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Foton is back in SA with a big play

The largest commercial vehicle player in China has returned to South Africa with a raft of new products.

Avon Middleton
June 28, 2024
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The largest commercial vehicle player in China has returned to South Africa under the CMH Group with a raft of new products ranging from bakkie offerings to fully electric commercial vehicles and plans to build a new factory in South Africa. 

Foton is making a big play for market share in the South African market with a raft of new models launched a few days ago. The resurgence follows a marked rise in sales for the Chinese commercial giant in external markets over the last three years, with growth reported to be 58%. As part of its Internationalisation Strategy, Foton plans to expand into Asia, Africa, Europe, and other markets, adding additional manufacturing capacity where it makes business sense. 

South Africa is one such market where BAIC, the Chinese-government-backed company that owns Foton, among others, has announced plans to build a USD230 million manufacturing facility in Gqeberha. The 540,000-square-metre facility is being constructed in phases with a plan to produce 50,000 vehicles per annum in the first phase, but with a future view to ramp up to 100,000 vehicles per year from Phase 2 onwards. The expected completion date is 2026. 

This is all big news within the context of the South African automotive sector because the timing comes in light of strong market share growth by Chinese players. In a constrained market, Chinese brands are the ones showing strong growth and resilience, with a raft of new models consistently entering the market in many segments. Foton has decided to enter the market under these conditions, and only time will tell whether it’s the right play at the right time. I think it is, and with the product mix unveiled at the launch, there are quite a few segments that will need to contend with what looks to be a well-supported and well-resourced brand in South Africa. 

New Foton products now available:


Foton Tunland Double- and Single-Cab 2.0 Diesels

The bakkie segment generates the largest volume of sales in the passenger and commercial spaces. Foton enters the market with new double- and single-cab vehicles. The Tunland G7 DC is a lifestyle-oriented product with a fair bit of spec and a 2.0-litre turbodiesel powerplant producing 120kW. Variants in 4x2 and 4x4, as well as manual and auto, are all available. Notable specifications include a 12.3-inch infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, as well as some driving assistance features, including emergency autonomous braking and driver drowsiness detection. The Tunland G7 DC has a starting price of R399,900. The single-cab starts at R319,900, and both of these prices include VAT. 

Foton Tunland G7 DC Bakkie


Foton G7 Single Cab. From R319,900

Foton Asambe Minibus Taxi

The Foton Asambe minibus also makes its debut. Asambe, meaning "let's go" in Zulu, caters to the enormous taxi market, and it offers a 16-seater minibus starting at R439,900 for the petrol model and R499,000 for the diesel derivative. A 200,000-kilometre warranty is a key USP here.

Following this, Foton has also introduced a luxury people-mover called the View CS2, a transporter with 15 seats and safety features such as ABS, EBD, ESP, and TPMS. Pricing starts at R599,900. 

Aiming to take on the Siyaya market.

Foton Miler

The Miler, a 2.1-tonne truck, caters to small businesses, small contractors, and couriers, among others. Its USPs include a very tight turning circle, good fuel consumption, and a price starting at R339,900. 

Foton has also made the bold decision to offer electric vehicles within the commercial space, hoping that customers will buy these vehicles with an overall view of the total cost of ownership and not just the starting price, which on face value seems quite high. It’s the plight of any electric vehicle in SA, but considering this, the pricing strategy for these models vs. the overall cost could be worth considering if you have or invest in the necessary charging infrastructure to go with it. 

Foton Miler, the 2.1-ton truck built for businesses.


Foton e-Truck Mate 

The Foton e-Truck Mate is a small, fully electric utility truck. It's going head-to-head with the KIA K2700, and it has an electric drivetrain and a compact turning circle. Unlike the ICE models mentioned above, the e-Truck Mate starts at R595,000 (with VAT), which is a good R100,000 more expensive than the higher-priced K2700. By our calculations, it would take an ownership cycle of six years for that to make sense if you include the increased price of electricity as well as the infrastructure to set up and charge the vehicles. 

Fully electric 1.2-tonner.

Foton e-View Panel Van 

This long-wheelbase van starts at R850,000 with sliding doors and a rear camera. These are important vehicles in the value chain of so many industries, and this price is certainly more palatable in light of what other competitors are offering out there. 

Foton eView Panel Van


Foton e-Aumark

This is an electric, 6-tonne truck that makes a bold statement from Foton to the commercial industry. With an 81kW battery and the ability to load 3-tonnes, getting the most out of this vehicle will be tricky, balancing the cost in weight efficiency versus the reward of being electric. With only 64kW, this truck's ownership cycle and associated costs will be an interesting management challenge, but kudos to Foton for exploring this market opportunity. The biggest cost savings here is the reduction in maintenance, which Foton claims is 67% less. The e-Aumark comes with a 5-year/200,000-kilometre warranty and starts at R1,200,000. 

Foton e-Aumark

New models are indeed the big talking points of Foton’s re-entry into the market, but it must also be noted as to who is backing this brand locally and what the parts distribution and dealer network look like. For a start, locking arms with CMH Group isn’t a bad play, a group that is ingrained in the market with a massive footprint, significant resources, and a wealth of experience with multi-franchise dealers, many of which include Chinese players. At launch, Foton quoted 40 dealers taking up the Foton brand, which is a good start. 

From a parts perspective, Foton continues its relationship with the Mandarin Parts Distribution Company, which has recently unveiled a 10,000-square-metre parts centre in Tshwane. 

On the basis of Foton’s significant push into other markets, the Foton brand should make a successful resurgence this time around, with a considered future product offensive also on the table. Foton teased the introduction of larger, more luxurious lifestyle bakkie/truck offerings in 2025, with the Tunland G9 and V-Series trucks set to make their Mzansi landfall. They certainly look like they could make a serious play here, judging by the videos and images.

We cannot as yet comment on the driving experience of these vehicles or whether or not any of Foton’s claims about their products are accurate, since we have not driven them yet. We'll be driving these within the next few weeks, and you can expect a full raft of stories in the near future. 


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