Chinese vehicles are now well established in this country thanks to Great Wall. Other players are arriving including LDV, a 21st century version of the Leyland/DAF Van (LDV) company that was popular in Europe a while back.
It went broke due to competitive forces but the entire manufacturing plant was purchased by China's biggest automaker, SAIC, and re-established in the city of Wuxi where it is once again cranking out commercial vehicles including vans, tray back utilities and small passenger buses.
More than that, the new LDV V80s are quite possibly a much better mouse trap than the originals due to a number of reasons, not the least being SAIC's deep pockets which allowed new machinery and upgrades, new designs and quality components used on its vehicles.
LDV hits the market in this country early next year with a 40 strong dealer network selling a seven model range of 1.3 tonne vans including short and long wheelbase in a variety of roof heights.
They all share the same powertrain and similar styling inside and out and the word is, the LDVs will undercut other players in the van market by as much as $5000 comparing apples with apples. Better yet is the fact that LDV vans will be well equipped right from the entry model and all will have side sliders both sides capable of allowing forklift pallet loading as well as twin rear barn doors that open to 180 degrees.
All will get LED driving lights and alloy wheels, cargo mats, full size spare, half height load protection panels, six heavy duty tie-down lugs, aircon, power windows and mirrors, cargo barrier and reverse sensors. LDV is being distributed by WMC the same outfit that distributes Chinese made Higer buses here.
The LDV's engine is a 100kW/330Nm 2.5-litre VM Motori turbodiesel four out of Italy -- the same manufacturer used by umpteen other carmakers. The manual transmission is a ZF unit and so will the five or six-speed auto when it arrives later on.
All doors including the two for passengers are large and the load doors give full pallet access for two pallets in the short wheelbase, three in the long. But WMC is still in the process of sorting out the audio system that currently isn't available with a CD player. They use USBs everywhere else. Presumably a replacement unit will also feature phone and audio Bluetooth. Storage in the cabin area is adequate, better in the larger vans.
We got Australia's first drive of the short wheelbase entry level model and the long wheelbase high roof variant last week in Sydney. Neither was registered and both were here for evaluation purposes but are representative of what we'll be getting. Both were just like driving an equivalent size European van, better in some respects. It is like any other van in terms of comfort, ride quality and drive feel. Some local calibration to steering and suspension has taken place.
The VM Motori engine offers excellent performance and pulling power with both vehicles hardly noticing the 500kg ballast that had been loaded for the test drive. The five-speed manual change feel is as good as any in the class, possibly better than the others. It has a tight turning circle, well weighted steering and easy to use controls.
Drive goes to the front wheels with the rear axle boasting triple leaf springs for heavy loads. And it looks good - a bit like a Benz Vito or an Iveco. WMC has plans in quarter two next year for a cab/chassis version with a tray back as well as a number of passenger vans offering seats for between 8-15 people depending on the size.
Presumably, all will have the same powertrain. Wheelchair access vehicles and motorhomes are also under consideration.