KARACHI: A leading Chinese bike maker is gearing up to launch an 800cc car next year, a company official confirmed on Thursday.

Its launch will be followed by the end of the 30-year journey of iconic 800cc Suzuki Mehran in 2019.

United Auto Industries is venturing into car and pickup manufacturing, United Motors General Manager Muhammad Afzal told Dawn from Lahore.

He said the company will use Chinese technology and market its vehicles under the brand name of United. “The local assembly of these vehicles will begin in the first half of 2018,” he said.

The market is abuzz with reports that United is introducing Mehran and Ravi lookalikes with minor design variations to avoid copyright litigation.

“Our car and pickup are not the copy of Suzuki brands. Our vehicles are totally different and loaded with various attractive features and safety standards,” Mr Afzal said.

As for the pricing, he said the company intends to keep it “very affordable”. The official did not give any details about the company’s investment in the greenfield project, level of localisation, plant capacity and monthly production number.

In June, the government allowed United Motors, KIA-Lucky Motors and Hyundai Nishat Motor to set up greenfield projects under the new auto policy. These companies were promised special incentives by way of reduced customs duties on the import of completely knocked-down kits for local assembly.

Pak Suzuki plans to discontinue Mehran and introduce the next-generation 660cc Alto in March 2019. Alto will have a price tag of Rs850,000-900,000 for the basic variant.

Mehran, Ravi and Bolan, which belong to the 800cc category, constitute the largest auto segment with combined sales of approximately 8,000 vehicles per month.

Pak Suzuki has so far dominated this segment as vehicles produced by recent entrant Al-Haj FAW cost around Rs100,000 more than Ravi and Bolan.

Vendors of Japanese cars said it remains to be seen if United will make a dent in Pak Suzuki’s market share. Since 1989, Mehran has been the car of choice for customers as it helped them shift from motorcycles to four-wheelers.

Mehran’s affordable price, low-cost parts and after-sales network attract the middle class that cannot afford more expensive local or imported vehicles.

According to vendors, Chinese motorcycles were first rolled out in 2005 at prices that were 40 per cent lower than those of Japanese bikes. As a result, customers went wild for Chinese two-wheelers, which now control up to 60pc market share.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2017

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