Times they are a Chang(e)an

Teresita van Gaalen, chief executive of Changan, Southern Africa.

Teresita van Gaalen is aiming to make Changan the “Toyota” of her grandchildren’s era. JACO DE KLERK determines that this “wonder woman” may yet achieve this goal.

Teresita van Gaalen, chief executive of Changan Southern Africa, must surely be seen as the most successful businesswomen in the motor industry, based on the leading role she played in the team that took Hyundai from inception to 10% market share in a mere five years. She also carved a strong South African foothold for Subaru – taking the company from a loss position in its first year to one of the top five fastest-growing automotive brands.

Whilst currently being the chief executive of Changan since April 2011, Van Gaalen is also an independent non-executive director of the board at Wescoal Holdings since July 2009 and a founding member of Consortium One since January 2009.

She was also, to name but a few: the group managing director of Commercial Motors from February 2010 to March 2011; director of the interim board for IRUDI South Africa from September 2009 to February 2010; and managing director of Subaru Southern Africa from April 2000 to December 2008.

All of this shows just how successful Van Gaalen has been throughout her career. “I think it is an overstatement,” was her modest response to hearing the statement in the opening paragraph. “The motor industry is increasingly filling up with magnificent and talented women. If I have opened doors for my sisters out there, well then that is very good. I think that I have been blessed with difficult tasks, which have created bigger windows of opportunity for me. The success that I have had has to do with the people which I have worked with.”

One of these people, Arthur Mutlow, a business man who currently runs a conglomerate of motor retail operations in Port Elizabeth, is singled out by Van Gaalen as having had a defining influence on her career. “He had a particular influence in allowing me a number of opportunities in the very beginning, and I will always remember him and be grateful for that.”

Now Van Gaalen has her sights, and extensive experience, firmly set on Changan, the rebranded Chana. This opportunity presented itself through an invitation from Rand-Asia Trade Finance and China Construction Bank. “Subaru was in no different a position than what Chana was when I came in – an ailing company with a red bottom line. It was a known brand, but not in demand and was suspect to many people,” states Van Gaalen.

This consumer attitude, and the economic recession caused a pile-up of ageing stock – “a gold mine”, as Van Gaalen phrases it.

This gave way to Chana B4, the Changan Southern African Pre-Owned Programme. These Chana B4 vehicles, refurbished and sold as used demonstration vehicles, include the Benni, Starlight 1 range and Rainbow. The B4 initiative fast forwards the used vehicle division of Changan and protects the equity of the Chana brand going forward, Van Gaalen points out.

The Chinese-based manufacturer has also given free parts-stock to Changan Southern Africa for the restoration of Chana’s foothold through the B4 programme, which shows its dedication to re-establishing the brand in this country. Changan International Corporation is the second biggest vehicle manufacturer in China and produces principally for the domestic market. It also manufactures by appointment for Ford, Citroën, Peugeot, Mazda and Suzuki in China, and is the only Chinese vehicle manufacturer that has five internationally-based research and development centres.

“If you take all this into context and add it to our changing world, changed environment and volatile economic fundamentals, you have a Chinese product revolution that is inevitable by the sheer fundamental of value for money,” says Van Gaalen.

Changan Southern Africa is currently offering its Star 2 with more aerodynamic styling, better detail refinements to the engine, and improved gearbox performance. It will launch the CV6 1300 in the first quarter of 2012 and the Alsvin 1500 in hatch and sedan versions in the second quarter. The company is also aiming to deliver a SUV in the second half of next year. Changan Southern Africa will supply heavy motor vehicles as soon as right-hand drive models are made available, adds Van Gaalen.

Only time will tell how high the new Changan brand will soar in South Africa; but under the guidance of Van Gaalen it may, perhaps, become the “Toyota” of future generations.

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