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Foton to pioneer pick-up in Oz

Coming soon: The Foton ute - codenamed P201 - will be much closer to matching its Japanese rivals on safety and performance than those currently available from other fellow Chinese brands.

China’s Foton set to roll out all-new ute in Australia ahead of US assault

21 Jun 2011

AN ALL-NEW one-tonne light truck aimed squarely at the reigning Japanese leaders in western markets will be exported first to Australia by one of the world’s biggest commercial vehicle manufacturers, China’s Foton Motor Co.

Boasting Euro 5 emissions compliance and a probable four-star crash protection rating, the big utility – measuring 120mm wider and 180mm longer than the best-selling Toyota HiLux – will be bedded-down on the Australian market for about six months from January 2012 before being unleashed on its main target market, North America.

Codenamed P201, the pick-up will be the first in a range of Foton light commercial vehicles to be offered through a new national dealer network being established in Australia by Sydney-based vehicle importer WMC Group, which also has the import contracts for Chinese-made Higer buses and JAC trucks and cars.

Also in the Foton pipeline are a new SUV – codenamed U201 – based on the same ladder-chassis platform as the pick-up and a Transit-style van built on a second all-new platform.

They are expected to join the utility in Australia later in 2012, not long after being rolled out in China, where they are yet to be formally revealed.

All will be made at a new factory under construction in Miyun County, south of Beijing, where Foton plans to turn out a wide range of new-generation vehicles, including a people-mover and a light car, at the rate of up to 75,000 units a year initially, before a second stage is added to take capacity to 220,000 units.

64 center imageThe factory is set to start production of the ute in November, with the first export shipment of vehicles set to touch down in Australia in time for a first-quarter 2012 launch and its first showroom exposure outside China.

Foton becomes the second Chinese auto-maker this month to outline plans to launch light trucks in Australia. As GoAuto reported exclusively two weeks ago, ZX Auto utes and SUVs will be imported by Perth-based Chinese Automotive Distributors later this year, alongside the Geely passenger car line also made in China.

The Foton ute – to be formally named from a shortlist of model titles at a meeting between Foton officials and WMC executives in Australia next week – is expected to be launched in six variants, encompassing double-cab, single-cab and extra-cab body styles.

Engine choices will be a new Euro 5-compliant 2.8-litre Cummins diesel four-cylinder engine (in 96kW and 120kW states of tune) and a Mitsubishi-sourced 100kW 2.4-litre petrol four-cylinder.

A top-of-the-range model will be available in 4x4 and, while a Getrag manual gearbox will be the sole transmission at launch, a ZF automatic transmission will be offered later.

Best known for its trucks, sold in Australia in a limited range through a separate import deal with Western Star, state-owned Foton partners Daimler in truck manufacturing in China and is also a rival to the German giant for the title of the world’s biggest truck-maker through its own Foton-branded vehicles.

Last year, Foton produced 681,000 vehicles, making it China’s biggest commercial vehicle manufacturer by a healthy margin.

Established in 1996 and based in Beijing, Beiqui Foton Motor Co Ltd is now part of the BAIC (Beijing Automotive Industry Holding Co) group – China’s third-largest automotive conglomerate.

Foton already makes a range of light vehicles, including a ute called the SUP and a small people-mover called the MP-X, exporting some models to a wide range of markets including South Africa and the Philippines. However, none of these older vehicles are destined for Australia.

The deal to import Foton light commercials was confirmed to GoAuto by WMC CEO Jason Pecotic, who said WMC was now building its management team and dealer network to handle the Foton line.

Speaking from China, where he saw the first showroom-ready JAC light-duty truck roll out of the factory for Australia (where JAC products will be launched in September), Mr Pecotic said Foton and JAC had some similar products, but some dealers had expressed an interest in taking both lines.

“As we move on, whoever we decide to be the dealers for the Foton product will best support that product, and whoever we choose for JAC will best support that product,” he said.

“We had a few independent dealers here (China) last month from Australia, and some dealers will take on both and some dealers will take on just single franchises.”

Mr Pecotic said the Foton pick-up had been designed as a competitor for Japanese models, rather than existing Chinese utes such as Great Wall Motors’ V240 and the upcoming pick-up ranges from ZX Auto and JAC.

“This particular vehicle is designed to go head-to-head with the Japanese,” he said. “The actual market it is intended for is North America. Australia is basically the testing ground.

“The vehicle is wider (than Great Wall’s V240) – it has got a more chunky, American buffed look to it. So it is basically geared for North America, and we are just the testing ground.

“They (Foton) are giving Australia six months, and as long as it all goes well for us in that six months, the vehicle gets rolled out for America.

“That’s why the actual factory capacity on this particular vehicle is about 10,000 units a month. It is a phenomenal factory geared for that North American market.”

The flagship engine in the P201 ute will be a Chinese-made Cummins ISF 2.8-litre light truck diesel made in a new factory that is set to reach full production in the next few months.

Mr Pecotic said that, while WMC – formerly known as White Motor Corporation – was still drawing up its marketing strategy for the pick-up, it would revolve around the powertrain supplied by highly respected global companies including Cummins, Getrag, ZF and Dana Axles.

Together, according to Mr Pecotic, these components would not only make the Foton ute a formidable workhorse but inspire more confidence in buyers than usual Chinese powertrains.

He said it was no coincidence that all three vehicle lines being imported by WMC – Higer, JAC and Foton – used Cummins ISF diesel engines.

“Cummins and Foton basically approached us to take on this pick-up, because of our relationship with JAC and Higer,” he said.

Cummins’ ISF engine range – made in 2.8-litre and 3.8-litre variants – is the newest powerplant from the world’s biggest diesel engine producer.

It is set to power the JAC light-duty truck and van range, as well as the Higer Munro bus.

Unlike JAC, the Foton rollout in Australia is not being bankrolled by Australia’s biggest dealer group, Automotive Holdings Group (AHG).

So far, seven Chinese motor companies have signalled their intention to enter the Australian market.

The wave of Chinese vehicles was pioneered by Australia’s largest independent vehicle importer, Ateco Automotive, with the Great Wall utes in June 2009.

This year, Ateco has sold 1889 Great Wall utes and 1319 X240 SUVs for a total of 3108 vehicles – up almost 30 per cent on last year.

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