Tycho's Illustrated History Of Chinese Cars: How China Bought Off The U.S. In A Monster Fleet Deal

Tycho de Feyter
by Tycho de Feyter

I came across this vehicle in a parking lot in Beijing. It is a Ford Tempo GL. The Tempo was made in the US from 1984 until 1994, the white car in the parking lot was a second generation Tempo, which would put it in the 1988 the 1994 timeframe. How did it get to China? Ford never officially exported the Tempo to China. It is not the first Tempo I had seen in Beijing, I have seen many over the years. One could be a diplomat’s car, two also, but ten? There had to more to this Tempo-invasion of China, and there is…

A 1992 article from PRN sheds some light on the Tempo in China. The article quotes Mr. Robert P. Sparvero, at the time general manager of Ford’s North American Export Sales:

“We recently concluded the largest single fleet order Ford has ever received for North American-built products with the People’s Republic of China. The government ordered 3,010 Ford Tempos for use as taxis and tourist vehicles. We were pleased with the People’s Republic of China’s decision to purchase automobiles from Ford Motor Company, and we believe this is only the beginning of a long relationship.”

The Chinese government bought 3.010 1992 Ford Tempo’s for taxi’s and tourists! What a deal, but why? Some further research revealed that the Tempos were part of a much bigger deal between the United States government and the Chinese government, a deal that had to do with economic policies and … human rights.

In the very early 1990′s China wanted very much to keep its ‘most-favored-nation trading status’, meaning it could export to the US without paying too much import tax to US customs. Higher taxes would mean more expensive products and fewer sales. The political climate in the US however was not very friendly to China.

The 1989 Tiananmen protest was still a fresh memory with many politicians worrying about the human rights situation in China. On the economic front, many accused China of dumping cheap products on US soil, thereby disturbing the trade balance between the two countries. China had to make a move to make the US government happy.

China wasn’t going to do anything about human rights, but they could do something to shore up US exports. In July 1992, China announced it would buy vehicles worth $130 million from Chrysler, Ford and GM. Ford’s share was worth 32 million USD, and part of that was the Tempo-deal. Ford also sold a yet unknown number of Taurus.

Gan Ziyu, vice chairman of the mighty Chinese State Planning Commission, was quoted by NY Times in 1992:

“We believe that the U.S. is the world leader in auto manufacturing, and many of its products meet the demands of China’s users.”

Sure thing they met! The deal, and a few others including airplanes, convinced the US government. China kept the most-favored-nation trading status, and trade continued. Nobody talked about human rights anymore and anyway, Tiananmen was soon forgotten. Business is business, cars must go around the world, no matter what.

More on the 1992 deal in a later post, now some more Ford Tempo in China:

I have never seen any Tempo being used as a taxi, nor as a tourist vehicle. Most cars likely went to the government for ‘official use’ and ended up on the private market later on. Even today, many are still offered on second-hand markets, priced around 25.000 yuan ($4,000). Parts are hard to get, and new environmental regulations will ban the Tempo from most big cities in China. The white car I saw in Beijing however had a valid 2012 registration. And one other thing: all examples I have seen on the street and on the web are painted white.

Dutchman Tycho de Feyter runs Carnewschina.com, a blog about cars in China, from Beijing, China. He also collects die-cast models of Chinese cars.

Tycho de Feyter
Tycho de Feyter

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  • Tassos I never used winter tires, and the last two decades I am driving almost only rear wheel drive cars, half of them in MI. I always bought all season tires for them, but the diff between touring and non touring flavors never came up. Does it make even the smallest bit of difference? (I will not read the lengthy article because I believe it does not).
  • Lou_BC ???
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