DAVE MOORE: LDV T60 - New Chinese ute has more to offer than its countrymen

Great Lakes company is biggest-growing commercial vehicle distributor in the business, writes DAVE MOORE.

Taupo-based Great Lakes Motor Distributors (GLMD) has its eyes on the lucrative New Zealand ute market and the group, having already stunned the country’s van segment with the fast-selling G10 and V80 models even has a pair of full-electric offerings due.

Having more than doubled its New Zealand van sales from 2015 and 2016, LDV is quickly chasing down its Toyota HiAce competition, with its G10 mid-size and V80 large vans. That’s likely to continue this year too, as the G10 is now available with the option of a torquey turbodiesel to go with its standard turbo petrol base model, both with manual/auto six-speed options.

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The three-size V80 which has gained cleaner Euro5 diesel motor and an extra ratio for its transmission, seems to only require bums-on-seats to convince buyers, who, as with the G10, find themselves driving away with quite a bit of change left over if they were expecting to pay European, Korean and Japanese product prices.

The G10 is priced from $29,888 for the turbo-petrol van to a remarkable $39,675 for a similarly-powered nine-seater. The larger V80 goes from the $37,019 SWB van to a $61,985 14-seater. Pricing for the EV80 will be announced closer to the vehicles’ launch.

Before the year’s out, Great Lakes is expecting to be able to offer pure electric version of the larger vans, called the EV80 before the year’s out too which will really set the cat among the pigeons, especially with a range of up 200km, which knocks the socks off any current affordable EV’s capability.

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The initials LDV come from the now defunct Leyland Daf Vans brand, whose DNA can be traced right back to the mid fifties when British Motor Corporation was the biggest game in town when it came to commercials. As with most British marques, Leyland went broke - about eight years ago - and the imaginative Chinese SAIC group snapped-up the operation, and shipped it to Shanghai, and from the ashes of the old company has sprung the modern, well-made and innovative LDV brand that has already shocked the van segment here and is now aiming to do the same with the ute market.

It’s doing so with a well-equipped twin-cab pick-up design, known as the Maxus in its home market, which will be labelled the T60 here, and no I don’t know what T60 means, just as no-one appears to have any gist on the G10 and V80 van nomenclature!

The T60 will be about the same size as the Colorado, HiLux and Ranger models, a one-tonne ute with a Euro5-rated 2.8-litre 110kW/360Nm power unit from Italian turbo-diesel specialist VM Motori.

The big selling point for the T60 - which will start in twin-cab form from under $30,000 and top out with leather and all the fruit at under $38,000 - and something its Chinese compatriot ute products don’t have, is the availability of a six-speed automatic option to its standard six-slot manual.

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This will mean the T60 will hit the ground running when it hits showrooms in July, as more utes are sold with autos than manuals these days.

Those prices are all the more remarkable when it’s realised that even the lowest-spec T60 will take six airbags, parking radar, cruise control, a ten-inch touch screen and several USB slots, while the top-end Luxury T60 adds genuine leather trim, a diff lock, pushbutton start, a lane-departure device, 360-deg parking/off-road cameras, leather upholstery and a power driver's seat.

Running on a 3155mm wheelbase and measuring 5365mm over all, the T60 most resembles the Nissan Navara in terms of proportions and styling the double cab model will be accompanies by single-cab, extended cab and 2WD versions before the year’s end and Great Lakes tells us that a full-sized D90 family SUV version of the vehicle will also be made available next year.

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So far Great Lakes only has a left-hand-drive model in New Zealand at the moment and that’s only here for sizing-up the vehicle for locally-supplied accessories, load-liners and canopies, so as much as I begged, I couldn’t get a drive of the T60, but from clambering over it, inside and out, the ute’s fit and finish seemed good, its design and ergonomics sound and from consulting with colleagues, its standard specification is beyond reproach.

Not only does a confident Taupo-based concern (which also distributes SsangYong) prove that Chinese brands will prove to be ever-growing in our burgeoning commercial fleet, but that a regionally based distributor can not only play the big boys at their own game, but also provide employment growth and skill development away from the main population centres.