Industry Analysis: Chinese Brands To Watch, Part 3 – Haval

Despite being smaller than the Chinese Big 4 – or perhaps because of it – Great Wall Motors has been much more confident and aggressive in pursuing export opportunities. Those first forays outside of China, however, proved disastrous due to outdated products and poor quality control. In 2013, Great Wall established the Haval SUV brand and it’s using this to re-establish itself globally. With a modern and attractive lineup, Haval shows promise.

It hasn’t been a smooth start for the brand. In Australia, where they arrived in 2016, limited advertising and a sparse dealer network have stopped Haval from entering the consciousness of the buying public (I only just realized the name is supposed to rhyme with gravel!) Sales actually slumped in their sophomore year here. They’ve even hit a bump in China where sales slumped 10% last year even as Chinese brands achieved record market share in the domestic market.

Haval is still doing rather well at home, however. One of 48 domestic marques and counting – yes, 48 – Haval outsold every Chinese brand except Geely, Baojun and Changan, enough to put it at #10 overall in the market. China accounted for 849,554 of Haval’s claimed million units produced in 2017. Great Wall’s chairman, Wei Jianjun, has set a lofty goal for Haval to become the world’s biggest SUV brand by 2020. And unlike rival domestic automakers like FAW and SAIC, Great Wall doesn’t have a foreign joint venture partner to help them.

Pictured: all the Havals NOT offered in Australia

The Chinese Haval lineup is dizzying in its variety, comprising:

  • H2 and H2s sub-compact crossovers (plus a H1 in other markets)
  • F5, H4, H6, H6 coupe, M6, F7 and H7 compact crossovers
  • The body-on-frame H5 (a refreshed Great Wall Hover/X240)
  • The H8 mid-size crossover
  • The H9 mid-size, body-on-frame SUV

Whew. Did I miss any? Great Wall also sells SUVs under the Great Wall and upscale Wey brands.

Australia has only four Havals: the H2, H6, H8 and H9. I went to a dealership to check them out although unfortunately they were all locked. This is unusual for Australia where, unlike the US (as I awkwardly discovered recently), dealerships tend to keep everything unlocked during trading hours and let you clamber into any car you want.

The Haval H6 was the fourth best-selling car in China in 2018, although it was down 10% from the year before. There are two H6 body styles: the regular H6 and the Range Rover Evoque-evoking H6 Coupe. In Australia, we get the H6 Coupe albeit without the misleading coupe appellation. It comes with just one powertrain: a turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0 four-cylinder mated to a Getrag-sourced six-speed dual-clutch automatic and producing 194 hp and 232 ft-lbs. While all-wheel-drive is available elsewhere, all Australian H6s are front-wheel-drive.

The H6 is roughly the same size as a Ford Escape/Kuga or a Kia Sportage. It actually has the same base price as the Sportage here in Australia but a comparison of the H6 and Sportage’s respective spec sheets reveal myriad differences. The base Sportage comes with a naturally-aspirated 2.0 producing 41 hp and 83 ft-lbs less than the H6. The H6 also has paddle shifters, rain-sensing wipers and a couple of other niceties not found in the base Sportage, while the top-line H6 offers features like a panoramic sunroof and heated seats front and rear which you’d have to spend $5-10k extra to get in a Sportage. It’s the typical upstart brand value play that Kia once played.

More important is how the H6 drives and here’s where the sheen starts to rub off. Like many other Chinese vehicles, there are some good components, often sourced from other companies (e.g. the Getrag transmission). It’s the overall tuning of the H6 that has led to some unfavorable comments from automotive journalists. CarAdvice, for example, found torque steer to be a problem and yet, conversely, the H6’s turbo four was said to run out of steam quickly. Critics from various outlets have also heaped scorn on the H6’s inconsistently-weighted, electrically-assisted steering. In short, the H6 has a good foundation but it needs more refinement – a verdict that reminds me an awful lot of Hyundai and Kia reviews from just 15 years ago. It remains to be seen how much of an improvement the next generation of H6 is; the new model has already debuted in China.

The H9, one of Haval’s slower-selling vehicles elsewhere, is one that’s a natural fit for their lineup here. That’s because Australia, like other Asia-Pacific markets, remains a competitive market for body-on-frame, pickup-derived SUVs, most of which offer a third row of seating.

In this segment, as with the utes on which they’re based, diesels rule. The H9 is, therefore, at a distinct disadvantage as it offers only a 2.0 turbocharged petrol engine mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Although it produces an acceptable 241 hp and 258 ft-lbs, it’s battling against almost 5000 pounds of curb weight. Consequently, the H9 only narrowly manages a 0-60 time of under 10 seconds.

The H9’s interior looks suitable for its price, which undercuts key rivals like the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport by $5k. Journalists have commented favourably on the material quality and ambience. The biggest Haval can tackle rugged terrain with aplomb while behaving itself on tarmac. It has a locking rear differential, a six-mode terrain system and low-range gearing as well as 8 inches of clearance; the front suspension uses double wishbones while the rear suspension is a multi-link design. Unlike the smaller H6, the H9 has hydraulically-assisted steering.

The priciest Haval in Australia isn’t actually the H9 but, rather, the unfortunately-named H8 crossover. That’s just one of Haval’s bewildering marketing decisions. Another is the fact the H8 seats only five while the H7 available in other markets can be equipped with a third row.

At this price point, Haval’s value proposition evaporates. Sure, the H8 has a long equipment list – the Lux even has massaging front seats – but the H8’s 2.0 turbo four is down 26 hp and 19 ft-lbs from the H9’s and guzzles premium fuel. Rival crossovers are a dime a dozen and offer newer designs, better resale value, and a third row at the same price point. It doesn’t help the H8 is the oldest design out of Haval’s Australian lineup, dating back to 2013. It’s disappeared from the Australian website so perhaps it’s been quietly axed.

More appealing is the affordable but flawed H2, the entry-level Haval. It boasts a five-star ANCAP safety rating, styling by former BMW design head Pierre Leclercq, and a base price under $AUD20k. That makes it Australia’s cheapest crossover and $2-3k less than even its cheapest rivals.

It launched here overpriced, a misstep rapidly corrected if (further) at the expense of resale value. Fuel economy can’t match the class best and the H2 requires a diet of premium unleaded. The H2 also wouldn’t be able to get a five-star ANCAP rating this year due to the absence of autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure and blind-spot monitoring. Add to this list of grievances a rather laggy engine, a turbocharged 1.5 four with 140 hp and 154 ft-lbs.

On the other hand, the H2 has been praised for its compliant ride and comfortable interior that abounds with soft-touch materials. Again, the H2 is one of Haval’s older products and the company is learning quickly. A replacement is imminent.

Great Wall is acutely aware of the skepticism buyers have of Chinese vehicles and therefore offers a five-year warranty here in Australia, even briefly matching Kia’s heretofore unparalleled seven-year warranty. That shows confidence in their products but buyers may still be deterred by Haval’s limited dealer network. The H9 off-roader, in particular, will be unlikely to find much favor with regional buyers who would otherwise be pleasantly surprised by its all-terrain ability, well-appointed interior, and long spec list.

It’s going to take some time to get Haval on an even keel in export markets. Nevertheless, Great Wall may wish to introduce their domestic Wey brand overseas. Named for Great Wall’s chairman, the Wey brand comprises crossovers with shapely designs that transcend those of the already handsome Havals. This is the VV7, based on the Haval H6. Its exterior resembles the new Chevrolet Blazer while its interior is a melange of Kia Stinger and Porsche influences. Not bad influences to take from.

In addition to smaller crossovers badged VV5 and VV6, there’s a flagship Wey called the P8. Effectively a plug-in hybrid version of the VV7, the P8 has all-wheel-drive, 31 miles of electric range, and a combined output of 340 hp and 386 ft-lbs. That’s enough for this rakish crossover to hit 60mph in 6.5 seconds. There have been murmurings in the press that the Wey brand will spearhead Great Wall’s entry into the US market but we’ll have to wait and see.

Haval’s (and Wey’s) designs may be attractive and their interiors well-screwed together but Great Wall still has some work to do. They require some more mechanical finessing to improve steering feel and power delivery. Some models are missing increasingly crucial safety features like blind-spot monitoring. Haval has also made some puzzling pricing and marketing decisions, getting off to a rough start in Australia and having to slash prices. Nevertheless, Haval – like many other Chinese brands – has shown an astonishing amount of progress in a short space of time. They know where to source design talent and mechanical components and they have grand global aspirations. Keep an eye out for Haval.

Related Reading:

Industry Analysis: Chinese Brands To Watch, Part 1 – LDV

Industry Analysis: Chinese Brands To Watch, Part 2 – MG