Earlier this week we published the first part of our series on Chinese cars. The second follows the same format but it also covers a couple of odds and ends, including some of the older cars we spotted.
As a reminder, old cars are few and far between since most outside manufacturers were not present in China until the early 1990s and local manufacturers did not have much demand until the government democratized private car ownership.
A third and final installment covering MG and Rover will come in the next few days.
Honda (Dongfeng Honda Automobile, founded in 2003 & Guangzhou Honda Automobile, founded in 1998)
Honda is one of the many manufacturers that has two joint-ventures in China, the maximum allowed by the government’s National Development and Reform Commission.
The first joint-venture manufactures and sells the Accord, the Fit, and two models not offered in the United States, the City and the Odyssey. Both feature Honda’s latest design language that is found on most of their products worldwide.
The City is a four-door sedan that slots beneath the Civic and that is mechanically very close to the Jazz/Fit hatchback.
The Odyssey is a mix between a minivan and a station wagon. Unlike the Odyssey sold in the United States, it does not have rear sliding doors:
Honda’s second joint-venture builds the CR-V, the Civic and its hybrid counterpart, and the Spirior, which is essentially the same as a Honda Accord in Europe and an Acura TSX in the United States.
Jeep (Beijing Jeep Corporation, established in 1984)
Jeep’s presence in China goes back to the AMC days, when the latter inked a deal to produce the XJ Cherokee in the Beijing area. The labor was obviously much cheaper than what was available in the United States, but workers generally had absolutely no experience assembling a car. The first Chinese-built Cherokees came out in 1985 and were fairly similar to the XJs sold in the United States:
A version with a longer wheelbase and a higher roof was also built. When Chrysler purchased AMC, more models were gradually added to the Chinese lineup, including the Grand Cherokee.
While most of the world switched to the KJ Liberty in the early 2000s, the XJ Cherokee stayed in production in China for several years longer. It was given a slight facelift and dubbed the Beijing Jeep 2500:
The one pictured above is stock but 2500s are often fitted with lift kits, fog lights, roof racks and similar off-road equipment.
Chrysler left the joint-venture in 2009 and tried to start one with Chery, but it failed to get off the ground. As mentioned earlier, Fiat and Guangzhou have started their own joint-venture, so Jeep production in China might start again in the next couple of years.
Mercedes-Benz (Beijing Benz Automotive, founded in 2005):
Chinese sales of German luxury cars have shot up in the last decade or so, but Mercedes has been the least-successful brand out of the three. Its cars carry the image of a bland old person’s car, almost like a German version of the now-defunct Lincoln Town Car.
In China Mercedes builds the C-Class and a long wheelbase version of the E-Class. The German brand is trying to improve its image by putting an emphasis on its more sporty products like the CLS, the SLK and the SL.
It’s rather complicated to find any data on what cars were imported into China, but judging from what we saw, numerous Mercedes were imported (likely by diplomats) in the 1980s.
It is worth noting that Daimler inexplicably has two other joint-ventures in China (more than allowed), including one with BYD that is focused on developing an electric car for the Chinese market. The first electric prototype is scheduled to bow in 2012.
Peugeot (Dongfeng Peugeot-Citroën Automobile, founded in 1992):
Peugeot’s history in China started in 1987 when it formed Guangzhou Peugeot Automobile Company to assemble 504s and 505s as CKD kits. There are conflicting reports as to how many of each were built, but there are almost none left of either today.
The joint-venture with Guangzhou failed in 1997 and Peugeot later tagged on to Citroën’s joint-venture with Dongfeng.
For the most part Peugeot’s Chinese lineup resembles its French lineup, but there are some exceptions. One is the 207, which is essentially Europe’s 206+ with a conventional trunk borrowed from the four-door version of the 206:
Peugeot sells three mid-size four-door sedans, the 307, the 308, and the 408. All are priced sufficiently far apart that they do not overlap. The 308 is a very recent addition and we did not manage to photograph one, but 307s and 408s are plentiful. It is worth noting that the 408 is heavily based on the 307 and shares no components with the old 407:
Peugeot imported the 607 but stopped offering it when the model was phased out in Europe. The lack of a flagship sedan is something the French automaker suffers from, both in China and in Europe.
Shuanghuan Automobile Company:
Shuanghuan was established in 1998 and is present in certain countries outside of China, notably north Africa and eastern Europe. In recent years the brand has been criticized for copying existing designs. It has done its best to defend itself along those allegations but a sample of its product lineup speaks volumes. First up is the Shuanghuan CEO:
BMW has sued Shuanghuan over the CEO’s design but the only settlement it has managed to obtain is to ban the automaker from selling its cars in Germany.
Next we have the Noble:
A rarther blatant copy of a smart fortwo, though it seats four and has a front-mounted engine. The yellow one pictured had a special touch on the back:
Last but not least is the S-RV, a visual mix between a 1990s 4Runner, a CR-V, and possibly a dachshund:
Volkswagen (FAW – Volkswagen, founded in 1990 & Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive, founded in 1984)
China is one of Volkswagen’s biggest markets and it contributes a lot to the automaker’s goal of becoming the world’s largest car company in 2018. Most brands in the Volkswagen group are present in China, with the latest being SEAT, and the Volkswagen brand sells about thirty different models there.
We already covered an aspect of Volkswagen’s presence in China in a 2008 article that mostly focused on the Jetta. The article is now outdated as several new versions of the Jetta have since come out. The most intriguing one is a facelifted version of the second-generation Jetta. It seems to be popular as a delivery vehicle or as a cheap company car. Unfortunately, we only saw them on buses or in taxis and couldn’t get the camera out in time, so press photos will have to do:
The last generation Passat is still being produced in China, but it has undergone several aesthetic changes:
Volkswagen also builds a new Passat which shares the same platform as the north American Passat but whose body is specific to the Chinese market. This new Passat is a popular police car and is seen by some as a baby Phaeton:
One of the most common Volkswagens in China is the Santana, available as both a sedan and a wagon. There are several versions of the Santana running around and all trace their roots back to the second generation Passat, introduced in 1981. The first generation Santana looks very similar to the B2 Passat:
This version of the Santana stayed in production until earlier this year. In 1991, a more modern-looking version called Santana 2000 was introduced and it was replaced in 2004 by the Santana 3000. The 3000 did not stay in production very long and passed the torch to the Santana Vista in 2008:
The differences between the 3000 and the Vista are very minor. The photo below shows a Vista (left) and a 3000 (right) side by side. Seen from the back, the biggest changes are the location of the license plate and the bumper:
The Santana’s roomy interior makes it a favorite among taxi drivers:
The Lavida was mostly designed by FAW with the Chinese market in mind. It is based on an mk4 Golf/Jetta platform:
Odds and ends.
Importing a car into China is nearly impossible unless it qualifies as a collector car, or unless it is imported by a diplomat. The diplomat guidelines are fairly straightforward, but what is considered a “collector car” in the eyes of the Chinese government is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, some have managed to make it in, like this Polski-Fiat 126, built in Poland:
A Jaguar 420, a noteworthy sight just about anywhere in the world:
It is tough for foreign companies to compete in the commercial van market because there are countless local alternatives that generally cost much less. Nevertheless, both Ford and Iveco have taken a stab at the market. Iveco’s offering is the second generation Daily/Turbo Daily, updated with new headlights and taillights:
Ford revamped the Transit it released in 1985:
Lastly, some will undoubtedly notice that we left out Volvo and Saab. Volvo is now part of Geely and Saab’s best-case scenario also involves a change in nationality. As far as we were able to tell, Volvos are uncommon at best and Saabs are downright rare.