junenewschineseBargain Great Wall Steed pick-up arrives, SUV to follow next year

It was a bit of a race and we’ve beaten everyone to it.” So said Paul Hegarty, newly appointed MD of UK importer for Great Wall, the first Chinese manufacturer to import its brand into this country. It was a remark almost made as an aside, but it underlined that being first into the UK mattered. No one remembers who comes second – for the record, that’s likely to be Geely, due later this year. More significant, however, were Hegarty’s comments that Great Wall is ‘highly ambitious’ with its export plans. Last year the Chinese manufacturer produced one million units, the 2015 target is a cool two million and, after Italy, the UK is the second European country into which those exports will start to flow. There won’t be any problem meeting the expected demand either, since Great Wall has just built a new plant in Tianjin. It is six times the size of the previous biggest Great Wall plant, covering an area of 3.6million square metres. For reference, the UK launch was at Leamington Spa – you could fit the whole of that town, and the neighbouring Warwick, into that area.

You can read what we thought on our brief First Drive of the Great Wall Steed pick-up on page 20 of this issue. This first model comes to the UK at the bargain price of £13,998 (on the road, excluding VAT) and with a specification list that will certainly draw in many new customers. At present there are some 40 dealers, from Worthing on the south coast, through Lincolnshire, Monmouthshire, Yorkshire to Fife and Inverness. Hegarty expects there to be another 10 or so by the end of the year, and then the company will ‘wait and see’ to judge demand and customer response. He is positive about the initial response. Public reaction has been good and there have been no adverse reaction to the fact this is a relatively unknown manufacturer from a far, far away land. Future model plans for the UK from Great Wall include the Haval H6 SUV, which is due here in mid-2013. Much like the Steed pick-up, it does not stun with a striking unique design, and you could be forgiven for not giving it a second glance. However, like the Steed, you will doubtless look twice at the on the road price, which we expect to significantly undercut the competition. And it’s pricing that will give Great Wall an advantage. The UK importer is part of the IM Group (Daihatsu, Isuzu, Subaru), an organisation highly experienced in niche markets and the company has been working with Great Wall in China for some 16 years. It seems likely therefore, that the competitive pricing structure is being supported by Great Wall, to establish the marque in new markets. It is also the case that Great Wall can build vehicles to a lower cost base than a great many Europeans. The launch of the Great Wall Steed is certainly the first step in what is a very serious, long term, business plan. Remember when Japanese vehicles were a rare and almost exotic sight on British roads? And today…

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