BIZCHINA> 30 Years of Reforms
Driving force
By Li Fangfang (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-08-12 09:10

Driving force

Shanghai Volkswagen debuts Lavida, its first Volkswagen-branded vehicle designed by the Chinese, made in China and tailored for China's market, in May this year. [China Daily]

There are still a few people that confuse Santana and Volkswagen. In their minds, Santana and Volkswagen are simply one and the same. Most people misunderstood this in China before the turn of the century.

It's clear that Santana, the iconic model of Shanghai Volkswagen Co Ltd (SVW), the first car-making joint venture in China after the country opened to the rest of the world, became the symbol of sedans in China's auto industry.

Besides being the first car from an auto joint venture, the Santana also ranked number one in sales volume last year, keeping its position on the top of the market, a place it has occupied for years.

The low-profile sedan has been also the model of choice for many Chinese drivers. Not only has it been in the market for a long time, but it also is the car that most Chinese people use to learn to drive. It is dubbed Pusang in Chinese.

The cars have been popular in China for decades even though the model has faded in western countries.

It is still the most popular sedan in some second and third-tier cities as an "evergreen car". However, in Germany its domestic market the total number of Santanas sold stood at 130,000 units.

Obviously, no other vehicle like Santana saw the development of China's auto industry, the same as its parent SVW.

A discussion for six years

Actually, Santana's local production can be attributed to a Chinese independent auto brand in Shanghai.

Early in 1978, Rao Bin, the late vice-minister of the First Machine-building Industry, suggested that an auto assembly line should be set up in Shanghai because the city was one of the leading auto production bases in China, producing Shanghai sedans.

The city promptly caught hold of the opportunity to start up a sedan project in July, and two months later it got permission from the State to discuss a sedan joint venture with foreign automakers, after Yu Qiuli, vice-premier of that time approved the proposal on introducing sedan production technologies and rebuilding the Shanghai Sedan Plant. The proposal changed China's auto industry.

The report suggested that China should enhance its auto production level by introducing the latest foreign technologies, which could be used in Shanghai to make Shanghai Sedan Plant a modern auto production base.

From 1958 when Shanghai developed its first sedan Fenghuang (Phoenix) to 1978, the Shanghai Sedan Plant never stopped producing the motor vehicle, but it always had a low capability and low production. It usually only produced several hundreds of motor vehicles a year and no more than 3,000.

Not like today's advanced robotic production and assembly line, in 1978 the Shanghai sedan was produced with simple tools such as hammers.

In November 1991 when production of the Shanghai sedan was stopped, the total number of the city's proud brand was only 11,000 cars, while today SVW produces more than 400,000 sedans per year.

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