China's biggest passenger car-maker, Shanghai Auto (SAIC), this month unveiled its own-brand family saloon at a ceremony in the country's largest and brashest city and outlined plans to make 300,000 cars and trucks a year under its own brand by 2010.
Well, SAIC almost unveiled its new saloon. The car was shown in dark shadow on a projection screen, as it is under development and will not be released until June, but it looks remarkably like the Rover 75.
And any similarity is no coincidence - SAIC bought the plans for the luxury saloon and the intellectual property rights to build them from MG Rover before the British car-maker went bankrupt just over a year ago. Since then the company has spent pounds 264m on its SAIC Motor Manufacturing Unit as it bids to develop its own cars for sale around the world.
David Lindley, the British chief engineer of the new unit who used to work for Long-bridge-based Rover as well as BMW, gave the briefest glimpse of the new car in his presentation in Shanghai and said it was an "improved" version of the Rover 75.
"Our new family car was signed off in January. We want it to meet the highest European and Chinese standards of safety. It will feature improvements to the four-cylinder engine and a new manual transmission," Lindley said. SAIC is in partnership with General Motors and Volkswagen in China, which is the world's third-largest vehicle market. Every year the company produces hundreds of thousands of Passats and Santanas under the VW brand and Chevys and Buicks with GM badges.
The new own-brand luxury four-door model will compete directly with GM and VW when it starts being exported to Europe next year. It will also soon be exported to the US.
Wang Xiaoqiu, general manager of SAIC Motor Manufacturing, said: "Our target is to sell over 200,000 own-brand cars by 2010, with 45,000 of those shipped to overseas markets, including Europe. …