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Santana’s last dance

Volkswagen’s Chinese-market Santana sedan to take a final bow amid SUV stranglehold

12 Nov 2021

AFTER more than three decades, Volkswagen will cease production of its Chinese-made Santana sedan as the popularity of SUVs takes hold of the brand’s key Asian market.


Government documents show Volkswagen’s joint venture with SAIC Motor will cease production of the Volkswagen Santana II (Passat), the Skoda Rapid, and a current version of the Golf-based Tharu SUV at its Yizheng plant, switching instead to the T-Cross SUV, Polo hatch, and Lamando (Jetta) sedan “before 2023”.


The Yizheng plant has the capacity to produce 224,400 vehicles per year, and since 1985 has built more than six million examples of the Santana sedan across five generations. 


The affordable sedans became something of a status symbol in the 1990s as China’s economy grew, the vehicle credited with helping the German company break into the Chinese market and rise to the top of the ‘foreign-car’ sales charts.


Original Santana models were manufactured from CKD kits imported from Germany before Volkswagen signed a contract with the Shanghai Tractor Automobile Corporation (STAC) to form the Shanghai Automotive joint venture in 1984. The Santana was manufactured in China from 1985 with just six per cent local content, that ratio shifting to 89 per cent by 1995.


It was launched in China with a 1.6-litre petrol engine and four-speed manual transmission, later variants growing to 1.8L of engine capacity and with a five-speed manual gearbox.


The second-generation Sanata (1995-2004) adopted a fuel injected 1.8-litre engine and was available optionally with a four-speed automatic. It was replaced by the Santana 300 (2004-08) which offered 1.6-, 1.8-, and 2.0-litre petrol engines with both manual and automatic transmissions. It was the first Santana to be made available with anti-lock brakes, electronic brakeforce distribution, Volkswagen’s MFD display, and a factory sunroof.


A new body with existing drivetrains was introduced in 2008. The following year, the Santana became the country’s most popular ‘foreign’ nameplate, exceeding 3.2 million units since sales of the CKD version first began in the 1980s. The fourth generation Santana is still produced in sedan and Gran Santana hatch format alongside the fifth-generation, Jetta-based model introduced in 2012. 


Volkswagen did not say whether production of the Santana would continue in other markets but told Reuters that Chinese buyers now preferred SUV and battery-electric models over traditional petrol-powered sedans.


“Customer preferences are gradually shifting away from notchback internal combustion engine models towards battery electric vehicles and SUV models,” Volkswagen said in a statement.


CPCA figures show Volkswagen sold 2.67 million of the 19.28 million passenger vehicles sold in China last year, outranking Honda (1.60 million), Toyota (1.54 million), Nissan (1.13 million), Geely (1.06 million), Buick (885,206), Changan (784,801), Haval (701,605), Audi (674,700), and Mercedes-Benz (645,449).


Overall new-vehicle sales are down 6.8 per cent in China against this time last year, SAIC-Volkswagen selling 970,438 vehicles to the end of October, down 18 per cent from 2020, but will likely increase its market share in coming years as new joint ventures with FAW Group and JAC bring a bevy of new all-electric models to the rapidly changing Chinese market.

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