No, I haven’t had an epiphany, but my most recent taste of a Chinese brand was largely a pleasant one, and a trip to Durban with Great Wall Motors (GWM) revealed two things: their new H5 is a good effort and the local importer seems to have firmly grasped the fact that aftersales support is critical.
The H5 is a wagon-type family vehicle, available initially with a 2.4-litre petrol engine (a turbodiesel will follow as will 4x4 versions) aimed at the likes of Toyota’s Avanza and Nissan’s Livina. Compared to those rivals it boasts a larger engine, loads of surprise and delight features (including an electrically-adjusted driver’s seat, Bluetooth-compatibility, and reverse park assist with camera), superior space, and styling which will appeal to those who want the world to think they’re driving an SUV.
It is also rear-wheel-drive and the underpinnings are simple and straightforward. For R209 990, you’re getting quite a lot of car.
It’s not a perfect drive though, and the five-speed gearbox is a little notchy and the powerplant a bit gruff-sounding, and lacking some mid-range punch. Still, maybe those will improve with mileage as things mechanical loosen up. The interior is well-equipped in terms of features, though the panel fit and finish isn’t going to win any awards. It is a pity too there’s no 7-seat option, which would make it hugely appealing for large families on a tight budget.
Overall though it does the job, reinforcing for me that GWM – which has had a presence in South Africa since early 2007 and claims to have 25 000 vehicles in circulation - is the most progressive of the Chinese brands.
A 5 000 square metre parts facility in Durban housing over R120-million worth of stock suggests they’re backing it up, and they claim they can deliver 95 percent of parts anywhere in SA within 48 hours and get other parts from China to a dealer’s door in less than three weeks. This isn’t quite as impressive as Peugeot’s four deliveries a day to their Gauteng dealers, no more than a 24-hour delay to any dealer in the country, and a seven working day turnaround for parts ex-France, but it is a good effort nonetheless and should meet expectations.
At the moment, GWM are selling around 500 vehicles a month through 60 outlets, and they hope to see the H5 grow volumes by about 100. Internationally, GWM currently manufacturers half-a-million vehicles a year and plan to more than triple that by 2015, so it doesn’t look like there should be any issues with parts availability in the future…