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Avenged sevenfold?

Two new vehicles are unveiled as Astara takes control of the GAC distributorship. And the regional boss has lofty sales goals.

By Kap Maceda Aguila

A YEAR after taking the reins of Peugeot in the country, Astara Philippines continues to dig in its heels in its first Asian market. One of the largest auto distributors in Europe and Latin America has just tucked Chinese vehicle brand GAC Motor under its wing.

“Our first year in the Philippines was remarkable with Peugeot as our first brand. Now, with GAC Motor added to our portfolio, we are excited to bring more value to our Filipino customers. With Astara’s global strength and track record in car distribution and mobility services, we hope to achieve great success for GAC Motor as we have done in Latin America,” said Astara Managing Director for Southern Europe and the Philippines Jorge Belzunce in a statement.

One of the first moves for Astara Philippines was to appoint a brand head for GAC Motor. Redentor “Jun” Cajayon brings with him almost three decades of “extensive sales, marketing, and network development experience in the automotive industry,” and is now tasked with “driving strategic market direction, sales programs, and dealer network development.”

Astara is certainly bullish about prospects in these parts. Said Astara Philippines Managing Director Raoul Picello, “We have achieved significant milestones in our first year with Peugeot, and we are confident that we will do the same for GAC Motor this year.”

In an exclusive interview with “Velocity,” Mr. Belzunce stated that Astara is “very happy” with GAC, adding: “We think we can work with them globally… The Philippines is our ramp-up, and we have to succeed here if we want to become important in this continent as we are in Europe and Latin America.” GAC first entered the Philippine market in 2018 when it was then under the stewardship of Legado Motors, Inc.

Astara fired off a loud opening salvo to mark its assumption of control over GAC here with the simultaneous launch of the Empow sedan and all-new version of the GS8 SUV. “We’re thrilled to start the year on a high note… Both vehicles represent the best that GAC has to offer at a reasonable price range for our Filipino customers. We are determined to reinvigorate the brand and achieve outstanding performance in the market beginning this year,” said Mr. Picello.

Positioned as a sports sedan, the Empow is said to boast “futuristic lines and a sleek, muscle car-esque silhouette that gives (it) an aggressive stance. The sculpted form and attention-grabbing design elements define its sporty profile, while its interiors, driving performance and technology are engineered to thrill the senses.”

Mr. Cajayon described the Empow as “most ideal for customers who want a sports sedan that looks as great as it drives. It provides the performance advantage without compromise at a price point that is well within reach.”

Speaking of pricing, the sedan is offered in three variants at the following special introductory prices and colors: 1.5L GE DCT (P1.283 million) in Matte Fighter Green; 1.5L GB DCT (P1.215 million) in Ivory White, Moonlight Grey, and Elegant Black; and 1.5L GS DCT (P1.135 million) in Ivory White and Moonlight Grey. Until March 31, GAC Motor extends a P90,000 discount on the GS and GB trims; P65,000 on the GE.

The Empow is motivated by a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine that features the brand’s in-house-developed MegaWave technology. This heart, which puts out 168hp and 270Nm of torque, is mated with a seven-speed wet-type dual clutch transmission. Its claimed zero-to-100kph time is 6.95 seconds, which GAC maintains is the fastest in the compact sedan segment.

On its front, it has an oversized front grille that sets off an angular and muscular body. The car’s headlights and daytime running lights are LEDs. The Empow gets 18-inch alloy wheels and quad exhaust tailpipes. Inside, the car gets colored leather panels, “fighter jet-inspired” seats, and carbon fiber accents. A seven-inch digital instrument panel and a 10.25-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay compatibility complete a modern look.

The Empow also has a powered sunroof, a leather multifunction steering wheel with paddle shifters, dual-zone automatic air-conditioning with a built-in negative ion air purifier, multiple USB type-A ports, power-adjust driver’s seat, and leather upholstery with soft-touch interior trims.

The safety and driver assistive features are headed by six air bags, a tire pressure monitoring system, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, autonomous emergency braking, traffic jam assist, and high beam assist.

Not to be lost amid the fanfare is the all-new GS8, GAC’s largest SUV. The full-size seven-seater is regarded as the brand’s most successful model. “The all-new GS8 builds on its success… with its complete package of style, quality, reliability and safety. It has been masterfully designed to exude confidence on the road, making it the perfect match for customers seeking distinction and refinement in their SUV,” reported Mr. Cajayon.

A 2.0-liter turbocharged GDI engine, providing 248hp and 400Nm of grunt, is paired with a third-generation, eight-speed automatic transmission for smooth and balanced power. The SUV gets a “signature four-bulb metric” automatic LED headlights, complementing a V-shaped chrome grille. Its tires are fitted onto large 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, and the rear fascia is highlighted by double chrome exhaust pipes.

In the cabin, seats are swathed in leather with diamond stitching. Front seats offer power adjust and memory settings. The leather-wrapped multifunctional steering wheel features paddle shifters, and the vehicle gets an electrochromic rear view mirror, three-zone automatic air-conditioning and one-touch power windows. Multi-color intelligent ambient lighting and a panoramic sunroof give it “a touch of luxury,” per GAC Motor.

A large 14.6-inch HD touchscreen has phone mirroring capabilities, complementing a seven-inch digital cluster, four USB-A ports, wireless mobile phone charging pad, and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system. For safety, the GS8 has multiple air bags, Isofix child safety seat anchors, seatbelts with “disengaged” alarm, an engine immobilizer with anti-theft alarm, tire pressure monitoring and more.

Priced at P2.298 million (which factors in a P100,000 discount valid until March 31), the SUV also boasts adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors with HD Surround Vision Parking System, and Traffic Jam Assist. Driving is made more efficient and dynamic with three drive modes to choose from (Eco, Comfort, and Sport). It comes in the following colors: Ink Seal Green, Crystal White, Moonlight Grey, and Elegant Black.

In a speech during the recent launch, Mr. Belzunce described Peugeot’s performance under Astara control here as “quite successful,” owing to “a lot of great opportunities.” He continued, “We have everything, the right management, right partners, the right products.”

The executive noted that sales have grown three times over. He then declared, “I don’t expect less than (sevenfold growth for GAC) this year.”

According to data from the Philippine Automotive Dealers Association, GAC Motor sold 403 units last year. That means expected sales of at least 2,821 units in 2023.

“Thanks for lifting my target for 2023,” declared Mr. Picello with a smile during his own speech. “It’s been a good first year and we want to repeat the same success with GAC. We want to go even farther, and we will follow the same strategy: product, great quality, new models, increasing network, and more brand presence in the customer’s mind.”

Speaking to “Velocity” after the unveiling of the two models, Mr. Picello said that Astara is looking at the distributorship of additional brands in the country. “If you look at the Astara footprint in the world, we have many operations in many countries and regions where there are more than two brands. For the moment, we are focused on this fantastic brand but clearly, since we can do more than one thing at a time, we’re looking also at any opportunity in this market which has become an important one in this region.”

As for why GAC Motor was chosen: “I think the product is the key. We see potential in the quality of the products, the technology in the products, and in the design of the products. On the other hand, we see that other Chinese brands have been successful in a relatively short time, so there is certainly opportunity for a high-quality, high-technology, great-designed (vehicles) at an accessible price point.”

Mr. Cajayon said to expect two more GAC releases before the end of the year, and the continued growth of the distribution network. “The base of our business is our product, and we need to grow the network because we need to have reach and be closer to our customers. In a few months, we have already increased more than twice the number of outlets. These will be ready very soon.”

And the pixie dust for success? “Product, network, awareness of the product, and customer handling experience. There are really no secrets,” concluded Mr. Picello.