A tale of three Chinese Rovers.
For Canada last edited by
China as a country is a land where many old Western designs get to live second lives as new cars, usually with questionable modernisation and new names. One of the most notable example of this is the Rover 75. What started as a replacement for the 600 and 800 Rover sedans, later to become a ferry for OAPs across Dear Old Blighty, became a popular(ish) executive car in China which was sold by three completely unrelated Chinese car companies.
Let's start with the Roewe 750. Sold by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, or SAIC Motor, it was rebadged from a Rover to a Roewe as the brand's first model, Roewe being how Chinese speakers would pronounce the name Rover anyway, so it was a natural renaming effort, despite it sounding a bit weird to foreigners.
SAIC had had great success with selling Buicks in China, most importantly the Buick Regal and Century. With the Rover being, let's be honest, the closest thing the Buicks have to a British equivalent, it seemed a natural fit.
The 750 got a mid-cycle refresh in 2011, seen here at that year's Shanghai auto show. The changes on the outside were subtle, mainly just a new bumper. Inside was different story, however.
Gone was the fantastic retro-modern and very Jaguar-esque interior of the Rover, which the pre-facelift Roewe had kept, in came a new, very bland, very cheap-looking interior that looked like it belonged in a mid-2000s Hyundai Azera. A shame, at least they kept with the wood and analogue clock. Which means it still counts as a luxury car in the staid British tradition.
SAIC killed off the 750 in 2016 after a decade of Chinese production. Full size Roewe buyers were instead directed to the Roewe 950. Interestingly, the 950 was based on the same LWB Epsilon platform as the Buick LaCrosse/Allure. You can still get one in China, but only as an EV since 2019.
Here's where things get confusing.
This is the MG 7. MG and Roewe are now once again part of the same corporate group under the aforementioned SAIC concern, but in 2007 things were different. After the collapse of MG Rover their assets were swallowed up by two different Chinese companies. SAIC purchased most of MG Rover's assets, but the MG name as well as non-exclusive rights to produce the Rover 75 and Streetwise were purchased by the Nanjing Automobile Corporation (NAC). NAC had originally thought they had purchased the entire Rover lineup, not just the 75 and Streetwise, and so some interesting prototypes were shown to the public before some lawyers came knocking to have them realise their errors.
Nevertheless, NAC persisted, and released the MG 7 in 2007. Unlike the Roewe in later years, the MG stayed pretty much the same as the car(s) it was based on. The body of the short-wheelbase version was based on the sporty MG ZT, but the Ford Modular V8 of the ZT was nowhere to be found, instead it used the standard V6 and L4 engines that came in the Rover variant. The 7 also came in a long wheelbase trim, sharing the grille with the Rover 75 V8, but still not the engine. None of the Chinese 75s came with the Modular, probably due to licensing issues.
SAIC purchased NAC in 2007, the same year the MG 7 was launched, bringing the MG and Rover names back under the same roof and making the 7 quite reduntant. Despite this, it was sold until 2013, only 3 years before the 750 was discontinued. Even more confusingly, the Roewe version was sold in certain export markets as the MG 750. So under the SAIC umbrella, you had the Roewe 750, the MG 750, and the MG 7, all slightly different but also the same. 1990s General Motors, eat your heart out.
Now, Chinese car enthusiasts, all 3 of them, probably know about both of the above cars, probably quite well in fact. But the 3rd car is practically unknown. Enter the Brilliance B8.
Brilliance are a car company based in Shenyang, in northeast China. To Western car enthusiasts, they're probably most known for that disastrous crash test video of their BS6 sedan model.
Brilliance in 2002, when MG Rover was still under British ownership, Brilliance executives travelled to the UK to ink out a deal to produce Rovers under licence in China. This isn't unusual at all, and practically every major Western car company has entered into a joint venture with an established state-owned Chinese car company to produce their cars in China, mostly because the Chinese system makes it basically impossible to sell cars as a foreign company. Some even enter into multiple joint ventures, like FAW-Volkswagen and Shanghai-Volkswagen. The details on the joint venture are complicated, and this article does a better job explaining than I could.
Before the negotiations had finished, Brilliance commissioned mockups of what a Brilliance Rover would look like. Surprise of surprises, like a Rover with a Brilliance badge. These cars were made to show off at trade shows, but after talks failed, they showed up on the Chinese market as new cars.
The cars were re-christened as Brilliance B8's, a departure from the prototype name of the Brilliance Rover 75-800 that was shown on the original prototypes. Basically, Brilliance pulled off the 75-800 badges, slapped a hastily made series of B8 badges on, and sent the cars off to the ends of China. A total of about 25 of these cars were supposedly made, making them without question the rarest Chinese Rover.
Interestingly, Brilliance also had talks with London Taxis International to produce London cabs in China, partially to fill demand for taxis during the then-newly announced 2008 Beijing Olympics. Like the Rover talks, the LTI talks fell through, partially due Brilliance chairman Yang Rong fleeing the country after getting on the wrong side of the country's leadership.
As black cab enthusiasts probably know, another Chinese company swallowed LTI up altogether, Geely, who rechristened the company from LTI to the London Electric Vehicle Company, or LEVC.
WhoIsTheLeader last edited by
@for-canada So these Brilliance B8s were sold as new cars? So basically Brilliance became like a really crappy tuning company for them like buying a new Hennessy Velociraptor. So they had Brilliance VINS (or whatever the Chinese equivalent is)?
How exactly did you hear about this?
For Canada last edited by For Canada
@whoistheleader I'm not sure if they have Brilliance or Rover VINs, they weren't sold at Brilliance dealers either as far as I know, but I do believe Brilliance or someone else who somehow has access to the prototypes shovelled them off to third-party car dealers in China to get rid of them. The cars were definitely not made for the general public by any means, but they made their way out eventually.
As for how I heard about it, it's pretty simple, was looking at Wikipedia, noticed someone had added "Brilliance B8" to the "also known as" section of the Rover 75 page, and I had to do more research on a car I had never heard of before. Obviously I think about the 75 a lot.
WhoIsTheLeader last edited by
@for-canada That's how I discovered that there is some disagreement on whether the Great Wall/Haval Hover/H3/etc is a ground up copy of the Isuzu Axiom or whether they purchased the tooling. As near as I can estimate, they use a different chassis and may or may not use a licensed body shell. CDM cars are weird and info is hard to come by.
I don't know how the Chinese VIN system works but I suspect they were probably classified as imported cars and the company ate the luxury car tax to get them through to display and then sold them as used cars as to not have legal responsibility. Well, that's how it might work in the west, but this is China we're talking about so who knows. Fascinating.
ranwhenparked last edited by
@for-canada The collapse of MG Rover was really messy - they had been in talks with SAIC about a joint venture for about a year, and went bankrupt when SAIC pulled out of negotiations, and their suppliers started demanding cash up front. SAIC then tried to buy the assets, but were somehow outmaneuvered by tiny NAC, who got all the trademarks (save Rover), the Longbridge factory, and most of the intellectual property.
SAIC still had the rights to the 75 and the K-series engines, which MG Rover sold them while negotiations on a joint venture were going on, and, for whatever reason, thought they could at least get ahold of the Rover trademark after losing the rest, but they didn't gamble on Ford exercising their right of first refusal and buying it instead, so they were stuck creating Roewe.
Then, later, bought NAC and got everything else they wanted anyway.
MG Rover had also sold a license and set of tooling for the K-Series engines to Sonalika Group in India for use in their Sonalika Rhino SUV, but that didn't pose any issue for the Chinese.
Chariotoflove last edited by
@for-canada That was an interesting read.