The LC is badged as the Panda in its home market - hence the paw-print taillights.
The LC is badged as the Panda in its home market - hence the paw-print taillights.
Coming soon from Chinese manufacturer Geely is the budget LC hatch. The LC is powered by a 1.3-litre petrol engine and three models will be available, priced from R80K.
Coming soon from Chinese manufacturer Geely is the budget LC hatch. The LC is powered by a 1.3-litre petrol engine and three models will be available, priced from R80K.

Geely may be one of the more recognisable Chinese brands in South Africa. with a relatively long history of about four years in our market, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the import.

Less than two years after the first models were shipped to SA’s shores the original importers went into liquidation, but late in 2010 an arrangement between new 50/50 shareholders Hallmark Motor Group and the Magic Group sees the marque back on South African roads.

And it’s perfect timing too, with Chinese Geely management on a roll having recently bought out Swedish brand Volvo from Ford, building new state-of-the-art factories, and widening its product range to 37 different models (including many outlandish concepts) which were all on show at last week’s Shanghai motor show. The major company revamp also introduces the new group slogan “Quality Geely”, obviously intended to combat the issue of low quality surrounding China’s automotive exports.

The first new Geely model, a copy of Toyota’s (recently launched in SA) Aygo minicar called the LC, will be launched in our market in May. Known abroad as the Geely Panda, with clear reference to front end design that looks a lot like the cuddly Asian bear’s face and paw print tail lights, the LC will come in at the very bottom end of the budget runabout price wars. The renaming from Panda to LC – which I’m told stands for Life is Cool – in certain countries is an obvious avoidance of legal complications with Fiat who make a small car by the same name.

The LC will be powered by a 63kW/110Nm, 1.3-litre petrol engine and will offer a choice of three trim levels. The range starts with a R79 999 GS model including ABS and EBD brakes, electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning, power steering, remote central locking and a radio with aux input (no CD player). Next up is the R84 999 GL that adds on an MP3-compatible CD player and USB input, two airbags and alloy wheels, while the top R89 999 GT model gets six airbags and park distance control on top of that. A three-year/100 000km warranty will also be offered.

So is the new “Quality Geely” tagline appropriate? A short test drive around the brand’s new Cixi factory facility outside Shanghai revealed a reasonable little city runabout but nothing revolutionary quality-wise. That funky glue-like smell in the cabin, noisy engine valvetrain and notchy five-speed manual gearbox we know from most other Chinese rivals is still evident here.

Despite the European-sourced tooling that Geely proudly demonstrated on a factory tour, and says can assemble panel gaps with micron precision, the car’s interior still looks a bit shoddy in places and even cars shown on the huge Shanghai motor show stand were flawed on all corners.

The LC’s cheap pricetags are an obvious drawcard for penny-pinching drivers looking for new cars, but the quality versus cost question is one you’ll have to answer on your own. Personally, I’m still not totally convinced.

An LC Cross model, similar in concept to the Sandero Stepway and Polo Cross, with raised ride height, slightly larger engine and beefy body add-ons, is also confirmed for South Africa around October. Other Geely models such as Suzuki SX4 and Grand Vitara rip-offs are also possible for local consumption, as well as Corolla-sized sedans and hatches all featuring familiar lines and designs from more established brands’ cars are also being considered. New Geely SA management says it will support all previous Geely models sold in SA with service and parts. - Star Motoring