Little-known now, but a big future

Updated: 2013-09-30 01:01

By CECILY LIU (China Daily)

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Hegarty's team invested in events and brands highly regarded by the shooting community, such as Real Tree, a US company that makes camouflage apparel, and Team Wild TV, an outdoor sports channel that promotes shooting.

Ian Harford, a Team Wild TV celebrity, conducted a hunting test in South Africa in the Great Wall Steed, which helped establish the car's credibility in the minds of the shooting community.

"They saw it being tried and tested by him in harsh environments. So people thought, ‘If it's good enough for him, then it's good enough for me'," Hegarty says.

Hegarty admits customers initially had concerns about the vehicle's quality following its launch because so few Chinese cars are available in Europe.

However, the low expectations meant that many customers were surprised and impressed when shown the car.

"When they see the car, they say, ‘This is a very good car. It's just like anyone else's pickup.' Whatever expectations they had for a Chinese car, the Great Wall Steed exceeded it," he says.

"We have heard so many times that the car is much better than they thought it would be."

Now that the Steed has been around in the UK and Ireland for more than a year, Hegarty's team is seeing customers buying a second one.

Some customers need more than one pickup truck to suit their business needs and, after they have tested the Steed, they trust it enough to add another.

Although Great Wall has yet to put the Steed through the EuroNCAP crash test, Hegarty says this has not affected sales. "On the pickup that's OK, because it's not what people ask for as the No 1 question. But on passenger cars, yes, because it's something people do ask if they are buying a family car," he says.

Hegarty says his team hopes to expand Great Wall's dealership network, but not so fast as to compromise quality.

He says the ideal Great Wall dealer is a private operator with one or two stores, who is not already selling pickup trucks from Great Wall's competitors.

"We take a very personal hands-on approach in recruiting dealers," Hegarty says. "That's because we don't just want Great Wall to succeed today or tomorrow, but for the long term. We don't want to be in a situation of changing the dealers."

Great Wall, founded in Baoding, Hebei province, in 1976, has been China's largest automotive exporter in volume and revenue since 1998.

With a sales network covering more than 100 countries, Great Wall sold 85,000 vehicles abroad last year, a 50 percent increase from 2010. Its key export markets include North and South America, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Australia, Russia and Italy.

Hegarty says he is excited to work with Great Wall on its journey to become established internationally.

"At the moment, China has a lot of demand for cars, but when the time comes for capacity to outstrip demand, Chinese manufacturers will come to Europe," Hegarty says.

He feels confident Chinese cars will one day follow the path of Japanese and Korean manufacturers in becoming trusted and liked by European customers — but the journey will be a lot shorter.

The British market has become increasingly popular with Chinese carmakers in recent years.

SAIC Motor Corp Ltd of Shanghai bought the intellectual property of MG Rover in 2005 and has since launched the MG6 and MG3 on the UK market. The company designs and assembles cars at MG's old plant in Birmingham.

Hangzhou-based Geely Holding Group Co Ltd has also gained a foothold in the European automotive industry through acquiring Swedish carmaker AB Volvo in 2010 and the London taxicab maker Manganese Bronze Holdings Plc earlier this year.

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