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New Chery J3 from under $15K

Undercut: Chery's small-sized J3 hatch has landed on Australian shores at a price that should scare some of the segment's big players.

China’s Chery releases Corolla-fighting J3 hatch, priced from $14,990 fully loaded

5 Sep 2011

THE Chinese brand that brings us Australia’s cheapest car and the nation’s most affordable SUV now looks set to turn the small-car market on its head by releasing its Corolla-sized J3 hatchback for just $14,990 drive-away.

Despite the sub-$15,000 pricetag – which undercuts many of Australia’s smallest (light-sized) cars let alone the vast majority of comparably sized small cars – the J3 five-door comes fully equipped with a standard specifications list that would shame some entry-level luxury cars.

Standard fare for the J3, which will be available in just one hatch-only version without an automatic transmission, includes full leather seat trim, alloy wheels, six airbags and ABS brakes.

Crucially, however, the J3 is not yet fitted with a potentially life-saving electronic stability control system, which is mandated for all new cars registered in Victoria since January and becomes compulsory for cars sold nationwide from November.

Australian Chery distributor Ateco Automotive admits that – like the J1 light hatch, which continues to be Australia’s cheapest car at just $10,990 drive-away but is not available with ESC – the J3 will not be available in Victoria.

However, Ateco says a dispensation for new models released before November will allow the J3 to be sold in all other states and territories without ESC until 2013.

Ateco spokesman Daniel Cotterill told GoAuto that Chery was working hard to fit ESC to the J3 for the Australian market – as it is for the J1 – but could not say when the leading Chinese export brand’s first ESC-equipped models would arrive here.

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“Compared to the amount of cars they sell at home and to other markets that don’t require ESC, the number of cars we’ll sell here – with or without ESC – is tiny,” said Mr Cotterill. “But that hasn’t stopped them working on ESC cars for our market.” For now, the J3 hatch will join the J1 city-car and J11 city-crossover – which continues to be available for just $17,990 drive-away, making it Australia’s cheapest SUV – in Chery’s network of 45 dealers outside Victoria, where a further 15 will open once all three models become equipped with ESC.

Chery hit headlines last month when it recalled all 702 examples of the J1 sold in Australia at that point to replace the front seatbacks following a below-average three-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

The fledgling Chinese brand attracted the ire of ANCAP when it told GoAuto it believed the new seatbacks would be enough to improve the J1’s crash safety rating from three stars to four.

It said the car’s crash performance had been shown to have “significantly improved” in the company’s own side impact testing.

However, the J1 will not be retested by ANCAP and continues to receive a three-star safety rating from the independent collision safety body, which has also expressed concern about the vehicle’s lack of ESC and advises against purchasing cars with a crash test rating lower than four stars,.

Ateco pioneered Chinese vehicles in the Australian market and also recalled its Great Wall-branded V240 twin-cab ute after its ANCAP test revealed a potential seatbelt problem in December 2009.

A more modern design than the J1 and featuring a greater number of airbags than any other Chinese-built vehicle sold here, the J3 will be powered by a 87kW/147Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine matched exclusively with a five-speed manual transmission.

Known as the A3 in China but rebadged here because of the Audi small car that goes by the same name, the J3 rides on a 2550mm wheelbase (90mm shorter than the Mazda3) and measures 4352mm long, 1794mm wide and 1464mm high.

That makes the 1310kg five-seater hatchback, which rides on 16x6.5-inch alloy wheels with 205/55 tyres and will have a 750kg towing capacity, about 100mm shorter but 40mm wider than the Mazda3.

First shipments of the J3 have now arrived in Australia, with the first of eight separate local ports to receive the latest Chery being Brisbane, where these exclusive images were taken.

GoAuto understands Ateco will formally announce the J3’s release later this week.

While the four-door J3 sedan will not be imported for now, the J3 hatch matches Australia’s cheapest small car (Proton’s Malaysian-made Persona 1.6 G sedan) on price and undercuts by $1000 the nation’s cheapest small five-door – Proton’s 1.6-litre Gen.2 G ($15,990 drive-away).

The sub-$15,000 J3 is also $3000 less expensive than the cheapest Japanese-built small car now available in Australia – Nissan’s 1.8-litre Tiida hatch and sedan ($17,990 plus on-road costs).

Australia’s most affordable Korean-built small cars start at under $20,000 – including Kia’s 2.0-litre Cerato S sedan ($19,390 plus ORCs) and Hyundai’s 1.6-litre i30 SX hatch ($19,590 plus ORCs).

Suzuki’s upgraded SX4 hatch, which is powered by a 2.0-litre engine and costs $18,990 plus ORCs, is the only other sub-$20,000 Japanese-built contender in Australia’s booming small-car market, which is led by the Mazda3 (from $21,330) and Toyota Corolla (from $20,990).

So far this year Chery has sold 1065 vehicles – including almost 120 J11s and nearly 50 J1s – putting it well short of the 5000 vehicles Chery Automobiles executives forecast it would sell in Australia this year when the brand was launched in lavish style aboard the Star Ship on Sydney Harbour in late February.

Ateco officials are more modest, saying they expect between 100 and 150 sales of the J1 per month and 250-300 J11 sales a month from Chery’s initial dealer network outside Victoria.

The J3 hatch is expected to make up the shortfall this year, with sedan, automatic and other variants due to add more significant volume when they become available across Australia.

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