The history of the Flyer is long and very typical for the Chinese automotive industry in the 1990’s and 2000’s. It was small four-door hatchback originally made by Xi’an Qinchuan Automobile, based in the great city of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province. Later on, it would become BYD’s first car.
Qinchuan Automobile was founded in 1988 as the Qinchuan Machinery Works Automobile Sub-Factory. It was owned by North Industries, better known as Norinco, one of China’s the largest weapon makers.
Qinchuan’s first car was a 3-door hatchback called the Beifang QJC7050, launched in 1988. The car mainly sold to taxi companies in the Xi’an area. In 1992 the company got a license from Suzuki to manufacture the Alto in China. They called it the Xi’an Alto.
The Alto has a tumultuous and often confusing history in China. It was made by the Changan-Suzuki joint venture, Suzuki sold licenses to many other Chinese carmakers, there were semi-legal and illegal manufacturing operations, and there were lots of downright copies. On top of all that, many outfits used the Alto platform to create their own distinctive vehicles.
Xi’an Qinchuan had an official license for the Alto and they created several ‘new’ cars, based on the Alto. The most successful of those became the Qinchuan Flyer.
The Xi’an Alto
A Xi’an Alto brochure.
The Alto was launched in 1992. Factory designation was QCJ7080. Base price was set at 35.800 yuan, which made it one of the very cheapest cars on the market.
Qingchuan used four different logo’s over the time we are covering here. The earliest one was a double-ring logo, as seen in the top-left corner. They used the English name Xianalto, spelled as one word.
Note the photo of the dashboard with the steering wheel turned all the way to the right, so the Suzuki logo sits upside-down. Qinchuan’s P.R. department must have missed that…
Another brochure with the famous Terracotta Army on the back. The army is based in Xi’an as well.
The Xi’an Alto was powered by a 0.9 (0.876) liter 3-cylinder petrol engine with an output of 39 hp. This engine was based on a Suzuki design but made by a Chinese company called Harbin Dongan Automobile Power. This engine was also used by Changan-Suzuki and by all the other Alto-makers. Over the years horsepower went gradually up to some 50 hp.
Like the Beifang QJC7050 before it, the Xianalto was a very popular taxi in the Xi’an area. The taxi’s on this photo have shiny looking wheel covers. I haven’t seen these covers in any factory photo. Perhaps they were only for the taxi variant.
The rear had a lot of badges! On the left: QCJ7080. In the middle: 西安奥拓 (Xi’an Alto) and on the right: Alto.
A factory photo showing a very nice Alto, dressed up with sporty wheels, decals on the rear door, and a standard roof rack.
This one has the same decals but another roof rack and other wheels. It appears that Qinchuan had an enormous arsenal of different alloys and wheel covers.
A 1998 model. This has to be the coolest they made. Two tone paint, decals, shiny wheel arch extenders, a bull bar with yellow fog lights, and a roof rack.
There is a new logo too! It still has two rings but they are connected in a different way, almost as if they are holding hands.
QCJ7088 & QJC7082
In 1998 Qinchuan unveiled two very special prototypes based on the Alto: the QJC7088 hatchback an the QJC7082 sedan (below).
See my earlier story on the development of the hatchback here. I will write another post on the sedan later on. Now let’s get back to the Alto-Flyer story:
Here we have a 1999 Xi’an Alto with the factory roof rack and the ‘holding hands’ logo.
A 2000 base model.
Sales of the Xi’an Alto were good, but there were so many carmakers making Alto’s that is was difficult for Qinchuan to make a name for itself. Furthermore, most sales happened near home.
Not a good position to be in for an ambitious company. To change this, Qinchuan needed a unique selling proposition to discern itself from all the other Alto makers. In short; they needed a new car.
Happily, the Alto was a great little platform to build new things on. Qinchuan had done it before, as we have seen, and many other Chinese automakers were also building their ‘own’ Alto-based cars.
Qinchuan decided to take the Alto way again. What they needed was a good looking small family car that they could sell for a bit more money than the Alto. In a way, what they wanted was an Alto +.
Qinchuan went to work and designed a whole new body for the Alto platform. Even the roof panel was new. The most significant difference with the Alto was the C-pillar and rear door. The door was redesigned and more straight-up, and the third-side window was deleted. The hard points of the chassis didn’t change.
This is a very special photo by Erik van Ingen Schenau during his 2004 visit to the factory. In a dusty corner stood a gray Flyer prototype, parked next to a line of Flyers, probably pre-production or test cars.
The prototype shows that Qinchuan wrestled with the front-end design and bonnet. Their first design came with oval-shaped headlights, round fog lights, a small grille, a straight bonnet, and the ‘holding hands’ variant of the logo.
Next to the blue car stood a purple one, and this design eventually became the production car. The front fenders, bonnet and front differ completely from the blue prototype. The bonnet is far more sculpted leading to an almost sporty design. And for the first time we yet another new logo!
A Q for Qinchuan inside an oval inside a blue oval.
The Qingchuan Flyer
Finally, in September 2001 production started. Factory designation was QCJ7081 (the Alto was QCJ7080). The photo shows the first-of-the-line ceremony, with a fiery red car on a red carpet. Note the hood scoop.
The first known factory photo of the Flyer, showing a red car towering over a highway. The logo on the grille, and on the wheels, now has a black background.
On the top of the image we can see yet another logo; a stylized image of a flying female. Later on, this logo would replace the Q logo on the Flyer’s grille. The chariot in the background is part of the Terracotta Army.
The starting price was set at 58.000 yuan, a full 20.000 yuan more than the Xi’an Alto! Later this price went down to 55.000 yuan and later still it went down to 45.000 yuan!
The 0.9 liter 3-pot was the same as in the Alto. Power was rated at 41 hp and 62 Nm. The engine was mated to a 4-speed manual gearbox. Top speed was 125 km/h and fuel consumption 4 liter per 100 kilometer.
Size: 3500/1445/1470, wheelbase was 2300 and curb weight just 750 kilo. The Flyer was a 4-seater.
I met this well-preserved example in Chengdu in 2016. It looks very much like the one Erik saw in the factory. The badge on the grille is blue but the badges on the wheels are black.
As always in China, there were many variants. The base model was the QCJ7081. Then there was a QCJ7081BD and a QCJ7081DD.
The interior was very typical for its time with lots of fake wood, which actually looks kind of nice. The steering wheels seems very large and note how high the gear lever is! Seat covers and radio are after-market.
秦川-福莱尔. Qinchuan – Fulai’er. The latter part is a phonetic translation of Flyer.
An article about the Flyer in 2001 Car Fan magazine. Photos via 一个人骑踏板車旅行. The images show two variants: a sporty one with a fake hood scoop and racy wheels, and a standard car without scoop and with less-sporty wheels. The steering wheel had 3 horn-buttons!
The article was largely positive about the little Flyer, noticing the specious interior and the large cargo space with the rear seats down. The magazine was less impressed with the engine, saying it was a bit low on power.
A very nice hood-scoop car, seemingly brand new. The hood scoop by the way was not real, just tacked on. Not a bad thing, car makers do that all the time, even today, most notably Mini and Suzuki. Photo via PRND21.
Two Flyers seen in 2002 at the Asian Games Village Automobile Market. A news report from that time says Qinchuan was selling 20 cars a day at the market, which was indeed pretty impressive.
In 2002 the Flyer received a small update. The grille went black and for the first time we see the flying lady Flyer logo on the badge on the grille. But the wheels kept the Q logo. There were four versions now: AD/BD/CD/DD.
Another instruction manual. The variant on this photo has a shiny strip around the grille.
This photo is from the back of the manual, showing a red Flyer in a very European landscape.
I met this black-grille car in Chengdu too, also in 2016. The Flyer was apparently popular there.
The logo was really a thing of beauty. The lady stretches her arms left and right and she wears some sort of classic dress with long ropes.
Chairman Mao on dash top, in gold.
Just a year later the Flyer was updated again. The grille got a shiny edge and vertical bars on all models and the logo moved to the top of the grille.
On this beautiful flyer we see the Flyer in a snowy landscape with a frozen lake in the background. A non-Chinese lady chats with her dogs. There is a new slogan too: The Flyer The New Life.
The interior got an update too; most of the wood trim was gone, there was a new instrument panel, and a new Flyer-badged steering wheel with a conventional horn system instead of the three horn-buttons of lore.
This is a QCJ7081BD, I met it in 2016 in south Beijing. This car has the updated grille, looking shiny and almost luxurious.
Model code is QCJ7081BD.
Another flyer for the Flyer, thanks to Erik for the scan. The image shows a hood-scoop model in the sea.
The back of the flyer shows the available colors: red, light green, yellow, gray, blue, white, and brown gray. This was likely one of the latest flyers printed for the Qinchuan Flyer. Big changes were afoot!
The BYD Flyer
A unique image of the signing ceremony of the sale.
In January 2003 Norinco sold Qinchuan Auto to BYD Co Ltd. At the time, BYD was still a relatively unknown battery maker. But the company’s boss, Wang Chuanfu, wanted to move into automobiles, with an eye on a future with BYD-powered BYD-branded electric cars.
But to start making cars BYD needed a license from the Chinese government, and those were, and are, very hard to get. This is even more so for a company that has no direct ties to the automobile industry, as was the case with BYD back then.
One way to get a license anyway was to buy an existing automaker. BYD approached Norinco and parties agreed to a deal. Norinco wanted to focus on building weaponry for the expanding Chinese army and was happy to get rid of a distracting car making operation.
BYD renamed Qinchuan Auto to BYD Auto, and went to work quickly.
The first ‘BYD Flyer’ arrived in September 2003. It was exactly the same car as before. The only difference was the addition of a BYD badge on the back. The Flyer logo on the grille continued.
The year 2003 also brought a lot of technical news: BYD announced a Flyer with a four-speed automatic gearbox. More important yet was the addition of a new engine: a 1.1 liter four-cylinder petrol with an output of 51 hp and 83 Nm. The 1.1 liter model got the designation QJC7110.
The new 1.1 liter engine was mated to a four-speed manual or a five-speed manual, where the 0.9 liter Flyer was only available with a four-speed. Strangely, the new automatic gearbox came only in combination with the 0.9 liter model and not with the new 1.1 liter car.
A BYD Flyer seen at a BYD dealer event in 2003. BYD also overhauled the pricing. They lowered the price of the base model to a very affordable 38.800 yuan. The most expensive 1.1 liter model was priced at 55.800 yuan.
Then, later that year, BYD made a tiny change: they replaced the flying-lady Flyer logo with their own BYD logo, using the same shape. It may seem a small thing, but this was nothing less than the first BYD-branded car ever! Note that the wheels still carry the Qinchuan Q logo.
BYD showed this wild Flyer on a local auto show in Shenzhen, home of BYD. It has the BYD logo on the grille, the BYD Auto name on the bull bar, and again Qinchuan’s Q on the wheels. Besides the bull bar it has side bars, shiny wheel arch extensions, extra mirrors on the fenders, yellow mud flaps, cartoon decals, four lights on the roof, and a giant spoiler on the back.
In the early 00’s is was quite common for carmakers to bring this kind of dressed-up vehicles to auto shows. Even today the practice is still alive, but only on smaller events.
Speaking about auto shows; on the April 2004 Beijing Auto Show BYD unveiled 4 new Flyer variants; a sedan, a wagon, a hybrid (pictured), and a long-wheelbase hatchback. I will describe these vehicles in detail in my next post. At the same show BYD also showed the cool ET concept car.
But even with all that, the Flyer was still essentially a Qinchuan with BYD badges. BYD wanted more out of their purchase. They wanted the Flyer to become more BYD and less Qinchuan. Time thus for a redesign! They took their pencils out of their pocket and started drawing:
This was the result. In September 2004 BYD unveiled an updated Flyer, dubbed the ‘New Flyer’. Basic design was still the same but a lot had changes: new wheels, new mirrors, new bumpers, a new grille, a new bonnet, new lights, chrome colored door handles, and of course a new logo. The wheels finally got a BYD logo too! And finally, the ‘Flyer font’ had been modernized. The Flyer certainly looked a lot younger again.
The dashboard was completely redesigned, with sporty white dials and round air vents. The fake wood had been banned to the doors! There is a single covered cup holder in the center tunnel.
The BYD Flyer had an innovative rear view mirror with two tiny LCD screens. On the left side it showed the outside temperature. On the right side it showed a compass, with the directions in Chinese characters. Here it says 东 (dong, east).
A promo picture showing the BYD Flyer in various colors.
A BYD Flyer with a different grille. Normally, only the top bar was shiny, but on this car all the horizontal bars are. And it has the old Flyer’s mirrors instead of the fancier new ones. This sort of thing happened a lot in China’s car manufacturing business those days, when a certain part ran out they just replaced it whit whatever was on hand. Photo’s red car via 车事无忧.
Note the BYD logo’s on the wheels
A very pretty green example on a car market in, guess where, Chengdu.
Interestingly, there were no character badges on the BYD Flyer. Everything was in Latin scrip. BYD on the left, Flyer on the right, and the factory code on the lower right.
2006 leaflet. Via autoarkiv.dk.
BYD didn’t make any other changes to the Flyer. Sales were good and it became a popular small family car, especially in smaller cities. It remained in production unchanged until 2008 when it was finally replaced with the BYD F1, later renamed BYD F0. And al that time, the Flyer had been based on the underpinnings of a 1992 Suzuki Alto!
BYD Flyer – Exports
The BYD Flyer was not only BYD’s first car but also the first car they exported. BYD didn’t waste any time… The Flyer was sold in various countries including Russia, Ukraine, Egypt, Kazachstan, and Colombia.
Russia. 2005 Repair manual.
Russia. Via Wikipedia.
Bogota, Colombia. Check these ones for sale.
Ukraine. Buy it here.
Egypt. Yours for only 42.000 EGP.
Kazachstan. A 2006 model with 32.000 km for a steep 500 000 ₸.
I end this story, which became a bit longer than I intended, with this pretty Qinchuan Flyer QCJ7081BD1, fitted with a black bumper. I met it in the Flyer capital of the world; Chengdu.
Xi’an Qinchuan Automobile: 西安秦川汽车.
Xi’an Alto: 西安奥拓.
Qinchuan Flyer: 秦川福莱尔.