There are many ways in which Fiats have stood out over time: innovation, good looks, spaciousness, charm and value-for-money. You’ll notice that one of the things not on this list is interior design, with Fiat interiors more often than not being just a sea of gray plastic (notable exceptions include the 500 range, especially the original small 500, and cars like the mid-1990s Coupe and Barchetta). Given the lack of form in this respect it makes sense that Fiat would look elsewhere in the industry for inspiration for the interior of the newly-revealed Argo, and what better place to look than at the carmaker that is seen by many as leading the industry in terms of interior design (if not always quality).
This is our third installment of our series on car models which continued to be produced under a new owner and a new name in China after having been retired from their original market. In part 1 we discussed the Seat Toledo, Seat Ibiza, MG ZT, MG TF, Rover Streetwise and LDV Maxus and in part 2 the Volkswagen Jetta, Audi 100, Daihatsu Move and Austin Maestro/Montego. In part 3 we’ll look at Zotye, a small auto maker based in the Zhejiang province in China that’s presently best known for blatantly copying foreign car designs. But Zotye hasn’t always taken illegal inspiration from Western designs, they started off large scale production by legally acquiring a number of obsolete platforms and designs from Western automakers, some of which never even made it into full production.
Suzuki Alto 2nd generation (1984-1988) -> Zotye Jiangnan Alto (1988-2013)
The second generation Suzuki Alto, produced in Japan between 1984 and 1988 has proven to be a true evergreen. After its short first life, production moved to no less than four different manufacturers, two of which still continue to sell the model today. The first one was Maruti, Suzuki’s own branch in India, which has sold the model as the Maruti 800 from 1986 to 2003. In neighboring Pakistan, Suzuki’s local branch Pak Suzuki started production of the Alto in 1988 and still continues to do so today as the Suzuki Mehran.
In China, Suzuki licensed production of the Alto to two manufacturers. Changan Auto, Suzuki’s manufacturing Joint Venture partner, produced the Alto from 1988 until 2008 as the Changan SC7080. Simultaneously, Jiangnan Auto produced their own version of the Alto, called the JN Auto. Jiagnan also exported CKD (Complete Knock Down) kits to PSA in Tunisia for local assembly as the Peugeot JN Mini (just over 7.500 assembled until 2003) and to Iran Khodro until 2000 for assembly as the Iran Khodro Alto, to compete with the Saipa Nasim, which was a locally assembled Kia Pride/Mazda 121. Jiangnan was taken over by Zotye in 2009 and the car was renamed Jiangnan Alto or Jiangnan TT. It was marketed at the end of 2010 as the cheapest new car in the world, with a price of 18.800 yuan, or US$ 2,830 at that moment’s exchange rates, close to the price of India’s Tata Nano. Production is said to have ended in 2013, but new registrations are still reported in 2016. Reportedly as a replacement to the TT, Zotye started production of the Z100 in 2013, which is “coincidentally” a carbon copy of the 7th generation Alto, the one produced from 2009. They’ve even made an all-electric version of the car: the Zotye Z100 EV. Zotye doesn’t have the license for this design, as it’s already produced by Changan-Suzuki, but so far they’ve gotten away with it, which unfortunately supports their decision to stop buying licenses and just copy existing designs. [Read more…]