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The Chinese Car Industry in the 80′s

Published November 16, 2010

In 2018 China Car Times was acquired by Autowise. This article originally appeared on

Prior to reading, please check out our other parts on the history of the Chinese car industry that spans the 50?s, 60?s and 70?s.

With the political turmoil of the 70?s over, the 80?s was looking to be bright. In 1984 the now defunct AMC would sign a partnership with Beijing Auto Works to produce the Jeep Cherokee in China and lead to a partnership that would span 26 years, Daihatsu would enter China in a big way but lose control of a market they had such a tight grip on, VW turns up with the Santana and Mercedes drops off some of its old tat in China. The 80?s was certainly a boom time under its transition from a planned economy to a market economy, the seeds of change were sprouting and car ownership for private buyers was finally allowed and ultimately allowed the market to transform into a twenty million units per year figure.

Fiat 126

The Fiat 126 was imported into China from Poland as it was then part of the communist-block of nations, however at the time Chinese citizens were not permitted to privately own vehicles, all vehicles must be registered with a government owned Danwei (work unit), but the Fiat 126 changed everything; privately owned vehicles were allowed for the first time.

The 126 was too small for official government use, and Poland was eager to sell more cars overseas, thus China finally relaxed sales of vehicles to private owners. Lucky buyers could pick the 126 up for 5000rmb which was a fortune at the time, oddly 30 years later the Fiat 126?s are still commanding a similar price at the auction block.  Citizens bought over 30,000 of them per year and perhaps even enjoyed the 650cc engine and rear wheel drive


Any visitor or long term resident in China may well know that VW have a tight grip on the Chinese taxi market with their Santana and Jetta models, but before them Lada ruled the taxi roost. China imported the Lada 2104, 2105, 2106, 2107 and 2109 models into China in great numbers to satisfy the demand for taxi use within larger cities.

BJ213 ? aka the Jeep Cherokee

In 1985 the first BJ213 Beijing Jeep Cherokee rolled down the production line packed with a 2.5 4 cylinder engine and a 5 speed gearbox and of course AWD.  The Cherokee continues in production today, although under Beijing Auto?s own brand name and has been renamed Qi Shi,

VW Santana

Whilst Beijing Auto and AMC stole the limelight as the first joint venture car in China, the VW Santana became the first sedan produced in China by a joint venture company. The Santana became a major seller in the Chinese market from its introduction in 1985, sales from 1985 to 2010 span 3 million units in China alone.

Mercedes 230E

During the late 80?s FAW and Daimler Benz noticed that there was a potential market in China for luxury cars, thus the Mercedes 230E was assembled in cooperation with FAW in Changchun. Both the 200 and 220E series were made in China, however the 220E series had a special stretched version which is probably what wet the Chinese appetite for longer cars in the late 80?s. Although when the 220 and 220E series were produced in China on Jan 20th 1988, the models had alreay been out of production in Germany since 1984, sales were not spectacular and only 828 models were produced in total, and less than 20 of the stretched models (pictured above) remain.

Daihatsu Van

Daihatsu imported the plague known as the bread van or ??? into China during the early 80?s. Daihatsu signed an agreement with Tianjin Auto (which later became part of FAW) and thus spawned the mini van craze across China, they were mostly used as taxis and were called Mian Di (??) of course they only came in one particular shade of yellow and were thus referred to as locust (??).

Xiali TJ7100

The Daihatsu-Tianjin relationship continued, and Tianjin brought in the Daihatsu Charade model and engine series which they used themselves under the Xia Li brand. The Charade, along with the Fiat 126p, was one of the first cars that Chinese consumers could actually buy and own under their own name and thus became an extremely popular car, when Li Shu was thinking about jumping into the automobile making game after seeing the success of his Geely motorcycle business he was that the XiaLi built Charade was an excellent place to start and thus Geely began production of an identical model. The TJ7100 later came in sedan form.

Audi 100

In September 1989 the Audi 100 came down the line at FAWs second automobile factory and quickly found that its biggest customer was the central and local government bodies that were desperate for a decent automobile. A crafty bit of legislation announced that all government cars must be locally built helped out FAW-Audi quite a bit in the sales department and allowed them to quickly dominate the luxury car market. All Audi models in China at the time were strictly front wheel drive models with either 2.0L 4 cylinder or 5 cylinder 2.5L models, although this later changed with the introduction of Quattro models. The Audi 100 was followed up with the Audi 200 and allowed Audi to dominate the luxury segment in China for almost a decade until its German competitors appeared. The Audi 100 later became a Hong Qi model and FAW were eager to make the most out of it, they turned it into a pick up truck, a fastback model (although pictures of this are very rare), a van and also the thinking mans cabriolet.

Note if anyone has pictures of the FAW built Audi fastback, please send them in!

Stay tuned for the Chinese Car Industry in the 90?s, and the final part Chinese car industry in the 21st Century.




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