The tough and rugged GWM Tank Hybrid has low-range gearing and plenty of ground clearance.
Only the toughest and most adaptable brands can thrive in the cutthroat South African automotive industry.
Not all carmakers have been able to make their mark in this demanding market — Geely, Foton, Saab, Daihatsu, and Cadillac are just a few examples of big names that have fallen short in their pursuit of success in this country.
Despite their reputation and legacy, they have failed to connect with the local market and provide the vehicles South African consumers want. The truth is, it takes more than just good intentions to succeed here.
In contrast, the Chinese marque GWM has seen a gradual rise in buyers since it launched locally in 2007. Instead of catering to all segments from the get-go, GWM approached the local market with only a single bakkie available in single cab, double cab and multi-wagon.
Fast forward more than a decade and, while it technically only has pick-ups as the staple of its local portfolio, it has its eyes set on the competitive passenger car segment.
To give us insight into its action plan, we travelled to Melbourne, Australia, with GWM South Africa for its New Energy Vehicle Day, where it detailed its global electrification plans and new models South Africans can look forward to.
For starters, the brand has changed its name from Great Wall Motors to just GWM, which is the banner worn by the GWM P-Series and parent company to GWM Haval, GWM Ora (its dedicated electric brand) and GWM Tank, the latter two of which aren’t sold here, for now. The Haval brand also has a new logo that will be rolled out with future products.
GWM is looking to have 80% of Haval models electric by 2025 and we’ve seen the launch of the H6 HEV and Jolion HEV to usher the brand into a zero-emissions future.
It also plans to electrify 80% of GWM cars by the end of 2025. Buyers can look forward to the launch of 50 new energy vehicles (NEVs) within the timeframe and, judging by how committed the brand is to the South African market, more NEVs are expected to make landfall here soon.
This neatly brings us to the fully electric Ora and the Tank 300.
GWM Ora (short for open, reliable, alternative)
As a newbie in the GWM division, the Ora is earmarked to join the South African EV market before the end of the year. As far as first impressions go, it promises to be a hit at a time when the transition to EVs is taking place relatively fast.
While local specifications are yet to be revealed, the Ora is available in three variants, differentiated mainly by the battery capacity: Standard Range, Long Range and GT.
Pictures don’t do the vehicles justice. The Ora is smaller than it looks on these pages, with a length of 4 235mm, a width of 1 825mm and a decent wheelbase of 2 650mm. By comparison, it’s marginally bigger than its closest rival, the Mini Cooper SE hatch, with a length of 3 850mm, a width of 1 727mm and a wheelbase of 2 495mm.
Visually, it blends contemporary styling with retro designs, courtesy of large, round headlights that give it an expressive front end that mimics some traits of classic Porsches.
Yes, it was designed by former Porsche designer Emanuel Derta, so that mystery is solved.
The rear has a distinctive look — alien-like, thanks to rear lights embedded in the back window and slim lights, including indicators, on the lower section of the bumper.
Inside, the Ora has a decent amount of space, and because it’s from GWM, you get the familiar layout as well as the quality touches that have become synonymous with Haval products.
This includes a silver, rotating gear selector and the placement of the parking brake and auto-hold buttons on the centre console.
Unlike the H6 and Jolion SUVs, which lack physical controls for functions such as air conditioning and airflow, the Ora has them and more. These are complemented by a floating 10.25 inch touchscreen infotainment system plus a digital instrument cluster of the same size.
The Standard Ora, which we sampled for a short stint at the Australian Automotive Research Centre, has a 48 kilowatt-hour battery pack that powers an electric motor mounted at the front axle with 126kW of power and 250Nm of torque. Unlike the Mini SE, with a claimed electric range of 217km, the Ora can drive up to 320km or 420km with the 63kWh version.
According to GWM, recharging the battery pack from 10% to 80% using an 80kW charger will take about 40 minutes. When the cars go on sale here, buyers will be able to get a home wall-box charger and be able to charge their vehicles at GWM dealerships across the country.
Undemanding was the word for driving the Ora around the track at the research centre. It’s fun to pilot, and I daresay sharper and more engaging than the dated-by-today’s-standards BMW i3, with decent body control and comfort.
However, it’s worth pointing out that its NVH — noise, vibration, and harshness — levels aren’t optimal with excessive wind and road noise.
Considering the price of electric cars in South Africa, if priced competitively, the GWM Ora will be a cat among the pigeons when it launches at the end of the year.
GWM Tank 300 Hybrid
The GWM Tank 300 is an entirely different vehicle from the Ora. The only similarity, apart from the GWM badge, is that it has the same form of electric power but hybrid.
Built with the Jeep Wrangler in its sights, the Tank 300 Hybrid has a modified version of the P71 ladder frame which underpins the P-Series.
It will be the first hybrid to grace the much-contested bakkie segment in South Africa, when it arrives around the middle of this year. Well, that is if it gets in before the JAC T9 Hunter joins the competition.
While the local arm of the marque is yet to confirm local specifications, the Tank 300 hybrid is available in two variants — Lux and the better-equipped Ultra.
Knowing how adventurous South Africans are, the Tank 300’s rugged looks will find favour among recreational off-roaders.
Besides the looks, it’s the power figures that are attractive. It wields a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine paired with a hybrid system that’s good for 258kW and 615Nm, plus a 9-speed hybrid automatic transmission and a sophisticated torque-on-demand 4×4 system.
As an off-roader of note, you get low-range gearing and plenty of ground clearance at 224mm. How does it compare with the Jeep Wrangler? Its approach and departure angles are rated at 33 and 34 degrees compared to the Wrangler at 35 and 30 degrees.
If the Tank 300 isn’t big enough for you, a Tank 500 variant will join the range in early next year.
Before we get to the driving part, it’s worth pointing out that the Tank 300 Lux we sampled has an upmarket interior with plenty of plush touchpoints and quilted upholstery.
It has generous amounts of space, with the GWM folks saying there are 46 cubbies on board. We decided to take their word for it and didn’t bother to count.
You get a 12.3 inch touchscreen infotainment system that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 360° camera, an electric sunroof, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, roof rails and a forward-facing camera that offers visibility during off-road or incline manoeuvres to see over crests.
Dyed-in-the-wool off-roaders will probably call it gimmicky but it’ll be infinitely useful, especially considering the paperwork associated with insurance claims.
A 15-minute off-road stint behind the wheel of the Tank 300, with its 2.0-litre turbo-hybrid configuration and 1.75kWh battery, indicated that GWM might be onto something here, as it delivers impressive shove with negligible lag.
It went over inclines, declines, did rock crawling and water wading with much aplomb, while the torque-on-demand 4×4 system didn’t come undone once over the technical terrain.
It comes with no less than nine selectable drive modes, such as Mud, Sand, Normal, Sport and Eco.
The Tank 300 comes with Level 2 autonomous driving certification, thanks to adaptive cruise control, intelligent cruise assist, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning and traffic sign recognition. It is fitted with six airbags and an energy-absorbing collapsible steering column. It also scored five good stars at the ANCAP rating last year.
The Tank 300 makes a strong case for itself as a hardcore off-roader which will tackle any terrain that the majority of South African drivers will point it at. Adventurous owners will also find it appealing, thanks to the generous amount of space, superb off-roading skills and towing capacity of up to 2 500kg.
Add that to the exceptional technology, superb build quality and the unbeatable value for money that GWM products carry, and the Chinese marque could have another winner in its midst.