a rather different kettle of Asian stew.

Rather than using an old design of four-cylinder diesel that owes its heritage to an outdated Mitsubishi engine, the Foton Ute starts of with the credibility of a genuine Cummins diesel under its bonnet, followed by a Getrag gearbox. Never mind that that these components are manufactured in China, the factories result from joint ventures with the original manufacturers in the United States and Germany and are equal to anything in Europe or North America.

Foton floated onto the Australian market through an early import deal arranged under Foton Automotive Australia (FAA), a totally independent Australian-owned business operated by Queensland entrepreneurs the Phelan family.

One can only imagine the problems encountered by what was at the time a relatively small import concern when it came to negotiating strength and communication with the parent company back in China.

After a short relationship, the responsibility for Foton Ute has switched to niche automotive importers, ATECO, and once again it’s business as usual.

Whereas the original FAA product line-up expanded into single and dual cabs, utes and trays, ATECO has scaled back the product line up to simplify selection and to ease supply to the existing dealership group, which is expected to hit 30 outlets.

The Tunland dual-cab ute is powered by a Cummins 2.8-litre, common-rail, turbo diesel that produces 120 kW, a flat torque curve of 360 Nm between 1,800 and 3,000 rpm, and achieves a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.3 l/100 km.

The Tunland also features a Getrag transmission with Borg Warner transfer case, 4-channel BOSCH ABS braking system with ABS and EBD, and the power-assisted rack and pinion steering provides a boat-like 12.8-metre turning circle. Ratios for the Getrag gearbox are 4.016:1, 2.318:1, 1.401:1, 1.0:1 and 0.778:1, and the final drive ratio of the Dana Dongfeng rear axle, which is common to both models and features a limited slip differential, is 3.91:1.

Other dual-cab features include air conditioning, power windows, a modern multi-input Bluetooth streaming four speaker sound system, alloy wheels, air bags, ABS brakes, engine immobiliser, rear parking sensors and daytime running lights, amongst a long list of others. The 4×4 dual-cab also comes with cruise control, leather trimmed seats and larger 17-inch alloys.

The suspension designs feature coil and wishbone with integral dampers on the front and an alloy main semi-elliptical leaf spring on the rear, backed up by helper-springs that come into play as the load weight increases.

The Tunland dual-cab has a one tonne payload and a two and a half tonnes braked towing capacity, along with a good-sized cargo area and a rugged tray liner on the 4×4. The 4×4 is a competent off-road performer with an unladen ground clearance of 200 mm and approach and departure angles of 28° and 23°.

Pricing is sharp, with the Tunland 4×2 dual-cab retailing at $26,990 drive away, and the 4×4 dual-cab just $29,990 drive away. All Tunland utes are covered by a three-year/100,000 km warranty and backed by 24/7 roadside assistance.

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