In our previous story from China we introduced the Higer company and its plans to add a number of light commercial vehicles to the existing range of buses that it currently exports to Australia.
Weíve now moved further west, to the city of Hefei, the home of the Jianghuai Automobile Company (JAC) one of Chinaís longest-established and largest manufacturers with a range that runs from a small city hatchback through to heavy-duty trucks and buses.
The scale of the Chinese automobile industry and market is staggering with over 200 manufacturers producing a total of almost 14 million vehicles in 2009, a 45 per cent increase over the previous year and nearly six million more than the second-largest country, Japan.
Of that 14 million only around 379,000 were exported, a trend thatís likely to change significantly in the near future as the government tries to restrain domestic demand without reducing production.
By way of example JAC expects to export just 22,000 vehicles in 2010 but is projecting that number to reach 300,000 by 2015. The early stages of this expansion will be targeting Africa and South America although a number of JACís light-duty trucks will go on sale in Australia in the first half of 2011.
In the longer-term passenger cars will dominate with JAC expecting about 70 per cent of the 2015 export total of 300,000 to be cars, SUVs or people movers.
As with Higer buses, the JAC trucks will be distributed by the Sydney-based White Motor Corporation (WMC). The marketing of the new trucks will be helped by the fact that, like Higer, they use well-respected components such as Cummins engines, Allison transmissions and Wabco brakes. In addition JAC has recently signed joint venture agreements with Navistar and NC2.
During our visit to Hefei we were also able to take a tour of both JACís truck and passenger car factories as well as a car dealership where we got a close look at the six models that could arrive in Australia within the next year or two.
While JAC trucks, with their name emblazoned across the front, are a common sight on Chinese roads its cars are less obvious because the JAC name doesnít appear on them, rather theyíre identified by a Chrysler style five-pointed star.
The smallest and most recently-released of the passenger cars is the A0-Class, a 1.0-litre mini car thatís clearly based on the Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107/Citroen C1 joint venture. Next up is the A-Class, a 1.3-litre small hatch or sedan. The small-medium 1.5-litre B-Class and its taller variant, the 1.8-litre B-Cross, are Corolla-sized hatches and sedans, while the C-Class bears a close resemblance to its Mercedes-Benz namesake both in size and styling.
The JAC SRV (or Rein) is a mid-sized SUV that could easily be mistaken for the Hyundai Santa Fe. It comes with the choice of 2.0-litre front-wheel drive or 2.4-litre 4WD. The veteran of the range, and JACís biggest-selling passenger car, is the seven-seat Refine people mover.
As well as these passenger vehicles JAC also produce a one-tonne pickup available with either a single or dual cab.
We were able to view each of these models and have a brief drive of the B-Class. The car looked and felt solid enough with a well-designed interior and plenty of leg and headroom both front and rear.
Although its impact to date has been negligible the spectacular growth of the Chinese automotive industry seems sure to have a significant influence on both the Australian commercial and passenger markets during the next decade. As one of the largest of Chinaís manufacturers JAC will be prominently placed and we look forward to testing the light-duty trucks when they arrive here within the next six months.