China’s off-roader seeks a niche in SA with its BAIC B40 Plus

2021-12-06 12:00:00 PM

Beijing is hoping that its BAIC B40 Plus will replicate legendary off-roading on a budget

China’s off-roader seeks a niche in SA with its BAIC B40 Plus: Beijing is hoping that its BAIC B40 Plus will replicate legendary off-roading on a budget

Beijing is hoping that its BAIC B40 Plus will replicate legendary off-roading on a budget

Stepping into a vehicle like the BAIC B40 Plus for the first time is a bit like opening a lucky packet. You know you’re going to get a collection of trinkets; some might be cheap plastic, but the hope is that there’s enough useful items to make the purchase worthwhile.

Here’s what you do know. The B40 is sold as adventure off-roading on a budget. It comes from a manufacturer — spelt out as the state-backed Beijing Automotive Group — that began to dip its toes into South African water in 2016 and is now a little more comfortable getting its hair wet. Most of their cars are assembled at its Gqeberha plant from semi-knockdown kits — industry parlance to say the parts were manufactured in China and pieced together here.

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0 Stepping into a vehicle like the BAIC B40 Plus for the first time is a bit like opening a lucky packet.The aviation services company has put people, technology and skills development at the top of its agenda 03 December 2021 - 09:28 Khangi Khoza, the newly appointed CEO of Swissport SA.05 December 2021 - 19:22 Zimbabwean nationals return to SA via the Beitbridge border.05 December 2021 - 19:22 Zimbabwean nationals return to SA via the Beitbridge border.

You know you’re going to get a collection of trinkets; some might be cheap plastic, but the hope is that there’s enough useful items to make the purchase worthwhile. Here’s what you do know. Shuttered shops and restaurants, deserted departure lounges and empty baggage halls have replaced the crowded check-in halls and airport terminals that typically characterise air travel. The B40 is sold as adventure off-roading on a budget. However, in SA we do not have the sound and growing economy required to absorb an uncontrolled flood of immigrants, and that is not helped by an unemployment rate approaching 50%. It comes from a manufacturer — spelt out as the state-backed Beijing Automotive Group — that began to dip its toes into South African water in 2016 and is now a little more comfortable getting its hair wet. “The past 18 months re-emphasised the need for planning and adaptability to effectively operate in an environment characterised by uncertainty,” says Khangi Khoza, the newly appointed CEO of Swissport SA. Most of their cars are assembled at its Gqeberha plant from semi-knockdown kits — industry parlance to say the parts were manufactured in China and pieced together here. Those of us reading Business Day and commenting are far removed from the reality of life in the lower echelons of our society.

Beginning at R549 500, the B40 Plus is an attempt to create a niche at this price point for all-terrain enthusiasts. “In the face of the unprecedented challenges, Swissport’s rapid and agile response enabled us to adapt and survive the Covid-19 crisis,” says Khoza. We cannot afford immigrants and the government should recognise that. It is an interesting concept.  We’ll get the obvious out of the way first: the vehicle borrows a heavy influence from the Jeep Wrangler.”  While Covid-19 is far from over, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that passenger volumes will return to pre-pandemic levels only by 2025, green shoots of recovery are starting to emerge. And influence is a generous choice of words. It’s not quite as bad as some other Chinese copycats — look no further than the BJ80 in this stable — but it’s undeniable the rugged American’s aesthetic firmly guided the designer’s pen.  “The time has come to refocus and reprioritise to ensure the tough decisions taken over the past 18 months bear fruit,” says Khoza.

At least in the back three-quarters of the car. The front opts against the signature Jeep single headlights and seven-slot grill (you have to give the lawyers something to work with) and instead adopts a shinier, shallower bumper that looks closer to a Hummer. “Investing in [technology] will empower us to sustainably deliver high-quality services in a cost-efficient manner,” says Khoza. The interior takes inspiration from Mercedes-Benz and builds the dash around central bladed vents. The result is a design paradox. And initiatives that digitalise various aspects of our business to augment the human role will drive further efficiencies and create a more capable workforce. Many of the ideas are borrowed but their amalgamation creates something distinct.

  And, some might argue, something that looks good.”   With this in mind, Swissport SA recently launched its Nalithuba in-house high-potential programme to provide training, upskill and fast-track staff, and — as Khoza says — to help identify a “pool of talent to nurture and develop”. Parked at the V8 Roadhouse in Hartbeespoort, a family packed into a Toyota Fortuner caught sight of it and rubbernecked all the way out of the parking lot, presumably trying to figure out what this was. Although there was certainly a curiosity factor at play, for any vehicle at this price to generate such fascination is worthy of note. Another way Swissport SA is building a strong talent pipeline is through its commitment to the SA government’s YES (Youth Employment Service) programme. The biggest positive of manufacturing a Wrangler baby is that the Jeep’s on-the-go DIY comes along with it. In probably the coolest feature of the 4×4, you can rip off the exterior on a whim. They require skills to secure a better future and creating job readiness and industry-specific skills can also benefit the aviation services sector,” says Khoza.

The roof is cut into two and one or both parts can be clipped undone. The doors are relatively easy to remove as well with an Allen key. This article was paid for by Swissport SA. The drop-top buggie-esque look will never go out of fashion on a warm day and the ability to greatly transform the look and feel adds a new dimension to the BAIC. It all contributes to the de facto marketing theme — no-fuss, no-nonsense off-road ability. And it’s fair to say that it’s capable.

Obviously you’re not going to get the technology of a high-end Land Rover , for instance, but all the fundamental 4×4 functions are here; 4H/4L, rear differential lock and so forth. The clearance level (210mm), approach angle (37 degrees), departure angle (31 degrees) and ramp-over (23 degrees) all look good on paper as well. On a rainy weekend there wasn’t too much that troubled our 2.0-litre turbopetrol (160 kW/320 Nm) test engine (you could also opt for a diesel). On the flooded tar it felt secure and beyond its limits the grip felt steady going over drenched sand hills.

Some of the murmurings from those who have spent extensive time with the SUV are also positive and suggest that it will not fall apart after 10 000km on wilder terrain, as you might expect from a true copycat. Perhaps the biggest mark against the B40 Plus is there already exists an affordable way to muck around in the mud — the Suzuki Jimny. As everyone should know by now, the Jimny is a stellar vehicle and is available for a chunk less of change. The BAIC would argue there’s also a whole lot less car, so it’s not exactly a fair comparison. In either case, the B40 Plus does offer its own personality.

Which, again, is odd to say considering the borrowed elements, but it’s not easy to name a direct competitor. The BAIC might have just succeeded in creating its niche. Keep the powerful accountable .