TONY VERDON DRIVES THE NEW GREAT WALL UTE AND HAVAL H6 SUV AS THE CHINESE MOTOR GIANT HAS ANOTHER CRACK AT THE NEW ZEALAND MARKET
Chinese automotive giant Great Wall is relaunching in New Zealand with an updated one-tonne ute, and a European-influenced Haval H6 medium-sized SUV.
The company is taking direct control of the distribution of its vehicles here and in Australia, and is using both competitive markets to help refine its models.
Although it was started only in 1990, Great Wall is determined to become the world’s largest supplier of utility vehicles.
The company already sells more than a million vehicles a year, the vast majority in China.
However, it has ambitions to become a world market leader. To achieve that, it must refine and improve its vehicles to compete in the main Western markets.
The Great Wall ute has been a strong seller in New Zealand in the past, although no new models have been imported for two years.
There are about 5500 Great Wall utes on New Zealand roads, and the company says it is determined to continue providing strong back-up servicing and parts service for those vehicles.
The new model, the Great Wall Steed, is a well-equipped dual-cab ute, with features owners of the earlier model could only dream of. It has a larger tray than its predecessor and additional safety features such as six air bags and Bosch’s V9.0 Electronic Stability Programme, including ABS, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist, and Hill-start Assist Control. It is also one of the few utes on the market that comes standard with Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).
Great Wall Steed ute
However, the handling is fundamentally the same as the old ute, with particularly light and vague steering that takes some getting used to behind the wheel.
During the launch this week we drove the ute carrying three bales of hay and other goods on sometimes steep and windy roads on the hills around the Yarra Valley, near Melbourne.
We delivered the hay to the Salvation Army, to distribute to Victorian farmers suffering their fourth year of drought.
The engine has to be worked hard, especially on hills, and the five-speed manual transmission must be worked to maintain momentum on hills.
The upright design of the interior is also a reminder the basics of the ute come from a previous design era.
However, the additional equipment and safety features will satisfy many who will be drawn by what is expected to be competitive pricing for the utes, to be announced next week.
While the steering in the Great Wall is too light and lacks feel, the H6 steering provides more than enough feedback to the driver.
The model handles corners well, although the alert system comes on, signalling an emergency stop, even when braking lightly on a sharp corner.
The H6 is a much more contemporary vehicle in every respect.
It provides evidence of the rapid progress the Chinese motor industry is making to produce vehicles for the much more competitive and mature Western motor markets.
Haval design director Pierre Leclercq (a Belgian who previously worked for BMW) said the new H6 represented a new global design direction for the company.
“The development of future Haval models is heading toward a much more globally orientated philosophy, and the H6 is leading that new direction.
“It’s a dynamic design, incorporating a fluid waistline and floating roof tapered to the rear and a fashionable hexagonal grille, which is very important for recognition.
“The design philosophy we are implementing is to keep the design simple, but strong. We don’t want to over-complicate the theme or the surfacing, but rather keep it simple.”
Built at a fully automated robotic manufacturing plant, the SUVs are well assembled, with high-quality paint work and high-end specifications.
The H6 will be introduced in New Zealand next year, and is powered by a 2-litre direct injection turbocharged engine, producing 145kW of power and 315Nm of torque.
The model has already recorded more than a million sales in China, where it is that country’s biggest selling SUV. Year to date, Great Wall says it is the fifth biggest-selling SUV in the world.
The Great Wall ute and the H6 SUV will compete in two of the fastest-growing segments of the local market and provide more choice for New Zealand vehicle buyers.