Chinese van manufacturer DFSK has launched a range of small LCVs in the UK and the British company set up to import the vehicles is busy recruiting dealers to sell them.
DFSK UK is based in Swindon and employs nine staff.
The chairman is Jim Tyrrell, whose name will already be known to AM readers as CEO of Mitsubishi UK importer Colt Car Company until it was sold three years ago, when he “retired”.
But at 47 years of age he wasn’t out of the limelight long and soon bought a string of companies in the automotive sector.
It was 18 months ago that Lee Clarke, now MD of DFSK UK, called Tyrrell to talk about helping set up a company to import DFSK vehicles from China, which were labelled simply K series over there, but are now called Loadhopper for the UK.
Clarke had already met the Chinese owners of the company, who suggested he came back to them with a proper UK business plan – and 18 months ago Tyrrell and Clark went back to China and came home with an agreement.
Tyrrell told AM: “We made our presentation and they immediately gave us a contract while we were there.”
DFSK UK is in the middle of an ambitious programme to set up a dealer network that will encompass the whole country.
So far there are 40 dealers from Kircaldy in the north to Falmouth in the south.
There’s even a dealer on the Isle of Man and one on Jersey and Guernsey.
But this figure is expanding rapidly as word gets round about the new kid on the block.
The firm aims eventually for a network of 65 outlets.
Network development manager Jack Arkley said: “We started off contacting our old colleagues who ran Mitsubishi dealerships and now about a third of our dealers sell Mitsubishis too.
“But as word got round we started getting enquiries from Suzuki dealers who were still having people asking if they could buy the old Carry which hasn’t been imported here since 2006.”
Now another third of the dealers also sell Suzuki while the remainder are independents.
Arkley said: “The joy of taking on a DFSK franchise is that it sits alongside other marques well and it doesn’t cost a lot to set up.”
DFSK UK’s strategy revolves around practicality and simplicity. Arkley said: “We don’t expect our dealers to spend millions of pounds on smart showrooms with leather settees and expensive coffee machines.
"The vehicles they sell are basic workhorses at a rock bottom price and they will sell on their own merits.”
For less than £2,000 Arkley sells a dealer kit which includes signage and all the other paraphernalia necessary to start up a business.
Dealers have to have at least two demo models available and four vehicles in stock.
Arkley is getting three or four calls per week from dealers interested in giving the Chinese a try.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the new set-up is the dedication of the small team at DFSK UK HQ in Swindon.
For example, staff set up their own stand at the recent CV Show and Arkley himself drove a Loadhopper from Swindon to Dumfries in Scotland so that a prospective customer could have a test drive.
He said: “You won’t find dedication like that with any other manufacturer.
"We give out all our phone numbers to customers so that they can get straight through to us if there’s a problem.
"Even the managing director answers the phone here.”
DFSK UK plans to sell just 1,000 units this year, but aims for 5,000 sales by 2016.