July 26 2017, updated 1:02am

New Zealand has three new car brands for 2017

Last updated 14:52 18/07/2017

If it looks like a space shuttle... well, it's supposed to. Model X is Tesla's SUV, complete with "Falcon" doors.

Tesla has started production of the "affordable" Model 3. It may appear here in 2018.
Infiniti Q50 first car in the world with "steer by wire": no physical link between steering wheel and front wheels.
Sleek Q60 coupe is the high-tech hero-car of the Infiniti range.
Infiniti's American roots show in monster QX80 SUV.
Ateca SUV will launch the Spanish Seat brand in NZ.
Arona is Seat's baby-SUV. Expect to see it here in 2018.

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It's a brave move to launch a completely new car-brand into a small, highly competitive market.

It's an indication of the health of the New Zealand new-car scene that there are three very brave companies launching new brands in 2017 - Tesla, Infiniti and Seat.

The first to arrive is also the best-known to Kiwis. Some might even say it's a brand with cult status. Electric-vehicle specialist Tesla is a young carmaker: its first vehicle, the Roadster, was based on Lotus hardware and launched less than a decade ago, in 2008.

But with the arrival of the Model S luxury sedan in 2012, Tesla quickly became an "it" brand in the car world. Not to mention being the company that managed to make electric cars sexy.

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The seeds for a Kiwi launch were sown last year when company boss Elon Musk Tweeted that the forthcoming Model 3 would be available to NZ customers. A number of parallel-import Model S vehicles were already in the country.

The pure-EV brand was launched in NZ in February via the Australian distribution arm, putting facelifted versions of the Model S sedan ($119,300-$236,100) and the new Model X SUV ($140,650-$244,400) into the market. The former is famous for being the fastest-accelerating production car in the world (in flagship P100D form); the latter is famous for its "Falcon" doors, which open upwards in a complex powered configuration.

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The Model 3 has just started production, so first NZ deliveries for the car in 2018 are looking possible. 

Tesla is still working on its first Kiwi "store" in Karangahape Road, Auckland, which should open in the next month. Teslas can plug in at public fast-chargers, but the brand also has its own Supercharger technology, which can put 270km of range into the battery in just 30 minutes. There's a Supercharger station in Hamilton and more will follow, in addition to a network of 100 "destination" chargers planned for shopping centres, carparks, hotels and resorts.

Infiniti is a more traditional luxury brand - but also with some world-first technology of its own.

Infiniti is Nissan's luxury arm and it's been around for longer than you might think. It was launched in 1989 - the same year as Toyota's Lexus division - and like its Japanese rival was aimed mainly at the American market.

In recent years Infiniti has set its sights on a more global approach: it's been launched very quietly in NZ by Global Motors, the distributor that also handles Renault. There's no connection between Global Motors and Nissan NZ in this part of the world, despite the global (confusing, right?) Nissan-Renault Alliance.

Infiniti is being offered through just two dealerships at the moment: one in Auckland, the other in Christchurch.

Core models for Infiniti are the Q50 sedan ($69,990-$94,990), available in conventional petrol and hybrid versions, and the QX70 SUV ($99,990-$114,990).

More specialised vehicles include the newest in the lineup and what is arguably the hero-car for the brand, the Q60 coupe ($79,990-$114,990), as well as the monster American-style QX80 V8-petrol luxury off-roader ($155,990): based on the Nissan Patrol but about 500 per cent more outrageous looking.

Just launched this month are two smaller models, the Q30 hatchback ($48,990-$61,990) and QX30 compact-SUV ($61,990-$71,990). Both are loosely based on the Mercedes-Benz GLA.

Both the Q50 and Q60 feature Direct Adaptive Steering, which does not rely on a physical connection between the steering wheel and front axles. It's the world's first "steer by wire" system on a series production car.

Seat is a little more down to earth. The Spanish brand was formed in 1950 but has been part of the Volkswagen Group since 1986. In VW world, if Skoda is seen as the practical brand, Seat has always been pitched as the sporty choice.

If Seat sounds familiar, that's because it's been offered in NZ before. A one-off shipment of 120 Cordoba sedans were sold here back in 2001, but they were excess stock from Australia and there was never any plan to launch the brand proper.

But there is now, under the umbrella of the Giltrap Group, which also distributes VW, Skoda and Audi.

The first Seat to arrive in NZ will be the Ateca SUV - a close relation to the Volkswagen Tiguan - with petrol and diesel engines, at prices from $38,900 to $52,900. The flagship Xcellence 4Drive will arrive in September, but the full range will be on sale by year's end - albeit at just one dealership, in Auckland.

NZ's SUV-centric nature provides much of the impetus for Seat's launch here. Ateca is just one of three such models that will eventually go on sale. Next will be the Arona, a baby SUV that was unveiled this month and will make its first public appearance at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Arona will be launched in NZ in the first half of 2018.

Then in 2019 will come a Seat seven-seater, which is yet to be named. It'll be closely related to the Skoda Kodiaq and forthcoming VW Tiguan Allspace.

So yes, Seat is mostly about SUVs. But not all about SUVs. The Spanish brand is also well-known for its sporty hatchbacks. The Kiwi range will include the VW Golf-sized Leon (from $35,900) and the hotted-up Leon Cupra, with 221kW and a price that starts at $55,900.

- Stuff


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