Today we have something very special for you, a Sanjiang-Renault Espace.
Sanjiang Renault Automotive Company or Sanjiang-Renault for short, was a joint venture between the Sanjiang Aerospace Group and Renault. The Chinese had 55% of the shares and the French 45. The joint venture deal was agreed on in 1993 with a total investment of just 98 million U.S. dollar.
CKD production of Trafics started in 1995 with kits imported from France. In the meantime a factory was set up and full-vehicle production began in 1998. The factory had an annual capacity of 15.000 cars a year. Sadly, they never reached that number, not even close. Between 1995 and 2004 only 4112 Trafics were made, and that included the initial CKD operation. The Espace MPV was added to the lineup in 2000. The Espace was CKD only, there was no full-vehicle production. It wasn’t a success either. Only about 2000 units were made from CKD kits.
In 2004 Renault decided to discontinue production, citing poor sales.
However, the joint venture itself was not disbanded. It was mothballed. The joint venture had the valuable production license. In China every company needs to have a government issued license to make cars, and these licenses are very hard to get. Disbanding the joint venture completely would also mean giving up the license, and both companies were sensible enough not to let that happen. Sanjing Aerospace didn’t leave the automobile industry, they set up a large part making business that developed and manufactured parts for the booming industry, including gearboxes and even engines.
In the late 2000’s Renault started talking to Dongfeng Motors about a new car making joint venture. The negotiations took ages and the government was not inclined to hand out a new license. At the time there was a lot of worry about overcapacity, and the government wanted consolidation instead of new car makers. Renault and Dongfeng then came up with an ingenious deal were Dongfeng and Sanjiang Aerospace would agree to a broad cooperation agreement. Part of the agreement was the purchase by Dongfeng of Sanjiang’s 55% stake in the mothballed Sanjiang-Renault joint venture.
The stake included the precious license and Dongfeng and Renault were free to start their joint venture. The government approved; there was a valid license and a bit of consolidation. Win win, as the Chinese would say. After more difficult negotiations the Dongfeng-Renault joint venture was finally born in 2015, based on the original Sanjing-Renault license. The old factory were the Trafic was made is now being used by Sanjing and Dongfeng for making gearboxes. (End copy-paste)
The Espace was the less popular of the two products made by the joint venture, at the time going head to head with cars such as the Buick GL8 and Honda Odyssey for a slice of the MPV market. Both the GL8 and Odyssey sold well and newer models continue to be made today. The Espace however has been out of the market until only very recently with Renault beginning sales of the new Espace in China this year.
Imported glass, a trait of almost all CKD cars from China. Early Trafics also used imported glass whilst later ones have Chinese glass.
The best part of this car was a page from the handbook … IN FRENCH! How very CKD!
Original Renault badge.
Original Espace badge.
The interior was unchanged from the French models.
It seems that all Sanjiang-Renault Espaces were equipped with 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engines mated to 5 speed manual transmissions. Other color options seem to have been limited to grey.
A beautiful grey car, photos courtesy of a friend. This car is still in running condition.
An original plastic wheel cover from the red car.
The Sanjiang-Renault Espace is a unique and almost forgotten part of the Chinese Automotive world. However we will not forget it and the hundreds of other rare cars that make up China’s Automotive history.