I  heard Charles Pinnock of Pinnock Brothers Inc. on Russell Lakes “Drive By” show on Tuesday and was very impressed to hear him promote his new line of vehicles. What a breath of fresh air to hear a Car Salesman promote his product truthfully and intelligently!

Charles has recently returned from living and working in the US for some twenty years and now back home in St. Lucia, and plans to be the first automotive importer of Chinese pickups to actively promote the rugged and affordable aspects of these sometimes maligned and misunderstood vehicles.

Charles started his endeavor by traveling to China to see for himself a number of the Chinese manufacturers in order to choose what he thinks to be the perfect “do it all” pickup for the West Indies Market. Yes, the big picture is to market these vehicles all over the Caribbean including Guyana and the bigger islands like Jamaica.

Charles has a back ground in Aeronautical engineering having worked for American Airlines as a manager in the maintenance department. His approach to setting up a new vehicle dealership has been one based on his excellent engineering background and he has used his skills to pick apart the vehicles that were available to him.

After visiting a number of different manufactures, he was impressed with the Pickups being produced by the Anhui Changfeng Yangzi Motor Manufacturing Co. located in Anhui China. They have proven willing to work with Mr. Pinnock to customize the range of vehicles that will be exported to St. Lucia and so far this is already bearing fruit.

CMC manufacture pickups that are based on a Mitsubishi chassis and use diesel engines that are licensed from Isuzu but manufactured by themselves. The major difference between these Chinese made vehicles and their Japanese counter parts are the philosophy behind the design and build quality.

First off these vehicles are designed for the Chinese market first and foremost and consequently only have to meet the smog emissions of that country, not those of the USA or Europe. As a result the engine does not require the elaborate equipment and technology found on the more common Japanese vehicles which are festooned with emission reducing equipment. When it comes to diesel technology which is being heavily promoted for low fuel consumption, this has required the changeover to “Common Rail” fuel injection technology. For this to work there must be a number of sensors that feed information to an ECU which is quite similar to that found on gasoline fuel injected engines. The diesel injectors are then fired by electrical pulses which provides a very exact amount of fuel which greatly reduces emissions but also reduces fuel consumption and that dreaded diesel engine rattle which anyone that has walked past a truck should recognize.

Well the diesel engine found in the CMC line of pickups has none of that techno wizardry! This is a tried and trusted diesel engine that makes no excuses, its loud and anvil simple! Push rods control its valves and a standard distributor type fuel injection pump sends diesel to ordinary injectors, there isn’t a sensor in sight that isn’t there for your common monitoring such as water temperature or oil pressure. Once this engine is running, it will continue to do so until it runs out of fuel or you shut it down. The failure of a sensor or corrosion in a connector will not see this vehicle stranded by the side of the road!

And when it comes to normal maintenance, any semi-competent owner or mechanic should be able to keep the engine running sweet as a nut. With a large separate diesel filter with water detector and easily accessed service points, keeping things fresh should be a breeze. As Charles himself said, if the engine develops a problem, any qualified diesel mechanic can work on the engine. There are no special tools or training needed which is the case with the more modern competitor’s engines.

Here in the developed world we have been force fed technologies that we don’t really have a need for. CMC vehicles offers a more realistic interpretation to what is really needed in our neck of the woods. Some may consider this to be a throw back, but having a working reliable vehicle that is easy and affordable to maintain can mean the difference between new vehicle ownership or purchasing a used more modern vehicle that is off warranty and liable to cost the owner considerably in both time and money just to keep running.

So armed with this background, it was with an open mind that I approached my first inspection. I rolled up at the fairly small dealership which is located at the RMC building in Bois d’orange right next door to Hilron Mauricettes vehicle body repair shop.

The only vehicle left of the original order is a fully loaded twin cab 4×4 “Flying” model. This would be considered the top of the line version having a prerequisite amount of large diameter chrome roll bar for the box and in the form of a bull bar at the front. There are also power windows and power locks along with the standard power steering and air conditioning. The interior of the rear tray has been coated with a Rhino type tough rubberized compound which is a nice standard feature.

The engine is a 2.7 liter, in-line four cylinder diesel with turbo charger but no inter-cooler. Red line starts at 4,000 rpm but can be over revved if desired however with the torque of a diesel being found way below the red line, this is not the recommended way to drive a diesel.

The five speed gearbox shifted smoothly but has an extremely long throw, so much so that with the seat back to accommodate my legs I had to lean a bit forward to engage 1st or 3rd. A bent gearstick would be advantageous here and even a short shifter as it feels like you have to move the stick through a good 12″ to go between gears. The clutch was very nice although a bit stiff and with the torque this engine provides you don’t even need to rev the engine much. This model has the standard gearing but the next shipment will have lower first, second and third gears which has been spec’d due to our mountain terrain. I could see this being a good idea for people who will be carrying a lot of heavy loads and certainly for the two door version. However my short drive with an unloaded vehicle impressed me with the gear spacing and ratios, so for me I would prefer this set of gearing. I would not want too short a first gear for day to day driving. I will have to test drive one of the shorter ratio versions when they get here to know for sure.

There are the usual transfer case low and high ratios and selection of 2 and 4 wheel drive, one thing I would have hoped for would have been auto locking front hubs. Having to get out and lock the front hubs when you are up to your ankle in mud is no fun! But again this all harkens back to the basic needs of the vehicle.

The quite sporty wheel is comfortable and the right size, the power steering felt good being quite effortless. Road handling felt a bit truck like but certainly acceptable.

What really is truck like is the noise this engine makes, and we are not talking about exhaust noise either! Whilst not deafening, this is certainly as loud as any four cylinder truck engine that you are likely to come across. Sound proofing in the cab is pretty good and if you drive with the AC on and windows up then the noise is not intrusive. Just shut down the engine before getting out or you will be in for a surprise if you are not accustomed to the rattle sound of a direct injection diesel engine!

This engine though is fairly spritely and feels neither weak nor high strung. Plonking along with your foot off the accelerator in second gear is amazing! And there is more than enough power for brisk cruising and overtaking, this is where the turbo shines. Apparently a few of these models were brought in without turbo’s and for our roads it was deemed too anemic. All future orders will be for turbo models only and the better for it.

There are a number of obvious details which point to the “you get what you pay for” category. Fit and finish is one of them, as Charles alluded to during his interview, body lines and moulding shapes are not up to Japanese standards. There are quite a few large gaps between doors and panels which are a bit surprising but are one of the reasons why this vehicle is for sale at this price point which I just realized I have not mentioned yet.

This last one was going for the lowly sum of $66,000.00 dollars as a special introductory price. The next shipment will be a bit higher so I would assume around the $70,000.00 mark. This is at least $20-30,000.00 dollars less than anything else in its class!

I also had a look around the future parts department and there were already a few commonly damaged or replaced parts on the shelves which is pretty good when you consider that there are less than ten units in the island so far. And like the vehicles, the parts will also be correspondingly cheaper! As each new shipment of cars come in, so will the stock of parts be built up.

There will be many advantages to owing a vehicle from a small Boutique type dealer like this one. The number of models that will be imported will be fairly small and this means that less parts have to be kept in stock. Models will not be updated year to year like some of the other manufacturers which creates a nightmare when it comes to determining how much stock to keep. Because the vehicles are relatively simple, there is less to go wrong so again less parts are needed. So if you don’t need the latest and best vehicle on the road to impress friends and family, a CMC vehicle could well be the most intelligent choice that you could make.

This line of vehicles should be a boon to the average farmer or contractor which is after a rough and ready vehicle that can be repaired in the field if necessary.

The only real unknown quantity at this point in time is how well they will hold up under our local conditions. We all want cheap and I certainly don’t mind giving up a lot of features but the big question remains, how reliable is it? Hopefully this will be answered in the affirmative and consumer confidence will build, which is needed to support a new product such as this which has so much to prove compared to the established brands.

What is a certainty is that the Pinnock Brothers are hitting the ground running as their approach to marketing their line of vehicles is getting the word out through hands on demo’s and one on one meetings with the target audience to show them the benefits that can be derived from choosing a CMC vehicle.

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