The arrival of Chinese brands in Brazil has been rather slow, although watched with interest due to the size and industrial strength of the world’s most populous country. China is experiencing explosive growth in its automotive sector and, in 2009 produced 14m vehicles, a total no other country has ever reached in one year. Smaller automakers started slowly here three years ago as Chana, Change, Hafei and Jinbei looked first for opportunities in the light commercial segment.

The first Chinese products landed in 2007 with mixed results. The pioneering Change Ideal subcompact, marketed here from 2008 as the Effa M100, simply flunked. Its market image has been bad ever since, tarnishing the image of newer products launched since.

Late last year, as just-auto reported, JAC announced three product lines to be distributed through the Sergio Habib group also responsible for half of Citroën sales in Brazil. The cars will be displayed at the São Paulo motor show next October and sales are due to begin early in 2011.

The most recent announcement was from Chana, just last week, represented here by Districar, a group of Portuguese origin. They already market small vans and mini pickup trucks in low volume.

In Sao Paulo they’ll show four automobiles: the subcompact Benni Mini for BRL29,000 (US$16,000), the compact Benni (BRL32,000/$17,700 and the Alsvin range of compact-medium cars in hatchback (BRL35,000/$19,400) and saloon forms (BRL40,000/$22,200). These prices are quite competitive here.

Chery has far more ambitious plans, confirmed recently at the Cielo’s press launch. That model name [it was once used by pre-GM Daewoo – ed] was chosen in a national competition – the line is called A3 in China and Audi would have words if it was used for export.

Besides a 100,000-unit manufacturing plant scheduled to open in 2013, Chery plans a development centre, also in São Paulo state. The location will be announced within months.

The first Chinese compact-medium sold here, the Cielo stands out with contemporary Pininfarina styling.

But Luís Curi, president of the importer, acknowledges the challenge: “We know we must get it right as Chinese products are seen as not being completely trustworthy.”

His first step was launching the compact Chery Tiggo SUV last August but it has achieved only modest volume despite the keen price. The Cielo, hatch or saloon for the same BRL42,000 ($23,300), may do better in view of its generous equipment for the segment. Standard items include parking assistant, adjustable steering wheel and front seatbelt anchorage points, radio/CD player and USB port.

But there are some anomalies. The hatch has stylish individual exhaust tips but neiother version has a height-adjustable driver’s seat so forward visibility over the bulky dashboard is impaired.

The 1.6-litre/114 bhp engine (petrol only for starters), fettled by Austria’s AVL, is among the highlights.

Ride quality is also good – independent suspension front and rear – but mechanical noise is unacceptable by local standards and fit and finish problems show the Chinese still have a long way to go, quality-wise.

It remains uncertain if they will keep their prices as competitive as the Koreans’. Recent strikes in China affecting Honda and Toyota suppliers suggest industrial strife, higher wages and consequent higher vehicle prices will come sooner than expected.