Chinese automakers are slowly making a mark in the local auto industry as consumers cosy up to the various China-made models introduced here.
One of the latest to make an entrance into Malaysia is the Grand Tiger pick-up truck, manufactured by ZX Auto Co Ltd.
The 2.9-litre engined Grand Tiger pick-up truck was first brought into the local market by Orient Sun Motors Sdn Bhd in December last year and was well received by the buying public.
Orient Sun’s chief executive officer Quek Wang noted that there are about five to six orders a month and expects sales to pick up later in the year when the 2.5 litre model hits local shores.
“The pick-up market is a growing market with quite impressive growth rates,” Quek said.
Orient Sun was incorporated in 2009 and started off providing support and maintenance work for RapidKL. But when the opportunity came for the company to distribute pick-up trucks, Orient Sun shifted its focus to vehicle distribution.
The Grand Tiger pick-up trucks are brought in as completely knocked down (CKD) units and are assembled locally by Oriental Assemblers Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Oriental Holdings Bhd, in Tampoi, Johor Baru.
“The motor industry is an exciting industry. You can’t do away with it because the landscape is such that we will still need cars,” Quek said.
To put it plainly, he explained that a new batch of 18-year-olds will be eligible to own a car every year, which means new demand for carmakers.
Although the pick-up segment is a small one compared to the total industry volume (TIV) for vehicles, Quek noted that there is potential for the pick-up market to grow.
While TIV last year was 600,123 units, the pick-up segment grew by 8.5% to 43,847 units from 40,414 units in 2010.
“The growth was lower than expected. The industry had estimated that sales of new pick-ups would reach about 46,000 units but the market was disrupted by the tsunami in Japan and severe floods in Thailand last year,” he said.
For 2012, he said TIV for pick-up vehicles is expected to reach 50,000 units.
The pick-up market is dominated by the 2.5 litre models and Quek aims to get a good slice of the pie with the arrival of the 2.5 litre Grand Tiger in August.
Quek hopes to establish the Grand Tiger brand in Malaysia as a more affordable option among the pick-up trucks.
The pick-up truck market in Malaysia is competitive as it is not a big market like in Thailand where TIV for pick-up trucks is about 300,000 units a year. Currently, the main players in the local arena include Ford and Nissan.
Quek is aware that consumers are apprehensive about China-made goods but noted that not everything from the country is of suspect quality.
Quek and his team are looking at more roadshows and promotional efforts ahead to establish the brand and boost consumer confidence in Grand Tiger.
“Not every brand is good. That is why we want to bring in only the top makes in China. These are the brands that are more trustworthy,” he said.
Grand Tiger’s advantage in the competitive segment could well be its pricing. Quek said the Grand Tiger is “the cheapest 4X4 in town”.
With complete accessories and a manual drive train, a Grand Tiger pick-up comes at an affordable price of about RM69,000.
Orient Sun is looking at sales of 300 to 350 units this year. But when the 2.5 litre model comes out, Quek is looking at sales of 300 units a month next year onwards.
“At the moment, we are selling the 2.9-litre model mainly to establish our name as a tough, utility vehicle good for multiple usages such as in construction sites, palm oil plantations and so on,” he said.
Quek, who has been in the automotive industry for many years, has dealt with top brands such as Renault, Ford and Tata.
Equipped with his years of experience, Quek is aggressive in his vision for the brand.
He hopes to capture about 5% of the pick-up market in two years’ time.
Currently, Orient Sun has a network of 15 dealers that are selling the Grand Tiger model and he aims to expand the network to about 20 to 23 dealers by year-end.
“I am quite picky with how many dealers we have because we don’t want too many, which could lead to a price war. I want to make sure that our dealers make money and are sustainable,” he said.
Quek noted that margins will be lower given their lower selling price for Grand Tiger, but he is adamant about biting the bullet and driving sales volume first.
“That’s how we start. We will look at a price increase later,” he said.
Picking a niche market is also part of Grand Tiger’s strategy to win market share.
Orient Sun is targeting the utility market of small business owners who buy pick-up trucks for work and family use.
One of the challenges faced by the automotive industry is financing.
Bank Negara Malaysia drew up guidelines last November aimed at promoting prudent and responsible retail financing practices, but the new guidelines have created a hurdle for potential car owners seeking loans.
The Malaysian Automotive Association noted that there was a 25% drop in new car sales when the guidelines came into effect in January this year.
Orient Sun is similarly affected by the new guidelines.
“A lot of our customers are middle-income so getting a loan is important. But it is difficult for them at this moment to get loans and there is lower approval rate for loans. So, at the end of the day, a lot of orders do not materialise,” Quek said.
Nonetheless, with the pick-up market set to grow, Quek is optimistic that Grand Tiger’s trucks can make a name for themselves in the local market.
“Give it another three years and we will see a bigger percentage of Chinese cars on our roads.”