The Chery on top

Bruce Bennett

Bruce Bennett

Chery, the Chinese vehicle maker that produces what is now this country's cheapest car, could set up a manufacturing plant in South Africa if the brand takes off here.

Last week Chery and its local partner, McCarthy, launched the QQ3 city car, with a price tag of under R60000 for the entry-level 800cc model, which has a claimed fuel consumption of about five litres per 100km.

The last time a new vehicle was available in South Africa at this price was in 2001.

Though launched only 11 years ago, Chery hopes to be churning out a million cars a year by 2010, half of which will be exported.

China is the world's second-largest car market, behind the US and is expected to be the biggest by 2015.

The QQ3 has cute looks, four doors and a passing resemblance to the next cheapest car, the Chevrolet Spark, which costs R66 500.

McCarthy says the Chery could be "the answer to a prayer" for South African motorists, hard-pressed by rising interest rates and fuel costs. It could also give hope to people who have not been able to afford new cars.

"Only 13percent of South African households have access to a motor vehicle," said McCarthy Chief Executive Officer Brand Pretorius at the launch in Johannesburg.

He said enhanced affordability was the key to unlocking growth in the troubled South African vehicle market, and to ensuring its future.

McCarthy is hoping to sell about 300 vehicles a month across the three-model range but it says this is a conservative estimate.

Chery already has assembly lines in Russia, the Ukraine, Indonesia and Egypt and has hinted that it may consider investing in South Africa if the sales and export potential justify it.

Pretorius and other McCarthy spokesmen at the launch emphasised that the Chery vehicles being brought into the country had undergone harsh testing in both China and at the Gerotek facility outside Pretoria.