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Geely light-car plan goes west

West only: Geely's MK light car has ADR approval, but now will only be offered in Western Australia.

Lack of ESC, auto transmission skittle east coast launch for Geely’s pioneering MK

26 Oct 2010

CHINESE car-maker Geely is set to launch its first car in Australia in the first week of January – but that particular model will only ever be sold in Western Australia.

A lack of optional automatic transmission and unavailability of electronic stability control on the Yaris-sized MK light sedan and hatch has stymied plans by Perth-based importer Chinese Automotive Distributors (CAD) to go national with the 1.5-litre car that received Australian Design Rule (ADR) certification this month.

Instead, east coast Geely dealers will skip straight to the mini LC Panda hatch – a Suzuki Alto competitor – and the bigger, Corolla-sized EC7 sedan and five-door hatchback in the first half of 2011.

Those dealers will also be offered a second line of Chinese-made vehicles – pick-ups and SUVs – from an unnamed vehicle manufacturer that CAD owner John Hughes has told GoAuto he is poised to sign for Australian distributionThat line is also set to begin operations in Australia in the first half of 2011, opening with a dual-cab, petrol-powered ute in 4x2 and 4x4 configurations.

Originally, the Geely operation was to have started in Australia with the MK light car in WA before sales of that vehicle were extended to the east coast in 2011.

But a series of delays in ADR certification – a common occurrence for Chinese car import hopefuls – and unavailability of critical features including auto transmission and ESC – soon to be compulsory in Australia – have convinced Mr Hughes and his CAD team to only offer MK in WA.

“There won’t be an auto, and that’s a downside,” he told GoAuto after returning today from China where one of his staff is making final spec checks on pre-production MK cars.

“That’s why I won’t be bringing the MK into the eastern seaboard. That will be sold in WA only.

“It will be available initially in a four-door sedan and a month or two later we will get the five-door hatch.”

Mr Hughes, a multi-franchised car dealer and businessman who was instrumental in the introduction of Hyundai into Australia in the 1980s, said his company had only a limited window of opportunity with the MK.

“It will never get traction control, and from January 2013 it will not be allowed to be sold,” he said in Melbourne.

“We only have two years, so I would rather wait and appoint dealers on this side (eastern states) of Australia when we have more to offer them.

“We have the LC, which is the Panda, and we are expecting that in the first half of next year, closely followed by the EC7.

“Ideally, I would like to be able to launch them at the Melbourne motor show in July, but even if we don’t have the EC7 in full production we will still have some prototypes there for dealers to look at.”

From November 2011, all new passenger cars and SUVs will have to be fitted with ESC under Australian federal law, while models currently on the market will have a further two years to install the potentially life-saving technology.

Although the Geely MK will be sold only in WA, it will still qualify as the first Chinese passenger car on the Australian market, but only by a matter of days.

Rival Chery is also set to launch its sales in Australia on January 19 after getting regulatory approval for its J1 1.3-litre five-door hatch and larger J11 2.0-litre five-door compact SUV.

Unlike the staggered Geely rollout, Chery is set to be launched nationally through 60 dealers.

The arrival of both Geely and Chery signals the start in earnest of the predicted Chinese invasion, with Australia set to go from just two niche Chinese automotive importers – Great Wall Motors with its ute and SUV range, and bus specialist Higer – to as many as seven Chinese motor vehicle brands offering a full range of cars, utes, mini-vans, SUVs, trucks and even electric vehicles in two years.

Others in the pipeline include Sydney-based White Motor Corporation’s JAC truck brand and at least two more from other independent importers – one from Mr Hughes’ CAD and another from Sydney-based Ateco Automotive, bringing the latter’s Chinese marque stable to three with Great Wall and Chery.

Mr Hughes said he planned to have his east coast dealer network in place in the second quarter of 2011 in readiness for the LC Panda, followed by the EC7 and the unnamed pick-up and SUV range.

“We will be approaching dealers with a two-pronged approach,” he said. “We will have passenger vehicles from Geely and we will have commercial vehicles from this other company.”

The marketing push for the Geely brand starts in WA this weekend with ‘John Hughes Geely’ naming rights sponsorship for the WA Golf Open at the WA Golf Club.

ADR documents show that Geely’s five-seat MK light sedan – known as Kingkong in some markets such as Russia – will be launched in two levels of specification, GL and GT.

Both variants are powered by a 69kW/128Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine mated only with a five-speed manual transmission.

The conservatively styled MK will be equipped with 15-inch wheels with 185/60 tyres, air-conditioning, twin front airbags and remote central locking. The GT adds leather trim, a sunroof and tinted glass, while foglights will be optional.

At 1692mm wide, the MK is lineball with the Toyota Yaris (1690mm), and marginally longer than the Yaris sedan, at 4342mm versus 4300mm. Kerb weight is nearly identical at 1090kg.

Like the Yaris, it employs a central instrument binnacle, but angled towards the driver.

Mr Hughes said the first shipment of MK sedans would arrive in Perth in December in readiness for the local sales debut.

ADR certification for the Geely MK coincided with news from South America of the failure of another Geely model, the CK, in the independent Latin NCAP crash safety tests.

The compact CK – with a domestic Chinese name that translates to Freedom Cruiser – crumpled embarrassingly in the offset barrier test, scoring zero stars out of five for its performance.

The 1.5-litre CK is based on an old hand-me-down, stripped-out Daewoo Lanos that was sold to the fledgling Chinese company after the Daewoo dumped it in favour of the Kalos in 2002.

Chinese C-NCAP video crash tests of the MK show a considerably more robust performance than the CK, with little deformation around the A-pillars and front doors.

The Panda is said to have collected a five-star safety rating in the C-NCAP tests, although those tests are not exactly comparable with similar NCAP ratings in Australia and Europe.

The Geely EC7 five-door hatchback and four-door sedan range is powered by a 102kW 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine.

A compact SUV spawned from the EC7 base, the EX7, is also on the cards for Australia, possibly with a choice of 106kW 2.0-litre petrol and 100kW 2.0-litre diesel engines.

Mr Hughes said he did not yet have an expected launch date for the EX7, saying it would be “the end of the year (2011) at best”.

The RAV4-sized EX7 broke cover as the GX718 concept at the Shanghai motor show last year under Geely’s Gleagle sub-brand. It is now being sold in China under yet another sub-brand, Emgrand.

The Geely EC7 and EX7 are both expected to come equipped with an optional six-speed automatic transmission designed by Australia’s Drivetrain Systems International, which Geely bought last year.

Geely’s Hong Kong-based parent company, Zhejiang Geely Automobile, also acquired Sweden’s Volvo Cars AB from Ford Motor Company earlier this year, establishing itself as a major player on the global motoring stage.

Exporting to more than 30 markets around the world, Geely is one of Chinese biggest automotive exporters, along with Chery and Great Wall.

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