China’s favourite car brand
Why are there so many Buicks in Shanghai?
I must admit I expected to see a far more shabby arrival of cars in Shanghai. How wrong I was! This is a rich area. It says a lot that the Apple store, which is the size of a smaller Tesco, was crammed like a bus during the morning rush hour.
Instead of the funny pieces of work of the local car manufacturers, BMWs, Audis, and for some reason the Nissan Teana are all the rage in Shanghai. Of the more average brands, VW is the most popular, probably because the ancient VW Santana Vista makes up about 90% of the taxis.
The other unfathomably hyped brand is Buick. Legend has it that after the revolution the last emperor's Buick landed in the garage of the of Mao Zedong's right-hand man, Zhou Enlai, and he too got bitten by the bug. This alone wouldn't have made the brand so well-known, but the Buicks had been exported to China since 1912, and by 1926 the brand has even had its official Chinese distributor. The emperor wasn't the only one fascinated by the brand – for some reason leaders of the late empire grew fond of the Buick as well.
When GM started negotiating about setting up a new Chinese joint venture, the Chinese insisted that not Chevrolets, but Buicks be made locally. Basically, the Buick has this to thank for its survival, as the American sales had already plummeted to an unacceptable 100,000/year by then. China added 500,000/year, so Pontiac got the chop instead.
GM of course found their way round: they placed the Buick emblem on lots of their cars. One example is what we know as the five-door Opel Astra, sold as Excelle XT in China. With a backpack, this basically equals our Astra Sedan, sold under the name Excelle GT.
You can spot a few Opel Insignias with the front of a Buick, going by the name Regal.
Also based on Insignia but bigger and decidedly luxurious: the LaCrosse.
They've got some MPVs, too: the GL8 is gigantic, and there's an awful lot of them on the streets. This type even beats the full-grown American MPVs in size. The chrome ornaments supplied with right bad taste truly take one's breath away.
The latter two types have rather hideous mock-vents on the two sides of the bonnet. I've seen these horrors on so many cars that I find it hard to believe they're not factory-made.
The weirdest Buick of all is still the Excelle, which is basically a Daewoo/Chevrolet Lacetti.
By the way, the Chevy was sold under its own name too, and I was lucky enough to spot one next to its buddy, the Buick. That's some overhaul! I've seen a Lacetti with the emblem of a third brand, too, but I couldn't figure out what that was. A horrible feeling for an automotive journo – and this wasn't the first time.
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