By on March 5, 2013

Let’s say you want a Fünfer BMW, but you are experiencing cash flow issues.
Mei wen ti
, no problem if you are in China. Creative and innovative Chinese companies are here to help.
Here is how it works:

First you buy a Brilliance H530. Price starts at 79.800 yuan and ends at 125.800 yuan ($12.800 to $20.200).

Then you buy a BMW-style grille, available in pretty much any color.

The grille comes in a handy set with eight BMW badges and a ’523i’ badge. The complete set costs 450 yuan, or $72. The BMW 523i is not available in China, but the extended 523Li is. It is made in China by none other than the Brilliance-BMW joint venture. Price for the 5Li starts at 428.600 yuan or $68.800. Don’t worry about the 523i not being available in China. People will think you have an expensive import model.

The work starts. Take off that cheapo Brilliance grille. Don’t throw it away! Sell it! This is China, after all.

Replace it with the BMW grille. Don’t have your picture taken if the blog gets read in Munich.

Add BMW badge to the hood. It drops right in.

Add rear BMW badge.

Add BMW badge on steering wheel. No cutting, no welding.

Add BMW badges on alloys. That’s seven badges indeed, number eight is for on the engine.

If you think your friends will never believe you can afford a 5; mei wen ti: Go for the Dreier.

Looks too real in white with racing stripes.

The kit is popular, this seller sold 12 in the last 30 days, hundreds of other small shops sell the same stuff on Taobao, the Chinese eBay. Never believe a BMW to be a BMW in China!

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


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38 Comments on “Mad in China: A Brilliant Way To A BMW 523i On The Cheap...”

  • avatar


    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile


      “Don’t throw it away! Sell it! This is China, after all”

      Flawless victory.

    • 0 avatar

      Cool. Do they sell those kits HERE? Take a Kia or Hyundai, add grill & badges, and voilà! Budget Beemer!

      • 0 avatar

        Would have a better shot being mistaken for a BMW with a grill/badge kit for the Honda Accord or Subaru Legacy (or the Euro Toyota Avensis) since they already have the greenhouse with the Hofmeister kink (and the Legacy also has the 3 Series coupe styled taillights).

  • avatar

    I don’t even think most people in the US would notice.

  • avatar

    How does this work within the law? Is that even allowed in China or over here?
    There must be some law that states the emblems must match what is on the reg.
    Perhaps not. Anyone know? Great getaway car if they can’t describe what it really is.

    Does this kit guarantee better resale value as well? :)

    • 0 avatar

      No law on emblems anywhere, as far as I know.

      There are a number of “Dodge” Sprinters in US and Canada as well that have been retrofitted with the original M-B grilles and badges (or with VW Crafter grilles and badges). Badge replacement there, too, though arguably they’re the badges that belong on the Sprinter.

    • 0 avatar

      Beijing Benz Daimler Automotive could presumably go after the kit manufacturers, as well as any dealership stupid enough to do the conversions themselves and put the results in the showroom, but you can’t stop owners from modifying their cars. If someone wants to go out and swap their Chrysler badges to Bentley, the police are certainly entitled to point and laugh, but they can’t arrest them.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      I don’t see anything illegal. The only chink in the armor is the sale of the BMW emblems, if the emblems are imitations.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t see where it would be against the law, unless you tried to sell it as the fake model. If mere badge changing was grounds for arrest, I’d wonder about all those ricers driving their formerly-240SX/currently-Sylvias.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      As far as the VIN numbers and compliance stickers and plates are correct and consistent everything should be kosher.

      However, if BMW sold the the same car with their own badging, there may be problems. It would require a BMW VIN and compliance… and the police would have fun in the street identifying the cars. There may be also confusion at “DMV”/registration level is the VIN process is not handled correctly at the OEM.

      But in this case, nah.

  • avatar

    When I worked at an RV dealer for a bit, we would have customers buy new Dodge Sprinter-based motor homes and pay us a decent sum of money to swap out the front end, and badging, to a Mercedes unit. Granted, it was an actual Mercedes underneath, but it seemed a bit pointless. We made good money off of it though.

  • avatar

    Well if you’re going to do this, why 523i? Just go all out and call it an M5.

    • 0 avatar

      I imagine it’s a similar thought process to the one behind those fake Chinese Rolexes. Buy a diamond encrusted Submariner and everyone will spot it right away, buy a plain steel Datejust and you might just get away with it for a time.

      • 0 avatar

        It depends on who you want to fool. A friend of mine dressed up his Datsun 510 with the grille and badges from a BMW 1600 and some stick-on “chrome” from Pep Boys, and fooled his girlfriend.

  • avatar

    I’ve always said that if your opinion of me is somehow affected by the brand/type/style/price of the car/home I buy, both of us need new friends . . . . .

    vanity run amuck . . . . .

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    China is not big on intellectual, or any other sort of property right.

    • 0 avatar

      “China is not big on………..rights”.


      • 0 avatar

        I always find it amusing to see people outside of China make blanket statements like this… While the western notions of political rights (i.e. direct elections) do not exist in the same way, every other right incidental to civil society remains intact. The right to sue civilly for tort, contractual breaches, and real property issues is surprising similar to that in many western states. In fact, the civil code is more similar to the French and German systems than the American system.

        China is not big on political rights, the same way that South Korea, Taiwan and other Asian countries were not big on those in the 70s and 80s, but that is only a small portion of the legal code.

        • 0 avatar

          “In fact, the civil code is more similar to the French and German systems than the American system.”

          Yes, most civil codes are. :p Also the “American system” is more properly called the common law system. Please note that the state of Louisiana operates on a civil code due to historical reasons, and not the typical common law system.

          I noticed that you didn’t mention intellectual property rights.

          China does not have the right to travel, as we know in the United States, because of hukou. See also Tibet.

          • 0 avatar

            Yes and no. You are correct, the US system is a continuation of English common law, albeit in a form which is very different from common law, as practiced in the UK and other commonwealth countries. There are enough codifications in the form of legislation and regulations, that the current US system is at best a hybrid CL jurisdiction.

            As to IP law in China, the law is on the books, but it is the enforcement which is lacking. In fact, the intellectual property statutes are heavily derivative of US IP law.

            As to hukou, it is a system which governs RESIDENCY, rather than mere travel. If I was a peasant from the interior, there is nothing stopping me from buying a train ticket to go to Shanghai or Beijing. I can even stay as long as I want, if I have the means. But if I wanted to RESIDE in the city away from where my hukou is registered, I would not be able to access any of the public services (healthcare, schooling, employment). While not ideal, this system is historic, and ensures that there will not be a flood of poor peasants swarming to the cities, setting up ghettos and shanty towns like other parts of the developing world. Is it fair? No. Is it necessary? Absolutely? One’s hukou can change with government approval. I.e. those who have completed a voluntary term in the military, have a choice of relocating to a city, and re-registering for that city.

            Those who have attended post-secondary and have secured a job in the cities, can usually have their hukou status changed.

            As for Tibet, that is a whole different story. It is politically sensitive, and really not much different from how India deals with Kashmir, or Israel with the West Bank.

          • 0 avatar

            “As to IP law in China, the law is on the books, but it is the enforcement which is lacking. In fact, the intellectual property statutes are heavily derivative of US IP law.”

            Not quite. The laws on the books also allow the PRC to appropriate IP from foreign companies at will and use it for its own benefit. Regardless, any IP laws in China are useless if not properly enforced, as you said.

            “As to hukou, it is a system which governs RESIDENCY, rather than mere travel. ”

            I think you’re not appreciating the definition of “right to travel.” The right to travel implies the right to residency and the right to work anywhere within one’s own country. One can also, obviously, use public services within the bounds of the law as a resident. In addition, the right to travel also means one can leave and re-enter one’s own country at will.

            Hukou is the antithesis of the right to travel.

            Saying Tibet is “politically sensitive” doesn’t really excuse anything. Tibetans certainly don’t have the right to travel.

            I wouldn’t compare it to India/Kashmir at all (that’s a bizarre comparison). India does not oppress Kashmiris or put significant restrictions on them in the same way the PRC does to Tibetans.

            As for Israel/Palestine, I’m not sure that’s the same either, although both Israel with respect to Palestinians and China with respect to Tibetans have elements of apartheid in terms of treating them as second class citizens.

          • 0 avatar

            @ corntrollio

            Tibetans have full rights as Chinese citizens. A broader autonomy is denied to them. Palestinians have no real rights whatsoever; from an Israeli viewpoint not even a fixed, defined territory – something which Tibet has.

          • 0 avatar

            @ controllino:

            “In addition, the right to travel also means one can leave and re-enter one’s own country at will.”

            The Chinese can come and go as they please. If their rights to travel are abridged, then by other countries who deny Chinese a visa.

            Try going to China, meet a nice Chinese girl,then try bringing her home to meet your parents. You will be in for a rude surprise, and the source of the surprise won’t be China.

          • 0 avatar

            “Tibetans have full rights as Chinese citizens.”

            From a “right to travel” standpoint, as we were discussing, that’s not completely true. The Chinese government has put additional conditions on Tibetans who travel to Nepal/India on occasion. This is beyond hukou and other PRC restrictions on the right to travel. The autonomy issue is a separate one.

            “Palestinians have no real rights whatsoever; from an Israeli viewpoint not even a fixed, defined territory – something which Tibet has.”

            Agreed, this is why they are absolutely not comparable. There are obviously autonomy issues involved and second class citizen issues involved, but the situations are pretty different. However, Tibetans would probably consider Tibet an occupied territory too, just as Palestinians think of Palestine.

            “The Chinese can come and go as they please.”

            Again, that hasn’t always been the case for Tibetans for sure, but even Chinese residents need exit permits from the government to leave the country.

            Furthermore, mainland residents of the PRC can’t even enter Hong Kong and Macau (i.e. their own country) freely — they need exit permits. For example, for Hong Kong, you must meet one of the categories, e.g. family, business, individual permission, tour group:

            www dot immd dot dot html

            PRC definitely requires an exit permit for Taiwan, even though that’s technically part of China according to the PRC government. :)

    • 0 avatar

      America is much better on intellectual rights. In fact, we punish people more for pirating songs online than for murder.

  • avatar

    Half the BMWs on the road are driven by ‘non-car’ types that don’t appreciate the driving dynamics anyways. This would be a perfect solution. Convert your base Camry LE into a 5-Series.

    Bet these kits would sell like hot cakes in Russia too.

  • avatar

    What do you expect? They made fake eggs! It’s like “I’m doing it because I CAN.”

  • avatar

    Come on, no one has made the obvious joke yet…?

    “Be happy you got a Brilliance H530. Stop walking around talking **** like ‘I got it cause it look just like a 5-series.’ No, it LOOK like a Brilliance H530. The ****ed-up thing is it do look like a 5-series… until a 5-series pull up.”

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