First it was the Koreans and now the Chinese are ramping up a workhorse presence in Australia. A sharply-priced entry into the light-commercial van market by Chinese giant SAIC - badged as an LDV - is now on sale in Australia.
In a way it’s similar to Hyundai's iLoad commercial van and its $5000 dearer iMax peoplemover set-up, LDV importer/distributor will offer a peoplemover variant of its van range. The Chinese brand is starting its commercial model at prices $1500 below the Hyundai's entry-level turbodiesel iLoad.
The LDV V80 commercial range will have pricing starting from $32,990 for the SWB model, or an extra $5000 for the mid-roof long-wheelbase model; the tallest high-roof LWB model starts at $39,990. The LDV SWB model is around $4000 below the Toyota HiAce turbodiesel.
The van range comes in short and long-wheelbase models with a choice of roof height and is aimed squarely at tradespeople and those in the business of moving people but the brand has plans for a peoplemover to join the fray.
WMC - AKA the White Motor Corporation, is already the Australasian distributor of Higer buses and JAC trucks and has finally added LDV (Leyland Daf Vans) to its stable after several months of delays. The long-running British commercial vehicle brand was bought lock, stock and barrel by SAIC in 2009 and from that - as well as joint ventures with GM and Volkswagen - was born the new LDV V80 van range now on the market in Australia.
The upcoming Shanghai motor show is expected to reveal more about the SAIC peoplemover plans, but WMC CEO Neil Bamford says there should be an LDV V80 peoplemover in Australia by the end of the year. "There are a few ADR issues we need to get through - R&D are indicating the issues are not insurmountable so we should be in a position later in the year to bring a passenger version out," he says.
The company is putting together larger-capacity bus and wheelchair transport models with Byron Industries but is planning a seven or eight-seater peoplemover before 2014 arrives. "We'll have a lower-roof 7 or 8 seater, they are releasing one of those at the Shanghai motor show in April, I'm heading up there to see that," he says.
Mr Bamford says SAIC is moving on hurdles for a peoplemover model going on sale here - including the availability of stability control (by the end of 2013) and the installation of an auto, believed to be a six-speed automated manual gearbox from Magneti Marelli. "We'd love the automatic here tomorrow, this market likes the auto, it's in R&D at the moment and we're expecting a prototype in the third quarter and then production will follow, I think it will be end of this year or early 2014," he says.
The brand is claiming to be in the Australian market for the "long term" and a slow start is not unexpected - estimates of 50 vans a month (compared to Hyundai and Toyota tallies of 500 a month) from a dealer network that currently numbers 34, although Mr Bamford would like to see that number rise to 40. But don't expect to see WMC bringing fellow SAIC stablemate MG into Australia from its Chinese home - it's an empahtic no from the CEO. "No, not at all - the brands we have at the moment will be our bread and butter for some time to come," he says.