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China's next wave of car

BYD, a technology leader for China, is planning to reveal its first plug-in electric cars in Beijing

The three companies with Australia in their sights - Great Wall, Chery and Geely - are all expected to unveil new value-driven compacts and SUVs at the country's biggest annual motoring event.  Great Wall is the only brand with vehicles already in local showrooms, a dual-cab ute and SUV, but Chery and Geely will both hit the road down under before the end of 2010.

BYD, a technology leader for China, is also planning to reveal its first plug-in electric cars in Beijing although it currently has no plans to sell overseas.  All 47 of China's manufacturers are expected to have something new at the show, with a move away from the copycat designs of the past - everything from the Rolls-Royce Phantom to the BMW X5 was either parodied or duplicated - to unique Chinese designs.

"They will all show their new export cars," says Ric Hull, the Ateco Automotive executive responsible for the Great Wall and Chery brands.  Hull says the Chinese car industry is advancing so rapidly it is hard to keep tabs on the new-model action.

"I think everything has to be seen in the context of the market. The Chinese made and sold about 13.6 million vehicles last year, and the US was 10.4 million," he says.  "They have not only eclipsed the US, they have gone way beyond them. In good years the US is 17 million, but the Chinese are there already.

"In the first quarter of this year, they have sold 4.6 million vehicles. So you're now talking 18 or 20 million a year. It's just gone bezerk.  "The thing that fascinates me most is how anyone can lift production to those levels. I don't believe the Japanese could do it, or even the Koreans."

Hull says Ateco is already on track with additions to the Great Wall range including a single-cab ute, with Chery to hit first with a compact SUV.  "We'll launch Chery in August. It has just been an agonizing process to get the compliance issues in place, but it will be fine.

"I'm hoping to launch a RAV4-kind of vehicle at a really good price.  "Great Wall are talking about a 1.5-litre car that we'll introduce before the end of the year. They are getting there and getting there awfully, awfully quickly."

Hull says he is expecting rapid improvement in Chinese vehicles, with quality and safety as top priorities.  Great Wall is just about to face its second ANCAP crash-test barrier in Australia and, following the miserable two-star result for the ute, Hull is hoping for a four-star rating for the brand's SUV.

"We took a hammering from NCAP on the utes but Great Wall reacted and they have made a lot of changes," Hull says.  Car sales in China are so important that all the world's major makers will be displaying in Beijing.

Even though many skipped last year's Tokyo Motor Show, previously the world's equal number one with Frankfurt every two years, no-one can afford to miss the biggest motoring event in China.  There were more than a dozen world previews at the last Beijing show and a lot of the action is at the upmarket end of the business in 2010.

Ferrari is unveiling its new go-faster flagship, the 599 GTO, and Mercedes-Benz will reveal an update of the $1.5 million Maybach ultra- luxury limousine.

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