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Lookout MG, Kia and Ford! Why GWM and Haval might be the next big thing with affordable SUVs and utes to rival the Kia Seltos, Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and the Ford Ranger

The GWM Ute, and the new H6 and Jolion, reflect a new sophistication from at GWM/Haval that should drive sales growth.

Can Haval, under GWM, follow in footsteps of the surging MG and finally become a top 10 player?

Don’t bet against it, according to GWM Australia head of marketing and communications, Steve Maciver, who believes the Chinese brand has the exciting new models, full factory backing, engineering smarts, expanding dealer network, bigger marketing spend, and unbridled desire to grow and prosper in this market.

Right now, Haval is nowhere near the popular brands, sitting at number 28 in the 2020 sales rankings, compared to 17th position for MG. But while the latter enjoyed an 83 per cent volume rise last year, to post a record-high 15,253 registrations, Haval outstripped that growth with a 93 per cent jump, albeit from just 1706 to 3294 sales.

It is this swelling momentum that the brand is building, combined with a wave of fresh metal, that Mr Maciver hopes will propel Haval into the big league. Though no sales volume expectations were divulged, tripling and even quadrupling the annual sales tally to beyond 10,000 units would be a sustainable goal over the next few years.

“There is more SUV product coming, but nothing I can confirm at this stage,” he told CarsGuide in Melbourne earlier this month. “Which means, in those core utility and SUV segments, we are going to have brand new, competitive, high-tech products that customers will sit up and take notice.”

The range of imminent Haval models is impressive, kicking off with an all-new H6 expected in a few weeks.

Aimed squarely at the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5, this is a generational change over the model launched here five years ago, with a top-down redesign and bottom-up re-engineering that aims to make it more competitive than ever.

Haval’s ace up its sleeve is the striking design and boundary-busting packaging, which will see the new H6 offer usefully more acreage inside and out compared to the best-selling RAV4.

“The new H6 is probably the car we would expect to see some real volume growth,” Mr Maciver revealed. “We’re expecting a good lift of volume in that medium SUV segment.”

At the lower end of the range, the front wheels will be driven by a 150kW/320Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, while all-wheel-drive grades will also be in the mix.

While there will be no electric vehicle (EV), plug-in EV or regular petrol-electric hybrid options slated for the Australian market for the time being, a hybrid is anticipated to join the range as soon as it becomes available for GWM Australia – particularly after the RAV4 Hybrid’s outstanding consumer reception.

“Hybrids are on the radar, absolutely,” Mr Maciver said. “That's something we're looking at in terms of those other alternative technologies, and going hybrid is probably closer to reality for us in this market than EV would be. That’s not to say we’re not working on EVs of course… and rest assured: if we thought we could bring in an EV and sell it, I’m sure there would be an appetite for it.”

Right on the H6’s coattails will be the H2 replacement – a not-so-small crossover that is shaping up as Haval’s most convincing rival for the popular Mitsubishi ASX, Kia Seltos and MG ZS in the company’s history.

While GWM hasn’t yet confirmed this, it’s likely that the international Jolion name will step in for H2, highlighting the baby SUV’s fresh new start – and ambitions. ‘Jolion’ means ‘First Love’ in the mother tongue. And just like the 2021 H6, it will be perceived as big for its class. As the runaway-success Seltos has shown, size is really something to small SUV buyers.

The outgoing H2 came in at number 98 in last year’s hottest 100 with 1988 registrations, so the Jolion would be starting from a low base. But that 2020 result represented a 116.6 per cent jump over the previous year, meaning that Haval is confident that it is finally getting onto peoples’ radar and shortlists.

Mr Maciver is confident that the inevitable price rises that are expected to accompany these all-new SUVs will be more than offset by the fact that they are larger, safer, better looking and much more technologically advanced – with the new Cannon pick-up showing the way.

Its predecessor – the Great Wall Steed – saw a 40 per cent leap in volume in 2020 with the runout model selling for well-under the $30,000 space. However, kicking off from $34,000 and ranging to $41,000, its bigger, bolder and better replacement has already enjoyed a strong start, with demand exceeding supply in the top-spec X grade.

“Yes, there is still going to be value there, but there is going to be a lot more for us to talk about too,” Mr Maciver said.

“If you look at the results in February, the ute accounted for around 40 per cent of total volume, and arguably we could have moved more utes; we had a couple of boats in quarantine and a higher-than-anticipated demand for the higher Cannon X grade… and so we couldn’t deliver a lot of them.

“The real demand for ute is probably around 400 per month at the moment… we think that will grow… and the real demand could be 600 to 700 per month… and H6 will be the car that will give us some more real volume growth.”

Mr Maciver added that while multiplying GWM and Haval sales is paramount, it must happen in a way that is feasible and supportable for the fledgling company in Australia.

“We have to think about growth which is sustainable,” he said. “We've got to keep dealer and customer complexity at the minimum as well, but if there's something that's got really appeal that we think we can sell it and the dealers are behind it, then we’ll certainly be making that case to head office (in China).”