As South African consumers continue to embrace the red dragon, we talk to Tony Pinfold, chairperson of Great Wall Motors South Africa.
By Ian Armitage
There are good years and there are great years. For Great Wall Motors South Africa (GWM SA) 2011 was a great one. Sales increased by around 40 percent over 2010 and it successfully launched a number of new vehicles in the local market.
The company sold an impressive 7,688 vehicles in the 2011 financial year.
The best month for GWM was January at 860 units.
"Last year was great and the positive trend has continued into 2012," says GWM SA chairperson Tony Pinfold, who believes there are several reasons for the growth.
He says it is partly due to a change in strategy, which saw the firm focus more on sales and dealer support by pushing more people into the field in various regions. It is also partly down to the fact that the buying public has "begun to appreciate the quality of our products".
"Brand acceptance has been fantastic," says Pinfold. "And this has helped us to expand our network.
"In terms of putting more skilled people in place, we've done that both technically and from a sales point of view, regionally.
"In terms of new dealerships we now have two to three people approaching us a week who are looking to open GWM dealerships. These are mostly companies who already own a number of other franchises."
GWM SA currently has 70 dealerships spread across South Africa, Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana.
"We have more planned," says Pinfold.
Another reason for GWM's growing sales is that it has a new-look pickup on the showroom floor, with the new Steed 5 and the H5 sports utility vehicle adding to the growth seen in 2011.
"These products have good solid futures," says Pinfold. "The petrol H5 was launched in 2011 and the Steed 5 2.2 in May this year.
"To be honest the launch of the H5 hasn't gone quite as well as we'd have wished technically speaking. I'm not sure what the reason for that is. It has done very well but maybe I was a little bit too optimistic and thought we'd do higher numbers on that one. We're now working on re-promoting so we'll see what happens from there."
South Africa's auto industry has shown solid growth so far this year – the industry is on track for around 10 percent growth during 2012.
Great Wall is among the many success stories.
"I think in terms of overall numbers, meaning everybody, the market has been surprising resilient," says Pinfold. "I don't know the exact numbers but from what I've seen, we seem to be way up on most people's predictions. The predictions were for around the five to seven percent increase for this year and it looks like we're well above that, maybe even twice above that. It's interesting."
Pinfold expects H5 sales to make up a good percent of the company's sales going forward, with pick-ups being a major contributor and passenger cars now showing good growth.
As for 2012, he hopes to increase sales by another 30 percent.
"I think that's pretty achievable. We've got some good model introductions coming in the next month or so. The public has recognised that we are a very good brand that has good products."
The new C10, which will compete in the small-car segment and which will be priced below R135,000, is something Pinfold is hugely excited about.
He believes it will encourage more people to visit GWM dealerships this year.
"That vehicle will be launched on August 21. We're pretty excited about it because it's a great little car. There is lots of competition in this market but we're pretty optimistic. We don't make the last call, that's up to the public, but yes we're very excited and optimistic. It is a high-spec, fashionable, quality product."
South Africa is currently the third-biggest market for GWM outside China, following Russia and Australia.
"GWM consults us on the research, development and design of products," Pinfold says.
Despite the great progress there is still more to achieve.
"Manufacturing is a dream of ours, but government should create a programme that will assist small-volume sellers to start manufacturing vehicles locally.
"It is difficult for a completely built-up importer like us to compete with local assemblers, as government support programmes allow them to import vehicles at almost no duty."
GWM arrived in South Africa in February 2007, with 1,500 units reaching Durban ready for sale across the country.
GWM pickups and multi-wagons accounted for most of the new arrivals.
By March the first vehicles began selling.
It has since sold well over 40,000 units in the country.
"We act as GWM's sole agent in South Africa," says Pinfold. "Our products are reliable and well suited to local conditions and they have been trusted by local users."
GWM SA's head office, as well as its logistics and central parts distribution warehouse, is based in Durban. Its main aim is to provide "honest, reliable and well equipped" vehicles to the broader South African market at exceptional prices and with outstanding service levels.
The brand has grown consistently and so has the product range.
Today its SUVs, hatchbacks, passenger cars and pick-ups are a regular feature on South African roads.
To learn more visit www.gwm.co.za.
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