China 2015: The Cars of Shanghai

Matt Gasnier
by Matt Gasnier
china 2015 the cars of shanghai

Shanghai Pudong street scenes

After going through the most impressive Chinese carmakers at the Shanghai Auto Show, it’s time to go wandering the streets of Shanghai to share with you the most popular cars. The Shanghai automotive landscape is surprisingly easy to read with a few main trends on display.

VW Santana taxis in Shanghai French Concession

VW Santana taxi is king

The Shanghai-Volkswagen joint venture has been spitting out Santanas for three decades, so it’s no surprise to see them litter every single street of Shanghai. The surprise is how many of them still roam around. Santana taxis account for up to 50 percent of the total traffic in the French concession part of town for example.

VW Lavida and Santana taxi in Pudong

Efforts to replace it with more modern Touran and Lavida, though relatively successful, have done nothing to limit the Santana’s supremacy. The Santana Vista 1998 model is everywhere and I did spot two very well preserved first generation, privately owned Santanas. If anything, the Touran and Lavida have curbed sales of the new generation Santana, and you see none of them as taxis.

Buick GL8 in Shanghai Tianzifang

Too cool for taxi? Buick GL8 it is.

If you think you’re way too cool to get moved around town in a regular taxi, then you’ll need to opt for the ubiquitous Buick GL8. Already very popular in Beijing, the GL8 — most of all the current generation —is the way to get chauffeured around in Shanghai if you can afford it. Go near the shopping districts of Tianzifang and Xintiandi and you’ll find line after line of Buick GL8 parked with their driver sleepily awaiting the end of a Prada and Louis Vuitton shopping spree.

Buick LaCrosse and VW Santana in Shanghai Tianzifang

In fact, it not only the GL8 but the entire Buick lineup that’s particularly strong in Shanghai, even at the higher end of the scale. The LaCrosse is very frequent in the streets of the city, especially in financial Pudong, and I have spotted a few Envision SUVs already.

Shanghai Pudong street scene

Roewe 550 in Shanghai Tianzifang

Locals? What locals?

Even more acutely than in Beijing, where I estimated that Chinese carmakers amounted to around 10-15 percent of the traffic, Shanghai harbours a stinging self-hate for domestic manufacturers. The local brands account for no more than 5-8 percent of the overall Shanghai car landscape. The only ones keeping their head out of the water belong to Shanghai-based SAIC Group. Roewe is by far the most popular local brand in Shanghai, with the 550 being the favorite in the lineup by a large margin.

Maxus G10

Maxus is strong in the commercial area with a dozen M80 as well as a handful of G10 spotted. MG follows, mainly thanks to the MG3. The only other nameplates to pop up more than once are Jinbei and Foton Hiace-inspired vans and JAC light vans. I did spot one Qoros 3 in Pudong and a couple of BYD Qin hybrids.

Range Rover Evoque favorite import

A particular favourite in Shanghai is the Range Rover Evoque, imported here and therefore highly expensive, but that hasn’t deterred a mini-craze towards this vehicle in China. I saw a total of over 20 in just two days spent wandering the streets. I also noticed an inordinate amount of Fiat Viaggio and Ottimo and three Tesla Model S’s in two days: one near People’s Square, one in Pudong and one on the Bund where a Ford F-150 Raptor also caught my attention.


Next we are headed North towards the North Korean and Russian borders. Next stop: Changchun, the “Detroit of China” in the Jilin province. Stay tuned!

Matt Gasnier is based in Sydney, Australia and runs a website dedicated to car sales, trends and analysis called BestSellingCarsBlog.

Foton MPV
Jinbei Haise
Roewe W5 police
Qoros 3

Tesla Model S

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2 of 16 comments
  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Aug 10, 2015

    The Roewe W5 looks just like a Ssangyong Kyron. EDIT: Because it's based on one. Yuck. A Chinese version of an already awful Korean version.

  • Kevin Miller Kevin Miller on Aug 14, 2015

    I've just had my first trip to Shanghai two weeks ago. The VW Santana cabs were all holding together while fully trashed inside. I did also get chauffeured in a Buick GL8 (or three...) Aside from the car-spotting, the experience of being a vehicle passenger in Shanghai can be exciting as you stare in amazement out the window at the controlled chaos unfolding at every intersection and merge point...

  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Ed That has to be a joke.