Motoring magnate John Hughes will use WA to launch ZX Auto in Australia. It is the second Chinese brand Mr Hughes has brought into Australia through Chinese Automotive Distributors and the second time he has used WA to test the waters.
He became the first importer to sell a Chinese-built passenger car in Australia with the release of the Geely MK sedan in January.
ZX Auto is a commercial vehicle specialist and will become the sixth Chinese brand to be sold in Australia, joining Great Wall, Geely, Chery, Foton and JAC. The first ZX model to go on sale will be the GrandTiger one-tonne ute, which will be a direct competitor of the Great Wall V240/V200 ute range.
While it eventually will be available with the choice of petrol or diesel engines, with the option of manual or automatic transmissions, at launch the only combination available will be a Mitsubishi-sourced 93kW 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder engine matched to a five-speed manual gearbox. It will be available with the choice of single or double-cab configuration in both four and two-wheel-drive.
Mr Hughes said he was hopeful a 2.5-litre turbo-diesel would be available before June.
While he was not prepared to release pricing details, he guaranteed it would be "extremely competitive" against the Great Wall range.
Great Wall utes are the cheapest on the market with a starting price of $17,990 drive-away for the petrol single cab and $22,990 for the dual-cab model. To get into a 4x4 model costs an additional $3000 while the diesel engine adds a further $2000. There is no automatic transmission available.
A fleet of 20 GrandTigers is already being tested in WA as part of a product quality evaluation program and to test modifications made by Melbourne-based Prodrive Engineering.
Mr Hughes said Prodrive had been given the task of tuning the ride and handling of the utes to ensure they were suited to the Australian conditions.
Sixty production vehicles, which had received ADR approval, were expected to be here before the end of next month.
Mr Hughes said he was having a new showroom built, on the corner of Geddes Street and Albany Highway, and was aiming initially to sell about 60 vehicles per month. There eventually would be three regional ZX Auto dealerships, in Rockingham, Bunbury and Geraldton.
Mr Hughes said he would also start to sell the Geely MK sedan and hatch again in October. Sales of the small car stopped last September after all models were recalled to fix a seat and door issue. "We have been working our way through the recalls at a rate of 20 per day," Mr Hughes said. "With the issue now corrected, we will start to sell them again and will have about 200 sedans and 100 hatches available by October."
The 1.5-litre MK, which scored three stars in the ANCAP crash test but cannot be sold in the Eastern States because it is not available with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), is the cheapest small car on the market at $11,990 drive-away for the manual.
The Geely range will be sold nationally when the Toyota Corolla-sized EC7 sedan and hatch are added to the range about June next year.
The 1.8-litre EC7, which scored a four-star safety rating in European NCAP tests, is equipped with ESC, along with six airbags.
Initial cars will have five-speed manual transmission, with a six-speed automatic transmission from DSI - the Australian transmission manufacturer taken over by Geely during the global financial crisis - following about six to eight months later.