Back in August last year, we reported that Beijing Automobile International Corporation (BAIC) had announced an R11-billion investment in South Africa, with the move described as "the biggest automotive investment in Africa in the last 40 years".

The Coega Development Corporation, which operates the 11 500 hectare Coega Industrial Development Zone, said it had concluded a deal with BAIC for a completely knocked down (CKD) automotive manufacturing plant near Port Elizabeth, with production scheduled to start in early 2018. Reports at the time suggested that the BAIC factory in South Africa would build the X 25 SUV, the Yinxiang S6 and a pickup truck.

But the Chinese state-owned enterprise has decided to launch its first product in South Africa before production actually kicks off. And that vehicle is the D20 you see in the images above.

Locally, it will be offered in both hatchback and sedan form, with prices starting at R149 990 and running through to R209 990. The D20 will be sold through a newly established, national network of 21 dealers "covering most of the key cities and towns in the country".

BAIC says that the D20 "draws on Mercedes-Benz's Smart ForFour chassis" (and the hatch's styling certainly draws on first-generation Mercedes-Benz B-Class looks), thanks to the automaker's technology sharing agreement with the German giant.

The local D20 range comprises five hatchback models and one sedan, with the former body style offered with either a 1,3-litre (75 kW/128 N.m) or 1,5-litre (85 kW/148 N.m) naturally aspirated petrol engine (and a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission) and the latter exclusively with a 1,5-litre engine and automatic 'box. BAIC says both units are Euro 5 compliant.

Two trim levels will be on offer: Comfort and Fashion. Features of the Comfort model include rear foglamps, automatic headlamps, a rain sensor (bar the 1,3-litre model), electric windows, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, reversing sensors and automatic illumination of the luggage compartment.

The Fashion level adds an electric sunroof, day-time running lights, alloy wheels, automatic folding side-mirrors, an audio system with a 6,5-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, USB, CD player, radio and six speakers.

All variants feature disc brakes at all four corners (complete with ABS and EBD), two airbags, and a pair of Isofix mountings in the rear. The BAIC D20 boasts a five-year/120 000 km warranty, with service intervals of 10 000 km (the first service is required at 3 000 km, although it comes free).

Interestingly, the first unit of BAIC's Zimbabwe Pickup SKD Project was last month assembled in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Pricing:
BAIC D20 Hatch 1,3 Comfort: R149 990
BAIC D20 Hatch 1,5 Comfort: R169 990
BAIC D20 Hatch 1,5 Fashion: R179 990
BAIC D20 Hatch 1,5 Fashion auto: R189 990
BAIC D20 Sedan 1,5 Fashion auto: R209 990