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Car confidential: Chery ripens its products for Europe

The Chinese have big plans for Europe. “Soar high across the world! Chery will create more legends!” trills the manufacturer’s Shanghai Auto Show press pack. Chery’s international general manager, Zhang Lin, was lighter on flourishes, clearer on the company’s ambitions. “We will start small volumes of European exports in 2007/8, maybe with three models,” he says.

Reports say the company is vetting European importers, and plans to appoint an intermediary within a few months. Lin says it’s too early to say when the UK push – and the creation of a retail network – will begin, but he adds: “Our cars are produced in right-hand drive. We already export to Malaysia and Pakistan.”

Chery is likely to launch with a saloon, MPV and perhaps the next generation of its controversial QQ city car – an alleged bootleg of GM Daewoo’s Matiz. The saloon and low-roof MPV both hit the Chinese market later this year.

The four-door, codenamed A21, is a clean, Audi-influenced design, reminiscent of Honda’s Civic saloon or the latest Hyundai Sonata. Power comes from 1.6- and 2.0-litre petrol engines, and a 1.9-litre diesel. The A21 measures 4.5m, longer than a Focus saloon, and Chery will follow the Korean strategy of offering a lot of car (and kit) for less money than European rivals.

The Chery B14 also clothes its seven-seat cabin in a sober suit of sheet metal, enlivened only by headlamps as funky as the pre-facelift 7-series. It shares its bigger engines with the A21, but adds a 2.4-litre petrol.

It will be fascinating to see if Chery exports the QQ, but to avoid a rumpus, Chery could hit Europe with the QQ MkII – previewed as the S16 concept at Shanghai – which has a different look, including symmetrical body panels left and right, and front and rear. It also showed a 206CC rival, the Pininfarina-designed M14 Sky, bound for Europe in a second wave.

Should established rivals take the Chinese seriously? In 1994, Korean car makers took 0.9%of the western car market. Today, it’s 4% – worth 576,000 units. The Chinese hope to make a similar impact. The English may be garbled, but their intentions are clear.

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