Chinese brand Changan has come a long way since Geoff Dalglish led a convoy of little 1300cc Chana delivery vans 21 000km from the factory over the Himalayas to Johannesburg - and the inauspicious launch of the Benny hatch, which is best remembered for the, er, 'unusual' smell in its cabin.
Now with ex-Subaru livewire Teresita van Gaalen at the helm, the brand has been quietly preparing for an African renaissance, starting right here at the Johannesburg International Motor Show with prototypes of a new, B-segment family car, in hatch and sedan format, on display in Hall 9.
The front-wheel drive Alsvin (which probably means something unprintable in Cantonese) will be available for sale from Changan's 22 South African dealers across the country in the first quarter of 2012. It's focused on bank-for-buck values with "well-tested fundamentals in a no-nonsense package" (PR-speak for conservative) and is expected to reach showrooms for less than R120 000.
South African Alsvins will have a 1.5-litre, 16-valve all-aluminium engine producing 72kW and 137Nm, with a five-speed manual 'box as standard and the option of a four-speed automatic. Power steering, a driver's airbag and anti-lock brakes are expected to be standard.
Van Gaaalen said: "It's running costs rather than just purchase price that stretches consumers' resources, so we expect to launch with a service plan and, right now, we're researching parts prices, even sourcing from local suppliers where appropriate to come up with the best package - and the Alsvin's fuel consumption of less than seven seven litres per 100 km will also help."