Just launching in Australia, Foton is swerving away from the cheap-and-cheerful approach taken by Chery and Great Wall as it pitches its Tunland dual-cab ute into action with a $28,000 starting sticker.
Tunland says the Toyota HiLux is its target in Australia and touts a mechanical package that is built around a Cummins 2.8-litre turbodiesel engine, a Getrag gearbox and Bosch electronics. "I want to get one thing straight. They are Chinese assembled, but the componentry is all European or American. That's a huge difference," the sales and marketing chief of Foton Australia, Rod James, tells Carsguide.
"This is a ute that Foton designed especially for first-world markets. We're the first to get it, with South Africa. We believe in the vehicle." Foton is being imported by a start-up company that was established to handle the local agency, although it has some experienced staff from other brands.
It is aiming to sell 1700-2000 vehicles in 2013 and intends to expand its range with a single-cab ute and as 12-seater van called the View. James admits there are some shortcomings in the Tunland, which only has two airbags and no ESP, but is keen to talk about the mechanical components that - he says - justify the meaty starting price.
"The things I see as huge plusses are the Cummins motor, which is $11,000 before fitting. The gearbox is $3500 as well. You start adding it up," he says. "On the critical side, there are cosmetic issues that they are working hard on. There is stuff they could have put in standard that they don't have as yet. "In 12 months it will be a different vehicle altogether. It's very satisfactory at this point, and good value, and it will get better."
Foton is based at Yatala in Queensland and has 12 dealers, as well as a three-year/100,000 kilometre warranty. The 4x2 Tunland starts at $28,000 and the 4x4 model from $34,500, which James says is a "sweet spot" between brand-name Japanese utes and Great Wall from China. But Great Wall utes still start from $17,990 on the road in Australia and the most direct competitor for the Tunland, a dual-cab diesel from Great Wall, is still only $24,990 driveaway.