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Chery already fixing faults

The J1 is being sold alongside the J11 SUV as Chery joins Great Wall on Australian roads.

The Chery J1 hatch hits the road this week, priced from $11,990 driveaway at 50 dealerships across Australia, and is already being tweaked and improved. The gearbox is being updated and the Chery importer, Ateco Automotive, promises improvements to quality and final finishing in the cabin.

The J1 is being sold alongside the J11 SUV as Chery joins Great Wall on local roads, with Geely to follow soon in Western Australia and the Foton brand also looking for a foothold. Ateco chief, Ric Hull, says his company is mounting a major push with Chery to answer complaints already raised about the J1 - including a test drive report by Carsguide - following the arrival of the first cars in Australia.

The biggest change is to the gearing, to give the J1 more pep from a standing start. "They are going to fit a different final drive ratio that will give it better hill climbing ability. We might sacrifice a bit of fuel economy but we felt it was a necessary change," Hull says.

"The cars will go up hills, and they are probably not dramatically worse than some other vehicles, but we were not satisifed it was as good as it needed to be." Hull also says trim improvements in the cabin - also identified as a shortcoming by Carsguide - are also being reported back to China for changes.

"We've had factory people here. We have shown them. Our technical people have gone back to their technical people with everything that's been raised," Hull says. "If our experience with our other Chinese suppliers is any guide, they will react and react very quickly."

Hull says Ateco and Chery are keen to update the cars as quickly as possible. "We weren't aware there was a problem until we got them here," he says. Ateco is also the Great Wall importer and has been successful in driving improvements to the brand, particularly to quality after a poor initial result during impartial NCAP crash testing.

Hull says the first shipment of around 700 Chery vehicles is being delivered to dealers, with around 600 J11s in the pack and only about 100 J1s. He is not concerned by any problems with the SUV. "I am sure there are one or two things that the guys have unearthed now that we have stock. But it's nothing of any particular consequence.

They have built a lot of J11s and I think they have got most things right." Chery has been established as a stand-alone brand for Australia, and not just twinned with Great Wall. "So far it has worked well for both brands to keep them separate. There are one or two exceptions, but the rule is that Chery dealers are separate to Great Wall dealers. When we get into the small rural areas there might not be a choice."

Hull says Ateco is not intending to add any other Chinese brands to its lineup, which runs from Ferrari and Maserati to Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Citroen. It is also expected to be confirmed this year as Australia's agent for Lotus sports cars.

"Not actively. We've talked to a lot of people over the years and I guess will continue to talk, but nothing is about to break," he says. Apart from Great Wall and Chery, Foton - a bus specialist in China - has appointed the Western Star truck company as its local agent and Geely is being handled by the John Hughes group in Perth.

There is also Lifan, Chinese biggest motorcycle manufacturer, although it has yet to finalise its plans. "We're not sure what they are doing. A gentleman from South Africa had the import rights ... but nothing has been heard for quite some time," says Hull.