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Landwind lands as UK feels first breath of Chinese influx

Date: 18 July 2007

The expected arrival of China's car brands hasn't quite materialised, but give it a decade or so and the UK could well and truly be feeling their influence, as Guy Bird reports

So, the anticipated flood of Chinese product is currently a trickle. Although many column inches were devoted to MG's official return to Britain under Chinese owners Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC), the numbers are largely symbolic. Not only that but the brand is neither Chinese nor are the cars built in China: NAC aims to sell just 3000 Longbridge-built made MGTF roadsters a year, and Chinese-built MGs destined for the UK are unlikely before 2010.

With a 1.3 billion population and a home market that topped seven million vehicles in 2007 (making it the second biggest in the world behind the US) it's hardly surprising that Chinese domestic brands are yet to look abroad when there's plenty to concentrate on at home.

However, if, as suggested in a recent report by growth consultants Frost & Sullivan, a Chinese vehicle maker is to become a top 10 global player by 2020, a little slice of the European market wouldn't hurt.

A new vision

Landwind tried to start sales in continental Europe in 2005, but when its New Vision small 4x4 - an ageing design with roots in the Vauxhall Frontera - performed appallingly badly in a crash test the resulting bad publicity caused the company to have a large re-think. In late 2006 ex-Kia UK boss Paul Williams was made managing director of Landwind's European operation and he now aims to make the brand the first Chinese domestic marque to crack the UK.

Two models will spearhead Landwind's UK thrust by summer 2008: a £13,000 heavily revised, high spec version of the previous small 4x4 - now called X-pedition and predicted to gain a three-star NCAP crash test rating - plus an all-new Italian-designed, five- or seven-seat Mini-MPV labelled Fashion.

Although Williams concedes that with the domestic Chinese market so buoyant there's little need for most Chinese car brands to export, he reckons in Landwind's case there is "a point to prove". He expects 10,000 sales over here by 2010 and is recruiting 120 UK dealers. In terms of any business sales within that mix, Williams is realistic: "Our primary market will be retail, however company business is there to be exploited and we wish to be equipped to deal with it. Essential for this is reputation, service and RVs.

"The infrastructure we are putting in place will allow us to tick all of those boxes. Our prices will be keen and supported by a cunning brand positioning that will not be concentrating on price/discount levels (which feed back into RV). We'll be educating the market makers around the Frankfurt motor show."

Who's next?

Shanghai Automotive Industrial Corporation (SAIC), which has the rights to the Rover 75 and 25 models, could soon be selling a trio of Euro-bound products under its new Roewe badge (Ford bought the Rover name to protect its Land Rover products).

Beyond the 750 - a heavily tweaked Rover 75 - the biggest news is an all-new small family saloon based on the W2 concept that has been engineered to meet all Euro regulations and could be in the UK by 2009 - and possibly called the 450.

UK-based importer IM Group also has strong links to China and claims to be in talks with "every major Chinese carmaker", although inside sources suggest Chery and Geely could be highest up its list of brands to import by 2010 or so.

The predicted Chinese invasion of a few years ago may have stalled but Williams reckons we would be unwise to dismiss future moves to these shores. As he says: "There's a view now in China that in a civilisation of 5000 years' standing what's a couple more years? In five to 10 years I believe Chinese OEMs in Europe will be a real threat."