By on May 18, 2009

Another one bites the dust: The Volkswagen Santana, the car that provided the foundation of China’s mass motorization, will be put out to pasture in 2012, Gasgoo reports. The car’s history in the PRC provides a unique insight into the country’s move towards motorization.

In Germany, the Santana was a flop. Launched in 1981, it was stopped three years later. The story that VW foisted their unwanted factory on the unwitting Chinese was a myth. It was a lucky stroke: In 1979, a high ranking government delegation sprung a surprise visit on Volkswagen to discuss a possible joint venture.

Quickly, all present and some future VWs and Audis were lined up in the “Walhalla,” the internal nickname for the presentation hall of the VW R&D department. The Chinese official pointed at the yet to be launched Santana, the translator said “den hier” (that one), and history took its course.

Experimental production of the Santana started in 1983. In 1985, full scale production began (much to the chagrin of the Chinese) based on CKD (completely knocked down) kits. Made at SVW, a joint venture with China’s SAIC, 3.21million Santanas were sold so far in China. The car had several facelifts, sold as Santana 2000 since 1995, and as Santana 3000 since 2004. At its heart, there is still the old B2 platform of the second generation Passat. Together with the Jetta, the Santana reached cult-like status in China.

In light of the robust performance of the Made-for-China Lavida, the PQ34-based “Mini-Phaeton” as it is lovingly called in China, the top management of SVW believes that they can retire the veteran warhorse that still dominates Shanghai’s taxi fleet.

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10 Comments on “Shanghai VW Santana R.I.P....”

  • avatar

    When I lived in Shanghai, I rode in numerous Santana model years. Its a small car, but, since the Chinese people were so small, I was able to get enough leg space not to be cramped. Its a decent ride and I guess it gets high mpg.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    In Germany, the Santana was a flop. Launched in 1981, it was stopped three years later.

    It returned as a “Passat sedan” with a new grille in 1985, IIRC. That’s really what it was – a sedan in addition to the existing lineup of Passat hatchbacks and wagons.
    I remember riding in one of them as a kid – with a dark red velour interoir.

  • avatar

    Rode in the back of one used as a Shanghai taxi – cheap thrills!

  • avatar

    The Santana was quite successful in Brazil too, lasting long years and being a taxi favourite.

  • avatar

    That vehicle looks identical to a USA market 1987 VW Quantum, which was also the Audi 80.

    With the 5 speed, that was a fun car to drive back in the day.

  • avatar

    It was discontinued in Brazil some years ago… where it also was produced for so many years.

    Here (Venezuela) VW imported some for taxi duty, but it wasn’t succesful.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    fellswoop, yes, the Passat/Santana of that generation was called the Quantum in the US.

  • avatar

    Well I’m pissed. The bright colors of the Santana-powered taxi fleets flying by are now as home to me as the loogie being hocked up next to me as I wait for the light to change. Let it live!

    Bertel, does this mean Shanghai will have to endure the crappy Hyundais and Citroens like in other cities? I won’t stand (scrunch in the back seat) for it!

  • avatar


    They will be produced until 2012. And then live on for a long time. As you are well aware, a Chinese taxi can be quite old. Not as old as a Manhattan taxi, where the last Checker was retired after 21 years of service but long enough.

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