There are some things that we just never expect to say or hear. Although there were rumours a few years ago the next generation Holden Commodore would be produced in China, that never came to fruition, it would not have been the first time a Commodore was made in the People’s Republic. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the BJ6490. Did I mention there was also an electric version? AND a hybrid version? Read on!
The BJ6490 was a car built by Beijing Travel Vehicle Works (Beilu). It was based on the VN Holden Commodore and powered by a 2.2 liter 4 cylinder engine of unknown origin. This picture comes to us courtesy of my colleague Erik Van Ingen Schenau. Happily he took a few more:
The license plate is interesting because 京A8 is a designation used by government cars even today.
Here we see the side of the car. The weird thing in this photo is just how high off the ground the car was. It seems that Beilu did indeed raise the car, perhaps to better deal with the roads further out in the countryside.
A regular VN Commodore for comparison link.
This badge says Beijing Travel Vehicle Works – Beilu
The model designation BJ6490 and a 2.2 badge for the engine.
Thanks to Erik we have this fantastic image of an advertisement from Beilv, where it states that Beilu was established in 1988, lists various factories and divisions in Beijing, employee statistics, land area statistics as well as investment statistics. Most important to us is the list of cars they made, including the BJ6490. Weirdly the car in this photo does not appear to be riding as high as the blue car, riding at the same height as a regular Commodore in fact. It seems to be left hand drive too.
Sadly very little is known about the BJ6490, we really only know who made it, but nothing concrete about when it went into production, how Beilv even got hold of Commodores or why they chose to base their car off of the Commodore in the first place. Happily though, a lack of information is not a problem we have encountered for the following cars!
In 1996 there was an electric vehicle expo in Beijing where companies from around the world, including Chinese companies, displayed some of their electric vehicles and numerous prototypes. In this picture we see former Chinese Premier Li Peng at the show being shown around by some important looking people. Sadly they seem to be completely ignoring the blue car on the right – the BJ6490D, an electric version of the BJ6490. The fact that we can see the instrument cluster through the window suggests the car was turned on. Text on the door says Electric Passenger Car.
The BJ6490D was the brainchild of this man – Mr. Yuan Jia Zhen 袁家桢, a Beijing Second Auto Works Engineer. He said they chose to base their electric car off of the BJ6490 due to its ability to hold lots of batteries. The division responsible for the BJ6490D was the “Beijing Second Auto Works Green Vehicle Research Division” (best translation I could come up with).
The BJ6490D used a combination of Chinese and imported components. The speed controller and accelerator were from the American company Curtis. The motor was manufactured by Sichuan Electric Motor Factory. The batteries used in the car were the same as those found in golf carts and gave the BJ6490D a range of about 100km and a top speed of 92km/h. I contacted Curtis to see if they could shed some light on the car and they replied telling me that they did indeed supply some components to Beijing for a lot of the cars on the show, all apparently converted for the sole purpose of being displayed at the show.
In 1997 a certain Mr. Wang Chuan Fu 王传福, the founder of BYD showed interest in importing an electric vehicle to experiment with in order to develop BYD’s own technology, since at the time BYD was a battery and electronics company and is now one of the largest manufacturer of electric and hybrid vehicles in China. Mr. Yuan heard of My. Wang’s plans to import an electric car and managed to convince him to purchase a BJ6490D instead. According to Mr. Yuan this was therefore the first public sale of an electric vehicle in China! The price of the car at the time was 140,000 RMB. Sadly I can’t find a reliable conversion rate to today’s money.
(Same as top photo) In this photo you can see Mr. Wang (left) and Mr. Yuan (right) standing next to a BJ6490D in 1997 when Mr. Yuan had invited Mr. Wang to come and look at the car, ultimately ending with him buying it. In his article Mr. Yuan tells of how he paid a visit to Shenzhen in 2002 whilst on a business trip and found the BJ6490D unregistered but being used to test new batteries in a large factory area. He also mentions that he asked the people testing the car whether there were any problems with the car, they replied by saying the rubber seal around the windscreen had perished and when it rained water would get in, a problem made worse by the fact that they parked it outside. They said they had fixed it by putting plastic strips around the windscreen to make it watertight.
This is not the car that BYD bought, that car had a designation of 002, whilst this one was 003. The colour of the text on the doors was also yellow instead of white like the BYD car.
The rear of 003. Text on the rear says “No tailpipe emmissions” and “No pollution”. We think that 003 became this car:
In 1998 a hybrid version of the BJ6490D was shown at an Auto Show, possibly the 5th biannual Beijing Auto Show held that year. Here we can see Mr. Yuan standing next to his new pride and joy. The fact that BYD had by this time acquired their BJ6490D leads us to believe that the hybrid was indeed a seperate car, meaning Beilu had acquired at least 3 VN Commodores prior to 1993 when the VN went out of production. This hybrid BJ6490 added a petrol engine to act as a generator to charge the batteries whilst the car was on the move. The batteries were also changed so that on batteries alone it could do 200km on a single charge, not bad considering most Ev’s these days have similar ranges. As you can see the wheels and colour of the text on the doors are the same as 003, so it seems likely that 003 was converted into a hybrid.
Another picture of 003, showing a Beijing badge on the front grille, looking like a bit of an afterthrough and as though it could fall off at any minute. Text on the bonnet is a lie because it says that this is a Beijing Electric SEDAN. But it’s a wagon! Rather interestingly this car has had it’s wipers flipped around from the original Commodore layout so that the driver may actually be able to see through the windscreen if it rains. This suggests that either the conversion was done very thoroughly or that Holden did indeed have something to do with originally supplying Commodores for the BJ6490, since it seems unlikely that Beijing went to all the trouble of setting up an entire assembly line, given the extremely low number of cars produced.
For now this is all we know about the BJ6490, we are working towards contacting some people we think may have more information on the car or possibly even some more photos! If you know anything about this car please don’t hesitate to contact us!
All the photos of the red and blue cars came from this great paper, written by Mr. Yuan.