Small Chinese trucks for off-road use are to be assembled for the first time in the US from early next year.

Tiger Truck is readying the new plant for vehicles based on designs by Changan Automobile Group, China’s third largest.

The first vehicles will be delivered from the factory in Jasper, Texas, early in 2008. Privately-held Tiger Truck is the exclusive importer, distributor and now US manufacturer for ChangAn, which in China has manufacturing agreements with Suzuki, Ford and Mazda.

Initially, nearly 80% of the trucks manufactured there will be for export. The Jasper facility will assemble two new truck platforms.

The Champ, available in two-door form or with a four-door crew cab, is a full-size pick-up truck with over 3,000 lb. capacity and will be sold to the US and Canadian off-road market.

Another version of this platform for export only is called the Leopard and will be configured with a diesel engine, dual rear wheels, and other features that make it suitable for on-road use in those markets.

The second platform (so far unnamed) is a medium duty truck with GVWs of 14,000 lbs., 17,000 lbs. and 21,000 lbs. that will be sold worldwide for on-road use, including the US. This model will be delivered with an Environment Protection Agency/California Air Resources Board (EPA/CARB) certified diesel engine.

The 92-acre factory site has around 250,000 square feet of existing indoor manufacturing space, on-site utilities and a rail spur in the building and there is expansion capacity for the foreseeable future.

Single shift capacity is 7,500 vehicles per year and will employ 100 people. The Texas location is strategically well-suited for vehicle shipments to destinations throughout North America, Central America and the Caribbean Basin.

The design of the vehicles and the assembly floor layout make it easy to mix configurations on the line even to the extent of right- hand or left-hand drives.

Tiger Truck founder and CEO Mike Ward said: “The additional efficiencies that we gain from this new facility will sustain Tiger’s ability to continue delivering low-cost, high-value vehicles to all of our selected markets.

“With so many US manufacturers investing in China, I am particularly pleased to be investing in the US, hiring skilled US workers and delivering superior products made here for our markets in the Americas. While others are trying to buy cheap parts from China, we are seeking important OEM and sourcing agreements with key US suppliers.”

He claimed that Tiger had been first in its off-road vehicle class to offer automatic transmission, 4WD, limited slip differential, electric drive and hybrid drive and would now be first to deliver true ‘Made in US’ vehicles with a Chinese heritage.

“Our strong dealer network and fast-growing number of users seem to like what we are doing and now we can do it even better,” he added.

Tiger Truck has offered a range of multi-use trucks and vans for off-road use in the since 1999.

The vehicles meet CARB/EPA standards and are available powered by a variety of fuels, or with electric drive, and include manual (called ‘standard shift’ in the US) or automatic transmissions and a 4WD option. Tiger claims to offer the largest array of truck body options for niche applications and primary distribution in the US is through a dealer network.