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Australia: An interview with Daniel Cotterill from Great Wall

The Great Wall V-Series is the first Chinese model to break into the Australian Top 50

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Today I had the privilege of interviewing Daniel Cotterill, spokesperson for Ateco Automotive who distribute Chinese brands Great Wall and Chery in Australia alongside with Citroen, Ferrari and Maserati. And what better opportunity to give you an update on how the Chinese are faring in the sunburnt country and what’s in store for the next few years, 9 months after my Full Year 2011 article “The Chinese have landed in Australia”.

The Foton Tunland is now available to test drive in Brisbane and Perth.

Originally launched in June 2009, Great Wall finished 2011 at #16 in the Australian brands ranking with sales up 30% to 8,665 units, delivering one of the most successful car brand launches in the country. 9 months into 2012, Great Wall has already sold almost as many vehicles as during the entire year 2011 (8,480), up a very shiny 38% year-on-year… Great Wall’s Australian website features a sales counter updated daily, currently boasting “26,244 Great Walls on the roads”.

The Chery J1 is Australia’s cheapest new car at $10,990

Daniel Cotterill says: “We’re very pleased with how it’s gone so far. We launched in Australia with very conservative expectations as we knew it would be difficult to be the first Chinese brand in a mainstream Western market. The key thing for us is steady expansion and sustainable growth.” Great Wall now has 90 dealerships all across Australia, up from 44 at launch. As is often the case Great Wall do not share sales targets but Daniel admits that over the next few years, “We’d like to see the brand progress the same as it has” since launch.

So let’s play the ‘steady growth’ game and apply a 25% year-on-year increase for the next 4 years (not impossible – it’s Volkswagen’s growth rate this year). We then arrive at almost 30,000 annual sales by 2016, which could give Great Wall a spot within the Top 10 most popular brands in the country, fighting with the likes of Subaru, Honda and Kia…

Great Wall X-Series

One of the key factors in Great Wall’s success in Australia has been to embrace the brand’s provenance rather than hiding it. Daniel explains: “We revelled in the fact that we are the Great cars of China. This is the third wave of Asian imports that are coming to this country and it’s always the same: there’s resistance on quality grounds to begin with. The way in is to compete on price, which we unashamedly do.” Perception about products made in China is changing in Australia: “People look at their TV on the wall and it’s made in China, their iPhone is made in China but a car is probably the 2nd most expensive thing most people ever buy after their house so there’s an understandable degree of caution before they get into that sort of purchase.” Hence the sales counter on the website…after all, over 25,000 Australians can’t all be wrong, right?

1958 Toyopet Crown. Australia was Toyota’s first export market.

It’s indeed a historical time for car sales in Australia. In the late 50s, Japanese car manufacturers and Toyota in particular started using Australia as a testing ground for a later expansion in Europe and the USA. See my article Australia 1958-1968: Toyota and Japan’s first export market here. In the mid-eighties Korean manufacturers did the same. Now it’s the Chinese’s turn. “It’s quite clear that Australia is a test-case for both Great Wall and Chinese manufacturers in general, and it’s been a learning experience for all concerned.” Great Wall has already applied its Australian learnings onto a UK launch in July 2012.

Another winning factor for Great Wall in Australia has been to “keep it simple”. Great Wall’s range currently has only two models: the V-Series pick-up (aka Steed) starting at $17,990 vs. $18,990 for a Toyota Hilux and the X-Series SUV (aka Hover H5) starting at $23,990 vs. $26,990 for a Hyundai ix35. The SA220 pick-up (aka Sailor) was quickly discontinued after disappointing sales, so Great Wall has been making the most of 2 very well targeted models in a market where SUV and pick-up sales are the fastest growing.

Gaye Foley receives the keys to her Great Wall X200, the 20,000th Great Wall sold in Australia. (CarsGuide)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Great Wall’s success in Australia is the healthy amount of repeat business the brand is already experiencing, boding well for the future. The 20,000th Great Wall sold in the country, a X200 purchased in Gosford, NSW in April this year, was Gaye and Scott Foley’s 2nd Great Wall. Australian tradesmen like to lease workhorses, generally over 2 years, and “anecdotally we have recorded a lot of them asking for another one when the lease ended”.

But as impressive as the sales figures look on paper, it has not all been a smooth ride… Daniel: “We have been fortunate with Great Wall but honestly it hasn’t been easy.”

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Current Australia article: Australia September 2012: Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 at record heights

Previous ‘Chinese in Australia’ article: Australia Full Year 2011: The Chinese have landed!

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