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GREAT WALL: Value the key for Great Wall to scale the UK market

Date: 25 May 2012

Paul Hegarty, the MD of Chinese brand Great Wall, speaks to James Dallas about the firm's aim to establish itself in the pick-up sector by offering lower prices than its rivals

Great Wall Motor Company introduced its Steed pick-up truck to the UK in April via its distributor, the IM Group.

The vehicle faces the task of muscling its way into a sector that has recently become more congested with the high-profile arrivals of the new Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok.

But although the Steed falls some way short of its rivals in terms of refinement and sophistication, Great Wall is bucking the upwardly mobile trend by positioning its contender squarely in the bargain basement. It claims the double-cab 4WD Steed is cheaper than its competitors' 2WD single-cab pick-ups.

"We're a little-known brand with competitive pricing," says Paul Hegarty, managing director, Great Wall UK.

The pick-up comes in just two specifications: the Steed S, priced £13,998 excluding VAT, and the Steed SE priced at £15,998, and Hegarty says the reason for this simple approach is that "confusion doesn't sell". Meanwhile, with starting prices so low, dealers have been instructed not to negotiate discounts.

"The Steed is sure to attract lots of interest in the UK thanks to its unbeatable value and the unique Great Wall customer service promise being offered by our new network of dealers," adds Hegarty. "Our pick-up boasts a high level of practicality, reliability and durability, as well as low running costs. It will represent a superb ownership proposition and will give Great Wall a flying start in the UK."

Customer service

The aforementioned Great Wall "promise" refers to a level of customer service Hegarty claims is unique in the segment. It includes a commitment by its 40 dealerships to offer customers test drives at home or at their place of work within a 20-mile radius of the site and also to provide free service pick-ups and drop-offs within similar distances. All Steeds come with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, a six-year anti-perforation warranty, three-year paint warranty and three years of roadside recovery and assistance. The firm offers fixed-price monthly service payments and pledges to only invoice for work previously agreed with the customer.

A 143hp 2.0-litre CRDi diesel engine with maximum torque of 305Nm powers the Steed in both specifications and this comes mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Under normal conditions power is driven to the rear wheels but on-demand four-wheel drive can be selected at speeds of up to 12mph. Low-ratio four-wheel drive can be selected when the vehicle is stationary.

Official combined-cycle fuel consumption is 34.0mpg and the importer claims its urban figure of 30.1mpg is the best-in-class. It also claims the insurance ratings of 7A for the Steed S and 8A for the SE are the lowest in the pick-up segment. On the other hand, CO2 emissions of 220g/km fall short of the best on offer elsewhere, but the Steed is an anomaly in the segment in that its engine is still only Euro4 compliant.

While new medium and large LCVs needed to comply with the Euro5 standard by 1 January 2012 under type-approval rules, exceptions were made for end-of-series derogated Euro4 vehicles, which were granted an extension of up to 18 months. According to the Department for Transport, this flexibility mainly covers vehicles left in stock that were built before the compliance date.

Hegarty does not see the Steed's Euro4 classification as a stumbling block. "It doesn't affect the cost to the owner," he says. "VED is not dependent on emissions, it's a £215 flat rate."

He adds that Euro5 models will begin to arrive in the UK early next year.

As well as Subaru, the IM Group also imports Isuzu pick-ups to the UK. The Japanese brand pitches itself as the champion of the workhorse truck and eschews the lifestyle sector, but Hegarty insists it will not compete with the Steed because prices for Isuzu's new D-Max double-cab start at £18,499, excluding VAT - £2500 more than the flagship SE Steed.

Hegarty reckons the Steed will "attract customers who would otherwise buy used". He claims the price factor will mean customers will view a new Steed as an attractive alternative to, for example, a three-year old Toyota Hilux that has put in more than 40,000 miles of hard graft for a utility company.

He stresses that Great Wall is keeping an open mind when it comes to who might buy the Steed and is keen not to narrow its options by targeting specific sections of the market. He describes the Great Wall stand at April's CV Show, where the Steed took centre stage, as being "distinctive" but deliberately "neutral" in not identifying "the end user".

"We are not making assumptions as to who's going to buy it," claims Hegarty. "We're saying here it is, here's the price, here are the specs - we'll sell them all over the place."

Although 400 units have arrived in the UK so far with 50 sold by late April, the importer is not predicting volumes. Hegarty says: "We don't want distortions from setting volume targets. We don't want vehicles sitting in a field; we want them to go to the end user."