Chinese car brands will need to tap into Australian engineering experience to continue their rapid rise in showroom success.

    That’s the view of one of the most experienced people in the field, automotive engineer Bernie Quinn of Premcar.

    The veteran of time with Ford Performance Vehicles and now the head of Premcar, which produces the upgraded Warrior models for Nissan, believes Chinese brands will need to improve to continue their rapid sales success in Australia.

    Chinese-built cars outsold ones from South Korea in 2023, just as Japanese and South Korean brands made a rapid start from their early days.

    “To me, the critical next step for Chinese new-car brands is to achieve a very deep understanding of what Australian consumers want and need from their vehicles,” Mr Quinn told CarExpert.

    “Critically, this market needs products with careful refinement to suit local customer expectations. Many Australian new-car customers are prepared to pay a little extra to get the car they want, especially a car that’s made or tuned for our market.

    “Generic, or ‘global’ products – especially in the major volume sectors – would enjoy more success if they were tuned to local conditions and buyer tastes.”

    Premcar has achieved its own rapid growth in recent years, with the Warrior program for the Nissan Navara pick-up and Patrol four-wheel drive headlining both the engineering and production abilities of the team at its Melbourne headquarters.

    Premcar also developed a Ford Bronco resto-mod for Gateway Bronco in the USA, with modern engineering inside a 1970s body and a price tag starting at $623,000.

    The Australian operation is described by Gateway Bronco as a “Skunk Works facility in Melbourne”.

    Premcar is not working for Chinese companies, but Mr Quinn believes it’s the expertise and experience of companies such as his (or rivals such as Walkinshaw, which recently overhauled the Mitsubishi Triton and has worked with Volkswagen on the Amarok) which could provide a breakthrough.

    “Some of the world’s best cars have been developed in Australia, and some of the best automotive engineers in the world come from Australia,” he said.

    “Making full use of Australia’s car-making skills and expertise will give the Chinese OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) automakers a fast track to success in this very competitive market.”

    With more than 25 years of experience, the Premcar team sees a reflection of the sales growth by Hyundai and Kia in Chinese brands including MG, LDV, and BYD.

    “In general, I am very impressed with the speed of progress Chinese automakers are achieving with new-vehicle quality,” said Mr Quinn.

    “I’m old enough to remember the first Hyundais that entered Australia at $13,990 drive-away. The Chinese brands seem to be on the same early trajectory the big South Korean brands followed in Australia, but their growth rate is probably twice as fast.”

    He praises their efforts but said there is plenty of room for improvement.

    “In most cases, from a product point of view, the fundamental design and content is already present in Chinese vehicles – good looks, good suspension design, decent powertrains (both ICE and EV), and great interiors.

    “There are tremendous opportunities to further improve these vehicles via their tuneable elements – ride and handling, steering, powertrain calibration, ADAS (driver assistance) calibration, infotainment software development, and so on.“

    If these elements are tuned and developed for local consumers and local conditions, these vehicles will become even more compelling for Australian new-car buyers,” Mr Quinn said.

    Paul Gover

    Paul Gover is one of the most experienced and respected motoring journalists in Australia. After more than 40 years on the automotive beat there is nothing he has not done, yet he still brings the enthusiasm of a rookie. He has worked in print, digital, radio, television and for every major publisher in the country. He is also a national motor racing champion and once co-drove with Peter Brock at Bathurst.

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