LDV is back. Just over seven years after production halted at the Birmingham plant, following years of under-investment, the van manufacturer has been resurrected by SAIC Motor.
The China-based corporation, which also owns MG UK and the Longbridge plant in Birmingham, revealed its plans last month to bring LDV to the UK via Irish distributor Harris Group.
Commercial Fleet caught up with SAIC Motor president Lan Qingsong at the launch party in Dublin to find out his plans for the business.
Qingsong played up the importance of LDV’s heritage and its re-entry to the British market. “We are more than delighted to go back to the birthplace of LDV,” he says.
“We are totally aware that there has been a bunch of competitors in this market. We are now back in the UK market and we want to offer one more option for the customer with a product which is highly competitive and with better cost efficiency.”
LDV is launching with the V80 3.5-tonne panel van initially, although other models are set to follow this year.
The V80 will be offered with four options: short wheelbase low roof, long wheelbase with medium or high roof and chassis cab.
While SAIC produces its own range of petrol engines, it will continue to use Italian-designed 2.5-litre VM Motori turbo-diesel engines, which it makes in China under licence. They meet both Euro 5 and Euro 6 regulations.
The company has also developed an electric version of the V80, which will be on display at the Commercial Vehicle Show next month. SAIC claims a 300km (185-mile) range and it will be one of only two 3.5-tonne full electric production vans on the market (the Iveco EcoDaily is the other).
“It is only a matter of time before the EV80 van is available and I am pretty sure that the SAIC Maxus Group has sufficient resources and technology reserve to bring greener products to this market,” says Qingsong.
The EV80 electric power van will be feasibility tested in the UK this year. Mark Barrett, general manager of LDV UK, hopes to be able to retail the EV80 van by the end of 2016, subject to satisfactory testing.
LDV is also looking to launch a mid-size panel van, the G10, in the UK this year, followed by a new 4x4 pick-up in 2018.
The G10 van fits into two categories: seven or five-seat MPV and light van, which is suited to urban logistics.
“We are already developing the next generation van, which is completely different from the V80 van,” Qingsong says. “It will be larger with a full option of diesel, petrol and electric power, long wheel and extra long wheelbase versions. In fact, anything that you can imagine.
“The next generation of V80 that we are developing will also match the European customer’s needs, and at the same time match the Euro 6 requirements.”
LDV, formerly Leyland DAF Vehicles, collapsed partly due to a lack of investment as ownership changed hands repeatedly during the 1990s and 2000s. However, investment isn’t likely to be an issue this time round.
SAIC Group is the largest listing industrial corporation on the Chinese stock market, with a sales revenue of $100 billion in 2014. The company was placed sixth in the Fortune 500 listing and sold 5.9 million vehicles in 2015, with 90,000 exported around the globe.
On his aspirations for the UK and European markets, Qingsong says: “The V80 van is our first product to be launched here and we expect to hear from the customer. We want to get to know what the customer needs and we need to find out how much our product fits their needs.”
He adds: “We are looking at 10% market share in the UK. We have been very cautious about developing new regions and then finding the partners. That’s why we need more partners like the Harris Group.”
Market share of 10% would make LDV the fourth biggest van manufacturer in the UK, with volumes of around 37,000.
Qingsong has identified a number of challenges facing SAIC as it bids to re-establish LDV in the UK.
“Firstly, we seem to be the early comers among the Chinese automotive manufacturers,” he says. “So the first question is: how we can win the trust and understanding of the local customers.
“We can do this by, firstly, producing reliable products and services; secondly, by achieving emission standards and safety regulations from the EU; and, thirdly, by developing the right vehicles for the right market. These are what we have been studying carefully.
“We realise that Europe has been the largest market for vans and that the customer is mature in terms of choosing what they want, and even know the vehicles better than us. So we have been studying how to develop the right vehicle for the market.
“We are crystal clear about the challenges facing us in the European market: we know that it is not only the price but also the quality, reliability and the lifecycle cost that will determine the choice for the customer. We are confident to provide the high quality product and good service to make our customers happy and create value.”
While initially new brands have to compete on price, Qingsong claims that LDV already competes in terms of quality.
“We have a non-established brand. As more and more products come into the market and as the lifecycle costs and trade prices improve, it will gradually improve our brand and help with the price,” he says.
SAIC has a large range of automatic commercial vehicles and is now working on the development of an automatic manual transmission gearbox, as well as difference engine and transmission technologies.
“In 2013 we launched V80 in Australia and New Zealand and two years later we launched G10 there,” says Qingsong. “We have found that these two products have a better degree of satisfaction on the market for the consumer and I believe that the same will apply to the UK and Ireland.”
SAIC Motor exported close to 15% of its van production in 2015. “We aim to increase this to 30% in the next five years,” Qingsong says.
“Chinese automotive manufacturers have been improving rapidly in terms of research and development and also quality control, and I believe that SAIC will not be the sole player among Chinese manufacturers on the EU market.
“It will just take some time; the challenge is irresistible and irreversible.”
Owned by: SAIC Motor
SAIC Motor president: Lan Qingsong
Importer: Harris Group
Key model: V80
LDV UK market strategy follows Irish contract win
SAIC Motor, the Chinese owner of the LDV brand, announced its return to the UK and Irish markets at a function in Dublin, at which it revealed the delivery of 250 V80 vans to the Irish-state owned postal service An Post.
While no similar deals are in the UK pipeline, SAIC plans to grow the dealer network from the current 14 LDV sites to close to 40 by 2019/2020, with three Northern Ireland dealers, according to Mark Barrett, general manager at LDV UK.
“We are talking with previous LDV dealers of which some have come on board and we are talking with both the heavy-duty and lighter duty commercial vehicle sector,” Barrett says.
“We expect a natural split to develop in the network over time among those dealers having heavy vans and those having the pick-up and SUV, G10 etc., as new products emerge.”
Barrett says the company is “delighted” to win the An Post contract. Aftersales will be fulfilled via An Post’s own approved network supported by some of SAIC’s new LDV dealers.
SAIC has confirmed that the next generation V80 van will have the option of four-wheel drive. It will be a full option vehicle from 1.0-tonne to 7.5-tonne capacity, according to Barrett.
LDV UK will operate from the Harris Group’s Dublin’s premises. Harris Group has placed an initial order for 3,000 vans and will carry out full inspections prior to delivery.
It will include full rust proofing and fitting Bluetooth, as well as linings and tow bars from an approved listing of suppliers.
“There will be a constant supply of vans to satisfy the market,” says Barrett. “We will do all of the stock management and, within three or four years, operations will expand into the UK as volumes grow – deliveries will be direct to the UK.”
LDV UK is offering a low interest rate retail finance package via BNP Bank. It will also have stocking finance plans for LDV dealers.
“We are bringing in a full specification LDV van – one vehicle across the range, with air-con, cruise control, reversing sensors, Bluetooth and a deluxe driver’s seat as standard,” says Barrett.
New models 2016-2018
SAIC Motor four-wheel drive pick-ups in 2018
SAIC Motor will produce a new four-wheel drive pick-up by 2018. The company claims that this 1.0-tonne vehicle will be similar to the lighter pick-ups sold in Europe.
“Our new 4x4 pick-up model will have the largest load area dimensions in the light pick-up category,” says Lan Qingsong.
EV80 all-electric van
The EV80 all-electric van will be tested in the UK market during the early part of 2016, with ambitions to offer it for sale by the end of the year, according to Mark Barrett. SAIC Motor recently secured one large order to supply 5,000 EV80 electric vans in China.