Foton, a major Chinese vehicle manufacturer, has embarked on an ambitious plant to grow its range of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. Two production-ready models, the Sauvana SUV and Toana midibus and van, were displayed at the recent Auto Shanghai motor show, which attracted 2 000 exhibitors from 18 countries.

Sauvana front

The Sauvana, which is Foton’s first SUV and is based on its Tunland one-ton pick-up, is aimed at lifestyle owners who love the outdoors as it has very good off-road ability as well as a comfortable ride on tarred roads. Designed and developed under the code name U201, the Sauvana is a body-on-frame design which offers rear-wheel or all-wheel drive options. The Sauvana will seat five or seven occupants depending on the model.

The Sauvana is now being launched in China and will be introduced to international markets later in the year. Foton Auto South Africa is currently evaluating the Sauvana for possible introduction to SA.

There is a choice of two turbocharged engines, a Cummins ISF diesel 2.8-litre and a Euro V compliant, direct injection, petrol 2-litre, with the availability of five- and six-speed manual gearboxes or a six-speed automatic transmission. No final decision has been made on a power train if the Sauvana is launched in SA.

Foton is clear with its intent of producing a luxury SUV. The interior is well-equipped and has a high quality appearance. Features include an infotainment touchscreen and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls. Luxury features include   keyless entry and pushbutton starting, sunroof, automatic climate and cruise control.

The second production model shown at Shanghai, the Toana midibus, is named after a small town in Italy and has been developed by the original Mercedes-Benz Sprinter team, which is now based at Foton’s new research and development centre in Stuttgart, Germany.

The Toana has proven its reliability, power, safety and electronic features through Foton’s rigorous test process as well as obtaining certification through TüV Rheinland.

Although no plans have been made at this stage to import the Toana to South Africa it is another model which will be evaluated for local introduction by Foton Auto South Africa.

Foton Auto, which was established in 1996 with headquarters in Beijing, China, is part of the booming Beijing Automotive Industry Holdings (BAIC) Group. Its main area of concentration until now has been building a range of commercial vehicles from pick-ups and vans to large trucks and buses.

Sauvana Rear

Foton is, in fact the Chinese commercial vehicle manufacturer with the widest range and highest production volume and is one of the largest commercial vehicle manufacturers in the world. Besides its established joint venture with Cummins of the US to develop and build engines Foton signed a 50:50 joint venture with Daimler in 2012 which involves the manufacture of both vehicles and engines.

It has 20 engine and assembly plants in China and 13 KD facilities worldwide, providing a current production capacity of one million units per year. The company strategy going forward is to increase output to three million units a year by 2020.

Foton vehicles are distributed in South Africa through 36 sales and service outlets and are backed by Imperial and Bidvest.