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China no threat to price line

"We certainly see that within 3 years we'll be selling in excess of 20,000 Chinese vehicles," says Ateco's Neville Crichton.

The current benchmark is the Proton S16, which will be priced from $10,990 in June, but the first Chinese imports are more likely to be priced against the Hyundai Getz in the $13,990 zone.

Baby cars from Great Wall and Chery are expected first from China, followed by Geely, and the man leading the push says he is more worried about value than a rock-bottom price.  "We're not even trying to get to $10,990. Absolutely not. We don't see Proton as a big deal, to be honest," says Neville Crichton, boss of the Great Wall and Chery importer, Ateco.

"We'd like to stay, probably, dollar-for-dollar, where Hyundai is. But with better specced cars."  Crichton plans to have a 1.4-litre Great Wall car in showrooms in July, alongside a RAV4-size SUV, with the first Chery just a month later, and he is pushing value ahead of a rock-bottom price.

"We'll have better value in the cars. We will launch with a small SUV, the same size as a RAV4, which we will put in the market under $20,000, drive-away. It will be very competitive.  "I think it's just good-value motor cars. That's exactly what we're selling - good, reliable, economic transport."

Great Wall is already underway with an SUV and ute and, despite a poor two-star ANCAP safety rating and a recall for the ute, Crichton predicts sales of around 8000 vehicles through 2010.  But he has much bigger plans when Chery and Great Wall get into gear.

"We certainly see that within three years we'll be selling in excess of 20,000 Chinese vehicles, between the two brands."  Ateco has huge experience as an independent importer, currently holding franchises from Ferrari to Citroen and Fiat, but its biggest volume success was with Kia. It took the brand to a major presence in Australia before Kia decided to buy the business back and Crichton says there is no reason he cannot do it again.

"We had a huge success with Kia, taking it to 26,000. They've had three years and they still haven't got back to that."  Crichton knows the safety concerns surrounding the Chinese cars but says his brands are moving rapidly away from their copycat roots, tweaking existing designs from western brands, and are capable of doing better than the two-star score for the Great Wall pickup.

"We would like a minimum of three stars. I think thtat's a good start.    With two airbags," he says.