Chinese SUV brand, Haval, may not have worked up a high-profile in Australia yet but not for lack of trying, with the brand's Australian marketing team revealing that competitors with iron-clad franchise agreements have halted plans to grow the dealer network in Australia.
Haval Australia's chief marketing officer, Tim Smith, explained that the brand has fielded enquiries from over 30 dealers looking to add Haval to their retail portlofios, only to suffer knock-backs from "external forces" particularly in cases where competior brands have acted to protect their current interests.
"Right now we are experienceing this complete fortress mentality by existing OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] which is a shame, because it effectively stifles competition. It stifles the introduction of new technology, new brands, perhaps better solutions for the Australian consumer," Mr Smith revealed.
Although he wouldn't be drawn on which manufacturers were acting to stop dealers from adding Haval franchises, Mr Smith did suggest that the major stumbling block came from companys "in a unique situation" adding that he was "empathetic to their cause."
"Australia's meant to be that type of environment where people are given a fair go to at least get to the starting line, and everyone has a fair shot at being very good, or very poor. Unfortunately we haven't quite got to that starting line from a dealer network perspective," Mr Smith said.
Despite initial setbacks establishing its dealer network, the brand now has 15 dealerships up and running, up from just four when Haval arrived in 2015. By the end of the calendar year another 10 dealers will come online, with a target of 50 Australian dealers slated by 2020.
Along with an expanded dealer footprint, Haval will keep its showroom offerings fresh with a selection of new or updated products, the first of which will be an overhaul for the Prado-rivalling H9 large SUV, which is due for a midlife facelift and set to arrive in Australia from the fourth quarter of 2017.
Confirmed earlier this year, the new H9 is set to address some of the shortcomings of the current model, in particular drivability, with more power and a new transmission on the way.
Power from the H9’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine will be boosted from 169kW to 180kW and torque gets a lift from 324Nm to 350Nm. While the more substantial figures might look like the outputs of a typical hot hatch, in the supersized H9 with its circa 2.2 tonne weight the upgraded engine will still have its work cut out for it.
Haval claims 0-100km/h acceleration times have dropped from 13.4 seconds to a still-leisurely but vastly improved 10.6 seconds. Fuel consumption also improves, in part thanks to a new ZF eight-speed automatic transmission which sees the H9’s official thirst drop to 11.0 l/100km, down from 12.1 l/100 km.
Unlike key off-road biased competitors in the large SUV segment like the Toyota Prado and Fortuner, Mitsubishi Pajero and Pajero Sport, and Isuzu MU-X, the H9 will go without a diesel engine - considered a key feature by owners used to towing, cross-country driving, or off-roading.
Haval is also looking to dynamics, with a local suspension program undertaken with the help of off-road specialist Ironman 4x4 leading to the development of a prototype suspension kit featuring heavier springs, shock absorbers with upgraded valving, and minor changes to toe-in for improved ride and better cornering.
Safety will get a leg-up thanks to standard lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring, all models will add a digital speedometer display, and the flagship H9 LUX will add a panoramic sunroof to its standard features list.
From the outside, the 2018 H9 can be identified by its new grille, front bumper, foglights, and alloy wheels.
Haval is also set to add a seven-seat large SUV to its range in early 2018 with the introduction of the H7, with the brand taking aim at road-focussed SUVS like the Mazda CX-9 and Kia Sorento, but with a price point that will see it priced favourably compared to medium SUVs like the seven-seat Honda CR-V and Volkswagen Tiguan that are both arriving soon.
Despite styling similarities, the H9 promises to be more than a seven-seat version of Haval’s existing H6 medium SUV, the H7 features unique styling and a more powerful 170kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Cementing its position as an urban SUV the H7 will be offered with front wheel drive only, via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Thanks to an overall length of 4900mm the H7 out-stretches seven-seat mid-sizers like the Skoda Kodiaq and Mitsubishi Outlander, as well as large SUV stalward, the Toyota Kluger. Haval has one example of the H7 on hand in Australia for evaluation purposes, and though we weren't able to drive it, interior space and equipment should be competitive.
In the range-topping H7 LUX expect to find luxury features like a panoramic sunroof, 12.3-inch virtual instrument cluster, powered tailgate and semi-automated parking with safety kit set to include blind spot monitoring, lane change assist, rear cross traffic alert and 360-degree camera.
Also under development for Australia is autonomous emergency braking and forward collision warning, with an expected arrival in the first quarter of 2018 for both H7 and H9. Later in the year an updated H6 is also expected to arrive with revised styling, new safety equipment, and overhauled powertrains.
The company is also currently evaluating future product, with the replacement for the current H6 currently the subject of debate within Haval's local product planning division. Out of three possible options, a five-seat SUV, a seven-seat SUV, and an SUV-coupe styled along the lines of the HB-03 Concept the brand is able to pick only two for Australia - including a plug-in hybrid AWD powertrain. That decision will be made on the strength of feedback both from the media and from potential customers (so let them know what you think in the comments).
Along with the new models, Haval has also made running changes to its existing range based on feedback from existing owners and Australia’s motoring media in an attempt to make the cars more appealing to Aussie buyers.
As of the middle of 2017 all vehicles feature a recalibrated ABS module with a less-intrusive stability control threshold, the emergency hazard light activation feature that previously would come on with even moderate brake applications has also been scaled back.
A voice prompt from the reverse camera has been taken out of the H2 and H6 and will be removed from the 2018 H9, the H6’s always-on rear seatbelt reminder has been changed, and H2 and H6 can now be upgraded with satellite navigation as an accessory.
Whether the changes will be enough to lure buyers into showrooms remains to be seen, but Haval’s relatively quick moves to improve its products shows that the brand is committed to the Australian market.
Overseas models shown.
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