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Geely on countdown for Australian launch

Coming: Geely's Emgrand EC7 has been earmarked as one of three models to give the Chinese brand a flying start in Australia in 2010.

Chinese car importer has three models in pipeline for 2010, including Cruze rival

26 Jan 2010

CHINESE car brand Geely expects to have three sharp-priced models on the Australian market within 12 months, including a Holden Cruze-sized small car designed and engineered to satisfy western buyers.

Although the scheduled launch in Western Australia of the pioneering 1.5-litre Geely MK light car – Australia’s first Chinese-made passenger car – has been pushed out from its original launch date this month to around May, Australian Geely importer Chinese Automotive Distributors is already at work on proposals for at least two more models – the 1.0-litre Panda mini car and the 1.8-litre Emgrand EC7 small car.

An executive of the Perth-based Geely importer has already driven the EC7 in China and has given it rave reviews, according to the owner of the Australian Geely distributorship, West Australian businessman and multi-franchised car-dealer John Hughes.

“We should get that later in the year,” Mr Hughes told GoAuto. “We are also looking to bring in as soon as we can the Panda – the little one-litre – so there is a fair bit in the pipeline.

“We are extremely bullish about the product, even more so now with the Volvo relationship.” Geely Automobile parent company Zhejiang Geely Holdings Group is set to formally take ownership of Swedish car-maker Volvo from Ford Motor Company in May – a move that Mr Hughes said would add credibility to the Chinese brand as it expands into international markets, including Australia, where dealer recruitment is about to start on the east coast in readiness for a simultaneous January 2011 launch in the big markets of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide – six months after the toe-in-the-water debut in WA.

203 center imageFrom top: EC7 sedan, hatch and interior EC8, Geely MK and Panda (bottom).

“You can’t go wrong with having a linkage to the Volvo name,” said Mr Hughes, who was instrumental in the introduction of the Hyundai brand into Australia as a director of the original Hyundai importer, Bond Motor sales, in the 1980s.

“When we are going east and getting dealers, I believe it will be a plus for us – no question it will be a plus for us.” Geely sales will start with the MK sedan from three WA dealerships once the first shipment arrives in about April.

The Geely MK was to have received Australian Design Rule (ADR) approval last year for an early-2010 launch, but that was delayed several months and is now scheduled for the second week of February in Perth.

Mr Hughes said the type-approval inspection of the Geely MK ‘SUTI’ (single uniform type inspection) example should be a formality.

He said Geely Automobile Holdings factory representatives would fly in for the process.

Production of the first shipment of Australian-spec MK stock would then follow, with cars being loaded on to a car carrier for April delivery in readiness for the May-June retail launch in WA.

Mr Hughes declined to say how many cars would make the first shipment, but he said all would be five-speed manual because of a delay in the automatic transmission variant.

He said he hoped stocks of automatic cars would follow in the second shipment, within a few weeks of the first, and be on sale by mid-year.

GoAuto understands that the automatic transmission delay is because the Australian importer wants to start with a new-generation automatic transmission that is about to come on stream. That requires separate ADR approval.

Mr Hughes said he would take the opportunity of the visit by the Geely Automobile representatives to discuss plans for the Panda, which is also known as the LC-1.

He said no date or price had been set yet for the four-seat city car, which might end up rivaling price-leading cars such as the Proton S16 and Suzuki Alto as Australia’s cheapest car.

“I’ll be in a better position to talk about it once I have met with the people from China next month,” he said.

The Panda styling is reportedly inspired by the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games panda mascot, hence the name. In Australia, it is likely to end up being called another name, possibly LC, due to complications over the Panda name, which is claimed by Fiat.

While the Panda recently was awarded five-stars under China’s NCAP (new car assessment programme), Mr Hughes cautioned that the result might not automatically translate into a five-star result in Australia.

However, the Panda apparently already has EU type approval, and is also set to go on sale in New Zealand within months.

Mr Hughes said he originally had hoped to begin east coast sales of Geely by the second half of 2010, but because of the delay in the Geely MK start up, that also would be delayed.

He said it made sense to start east coast operations in early 2011 with fresh stocks of 2011-plate cars.

Depending on the arrival date of the Panda and the EC7, the eastern dealers might start with up to three models.

The front-wheel-drive Emgrand EC7 – a new 1.8-litre entrant that went into production last year at Geely’s Ningbo plant, south of Shanghai – is powered by a 102kW/172Nm four-cylinder engine and offers both manual and automatic transmissions.

Sales of the sedan started under Geely’s upmarket Emgrand sub-brand in China in August, and the hatchback has just hit the market in left-hand-drive guise.

The sedan sits on a wheelbase of 2650mm – slightly shorter than that of the Cruze – but measures 4635mm overall – about 35mm longer than the Holden small car. The EC7 is also a substantial 273mm longer than the Honda City-sized Geely MK light car, setting it one class above the range pipe-opener.

Made at an advanced plant built with input from Subaru manufacturer Fuji Heavy Industries, the EC7 is expected to go into right-hand drive production for export to the UK in the final quarter of this year, meaning Australia might be able to tap into deliveries before the end of the year.

Designed to accommodate the larger frames of western people, the car is said to have been engineered to qualify for a Euro NCAP four-star safety rating, and is armed with six airbags and both Euro and US emissions compliance.

In China, Geely also is set to launch a larger model, the Camry-sized 2.4-litre EC8, which is to spawn two derivatives, the EV8 people-mover and the EX8 SUV. The EC8 even boasts a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Geely is expected to wheel out more models for its expansive range at this year’s Beijing motor show, starting on April 23.

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