Chinese cars are on their way and will be in two groups of UK showrooms next year. Shanghai Automotive will build three cars here. Great Wall will import three.
Great Wall is all about Madam Wang. Her motto for the independent company that she runs as chief operating officer is “improving little by little every day”.
Her senior colleagues describe her as ‘unbelievable’.
Customers and partners tell of a woman completely consumed by the company and unstoppable in the way that she drives it.
She formed the business 20 years ago. It is now publicly listed which improves by very much more than a little every day.
It is a bit of a curiosity for China.
Most of the car companies, like SAIC, have been funded and encouraged by regional governments which have maintained a phenomenal rate of growth.
But Great Wall manages to outstrip them.
At the last Beijing Motor Show Great Wall presented nine completely new models.
Some of the nine are destined for the UK.
The IM Group, best-known for its UK franchises for Isuzu, Subaru and Daihatsu, is the UK end of Great Wall’s assault on the market.
The owner of the Coleshill, Birmingham, based business is Andrew Edmiston, son of Bob who started his life in the UK car manufacturing business with Jensen.
It is not commonly recognised how substantial IM (International Motors) is.
Edmiston and his father have been wheeling and dealing in China for 15 years and have an office with 40 staff in Beijing.
During that time IM has been fully involved in vehicle development – making sure that the output is suited to the European market.
In addition to distribution, IM has a sideline homologating Chinese cars from some of the major Chinese makers for vehicle certification authorities.
They use the British standards to get the approvals needed.
Edmiston said: “It promotes our relationships and gives us prime position for export from China to Europe.
"When we are looking at any kind of launch there are many hoops to jump through. We make sure the product and the spec is right.”
In total, IM has about 30 different brand/territory pairings and now has rights for Great Wall in the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.
There has been speculation that Great Wall will piggy-back on UK Daihatsu dealers.
The network has been badly beaten up by the yen/sterling exchange rate.
Edmiston spells it out: “Some Daihatsu dealers will be Great Wall dealers – about half of them. We want 70 or so dealers from launch.”
The prime IM contact in the UK is Paul Hegarty who has developed a field force.
“Hegarty and his team are making contacts. We are not yet offering franchises.
"We need to do everything in the proper order. We will keep it simple and the conversations will progress.
“The people we appoint will be good, honest and cost-effective.
"We have a strong preference for owner/managers who will give a better service.”
There will probably be two models initially, one a pick-up, the other a B-segment Phenom, followed in 18 months by a Kuga-sized 4x4.
Edmiston flinches at the suggestion that the right approach might be to conceal the Chinese origin and to ditch the Great Wall name in favour of something more Anglicised.
“We launched Hyundai in the UK in 1981. We did not apologise then and we do not plan to apologise now. I was involved with SsangYong.
"You can’t start telling people that you do not like the name for the UK market.
These are quality-built cars that will be cheap. As with any new entrant, early-adopters will be rewarded. The pay-off is that the buyers will get a very cheap car.”
The other lingering doubt about Chinese cars is crash performance.
When the Chinese innovators were building copy cars, the European industry fought back with lurid tales about crash test performance.
“That is all behind them. Now the world’s best new crash-test sites are in China. It’s the same with emissions testing.”
Though some specialist skills are being bought in initially, the Chinese manufacturers are quickly developing their own departments for styling.
They have used the Italian design houses extensively, but what they learn is quickly replicated in-house.
Edmiston earned his spurs in his father’s business as managing director of Daihatsu in 2000.
IM remains the distributor and might one day be able to start selling them again.
But for now the emphasis will be on Great Wall and building it one brick at a time.
There is no tearing hurry. “Growth will be organic. You do not get more; you become more. We need to be able to finance the growth.”
IM is not trying for critical mass at launch. The game plan will start to roll out from the third quarter of next year.
Once started, Wang and her Wall will be on a roll.
The bricks in Great Wall
> Two Great Wall models to be sold in the UK within a year.
> Great Wall made 225,000 vehicles in 2009.
> SUV sales grew 175% in the first half, cars by 37% and pick-ups 25% .
> Production is planned at 500,000 this year and 2m by 2015.
> Model names include: Coolbear, Florid, Haval and Wingle.
> Development of the UK market will run in parallel with Australia.
> The first European import will be the Haval H5 SUV due in Italy.
> Great Wall is based in Baoding, Hebei Province.
> Complete Knock Down (CKD) kits will be assembled in Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Ukraine and Vietnam.
> Great Wall is one of only four independent carmakers in China. The rest are state-supported.
> Sales in the first half of this year were over 9bn Chinese Yuan.
Shanghai carmaker breathes new life into Longbridge
Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp-oration is the sole owner of the remains of MG Rover at Longbridge in Birmingham.
Initially there was partial ownership by Nanjing, but that has been swallowed up by SAIC.
Up to now it has been building the MG TF at the rate of about 300 a year.
The rather elderly sports car is coming to an end and SAIC will instead make the MG6 – a fastback saloon slightly bigger than a Focus.
Prototypes have had encouraging reviews.
Test drivers at Autocar ran the MG6 against Focus when it was still a prototype.
It decided that ride and handling were at least as good as the Focus and therefore close to best in class. And there is no doubt that the Chinese car will be priced cheaply.
There are to be three versions, but there is as yet no commitment to left-hand drive.
There is no limit to the number of cars that could be built by MG Motor UK Ltd.
SAIC has 69 acres of the old Longbridge site with another 330 acres available for expansion in due course.
Today’s set-up gives scope to make 150,000 a year.
Though car kits for assembly currently arrive painted, the extensive Longbridge paint plants are still in good condition.
The Longbridge lines will assemble engines and gearboxes as well as the cars.
The initial MG6 will be followed by a four-door fitted with a 1.8 litre turbo and there will be a diesel within two years.
Once the diesel is here, MG will look at export for Europe.
Two other models are close behind. A small car called MG Zero will be shown at the Top Gear shows at the NEC and Earls Court.
According to sources at Longbridge there will be another mid-sized car between the Zero and the 6 next year or early in 2012.
A sports car is due in 2013.
There are already 40 dealers in the UK. Another 10 are to be recruited over the next six months.