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Haval is changing the image of Chinese cars

B

ack in the late 60s and early 70s, folks swore on American automobiles. Chryslers, Chevrolets and Pontiacs were the cars most sought after. Japanese entrants to the market were eyed with suspicion and it took Toyota, with its ¾-ton Toyopet pick-up, a long time to win the confidence of local motorists.

Then, in the early 90s, we had the Koreans who made a back-door entry into South Africa via Botswana with the Hyundai range of vehicles, that again had locals wondering about this unknown brand from a country few people knew of.

Both Toyota and Hyundai turned the local market on its head with reliable, durable and somewhat economical offerings. Back then, who would have predicted that things would turn out so? Just look at the healthy resale values these two brands command.

And now in the 2000s we have the Chinese, who came, copied, but not quite conquered the local market with their generally poor quality, cheap and nasty offerings which were quite literally knockoffs of old technology. While many have fallen by the wayside, the few left behind have upped their game significantly, to such an extent that sampling their products will leave you doubting the origins of their cars.

Value-filled offerings

One such player to be taken seriously is Haval, which forms the luxury SUV-only arm of the GWM group. The GWM stable boasts the Steed range of value-filled offerings in single and double cab bakkie configurations.

Having tested both the entry level H2 and the H6 City vehicles, I must say the performance of both has been a huge revelation. If you hid the badges and asked someone to guess what car they were driving, they would never guess that it was a Chinese product. Gone is the funny smelling, cheap plastic materials hastily put together and falling apart at every speed-hump. Now you’re welcomed by a lovely, new car smell that reminds you of car interiors costing twice as much. The fascia design is modern and well laid out, adding to the ergonomic value of the car. Every conceivable bell and whistle is catered for and the quality of materials and the standard of fit and finish promises to go the distance. Bonnet, boot and doors open and close with a reassuring thunk unheard of previously in cars from China.

Once you start the engine, select “drive” and pull off, you immediately realise that a lot of thought went into the design and engineering of this car. Be it the H2 or the H6, the refinement and solidity of performance is remarkable, with gear changes and overall performance top drawer.

The styling too is modern, classic and easy on the eye. It is, thankfully, not a rip-off of any marque and is beginning to carve its own brand loyalty. Remember, in its home country, it sold more than a million vehicles in 2017, and these are only SUVs as they do not produce any other derivatives. And that is says a lot.

All the right credentials

At this rate, don’t be surprised if Haval becomes a top seller in its categories in the not-too-distant-future locally too. It certainly has the credentials. Styling is now in the hands of Pierre Leclerq, previously of BMW M division fame while Ramon Ginah, ex Alfa Romeo, is responsible for the sumptuous interior design.

For now at least, Haval is priced competitively and with a generous warranty and roadside plan aims to take the fight to the big dogs. More dealerships are being planned to ensure they are represented in all the big centres.

They also launched the flagship H9, a true, full-size off roader at the Festival of Motoring at Kyalami at the end of August. This should ruffle the feathers of the established brands a bit.

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