Having tested the water at Scotlandâ€™s only MG outlet, it seemed only right to look into the arrival and progress of Great Wall.Â Â At least as far as vehicles on British streets goes, this is the other big Chinese automotive story here.Â Despite only going on sale at the end of April 2012, the Steed pickup had, by the end of the year, clocked up 476 registrations.Â If the 400 MG6s supplied to Avis are not counted, thatâ€™s 96 units more than MG Motor UK.Â GW have also exceeded Proton and Peroduaâ€™s combined registrations, and are snapping at the heels of Infiniti, who registered 530 cars and SUVs in 2012.
Great Wallâ€™s newest Scottish dealership only opened at the beginning of this year.Â For the record, the nation now has eight GW outlets, seven more than MG Motor can muster.Â Most are in rural areas, which makes eminent strategic sense, but this one is deep in the bosom of Glasgowâ€™s north western suburbia.Â Â The Great Wall facia has appeared, large and well-lit, over the premises of a well established dealer in high-end cars.Â I show some interest in the Steed S on show outside, and am able to talk to the proprietor at some length.
Itâ€™s too early to say how it will go, but the signs are promising.Â Heâ€™s impressed with the product, well-made and well-equipped even in entry level S specification.Â With a 2 litre DOHC 16 valve direct injection diesel of Isuzu ancestry, driving through a six speed gearbox, the Steed is no back-marker in the technology race. Â Of even greater importance, prices are a good Â£7000 less than anything comparable from Toyota, Mitsubishi, or Isuzu.
I ask if thereâ€™s any plan to offer more downmarket versions, 2WD single cabs for example.Â It seems not.Â My impression is that GW are deliberately steering away from the â€œthrowaway plant itemsâ€ market which at Tata aimed their Loadbeta many years ago.Â The Steed SE demonstrator is out on an extended test drive.Â The black S on the forecourt has been tricked out with 22â€ alloy wheels and chunky chrome roll-bars and running boards, â€œto get the young people interestedâ€.Â Not to everyoneâ€™s taste, but I realise Iâ€™m talking to a man who has a very sound understanding of his demographic.Â He reckons thereâ€™s potential in the â€œrich kidsâ€™ toyâ€ business, and there are plenty such people in the locality.
I ask about what else is on the way, mentioning the H6 SUV Iâ€™ve seen on the website.Â No launch date has been confirmed yet, but itâ€™s months rather than years.Â It will be a 2 litre diesel, pitched against the Honda CR-V in size, but considerably lower priced.Â Bigger SUVs are likely to follow, up to X5 / XC90 size.Â I didnâ€™t even raise the matter, but was told that IM had no plans to bring in the small cars, so no Voleex, Florid or Coolbear.Â The UK passenger car market at the moment is not only turbulent, but also far too crowded and unprofitable.
I mention MGâ€™s tribulations in passing, and was told â€“ to my surprise – that his company came very close to taking on the franchise around two years ago, but baulked at the Â£500,000 investment in premises MG expected.Â International Motors, the GW importer, are more realistic, and have been very supportive in starting up the franchise.
The involvement of IM is likely to be hugely significant to Great Wallâ€™s progress in the UK. They built up an enormously successful business importing and distributing Subaru, Daihatsu and Isuzu, rather offbeat marques, but with competent, well-engineered products.
The Sterling / Yen exchange rate has dealt IM a heavy blow, and Great Wall is part of their fightback strategy.Â As my garage proprietor said, â€œitâ€™s early days yetâ€, but the auspices look far better than those for MG.Â The big difference is that whereas MG Motor UKâ€™s prime purpose is to fly a flag, IM have to make profits, and that means volume and a strategy for growth.