The Cherokees that sparked revolution

Updated: 2011-06-01 14:33

By Ashley Sutcliffe (China Daily)

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During the 1980s, one of the major seeds of change sprouting from China's new market economy was the all-new motoring industry.

In 1984, the now defunct American Motors Corporation (AMC) signed a partnership with Beijing Auto Works, the nation's first motor company joint venture, to produce the Jeep Cherokee in China; Daihatsu started strong but soon lost market share; Volkswagen made the iconic Santana, and Mercedes-Benz came onto the scene.

The Fiat 126 was also a 1980s star. It was imported from Poland, at a time when privately owned vehicles were allowed for the first time. Previously, all vehicles were required to be registered with a government-owned danwei (work unit). More than 30,000 126s were sold annually.

In 1985, the first BJ213 Beijing Jeep Cherokee rolled off the production line, equipped with a 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine, five-speed gearbox and all-wheel drive. The Cherokee is still in production, although under Beijing Auto's brand name and has been renamed Qishi.

While Beijing Auto and AMC stole the limelight as the first joint venture car in China, the Volkswagen Santana became the first sedan produced in China by a joint venture company. From 1985 to 2010, more than 3 million Santanas were sold in China. Today, Volkswagen has a tight grip on the Chinese taxi market with its Santana and Jetta models, but before Volkswagen and the Russian-built Lada ruled the taxi roost.

During the late 1980s, FAW and Daimler Benz joined forces to assemble the Mercedes-Benz 230E in Changchun. Sales were not spectacular and only 828 models were produced.

Daihatsu imported what was known as the "bread van" and signed an agreement with Tianjin Auto (which later became part of FAW), spawning a mini-van craze. These yellow vehicles were mostly used as taxis and referred to as a "locust" because of their sudden large numbers.

Tianjin Auto later brought in the Daihatsu Charade model, which it rebadged as the Xiali. 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.

In 1989, the Audi 100 came down the line at FAW's second automobile factory and quickly hooked up with central and local government bodies, which were desperate for a decent automobile.

The law that required 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.

Ashley Sutcliffe is editor of




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