Patriot gains as Red Flag pulls ahead of its foreign rivals
Patriotism to me, a Chinese motoring fan, adds up to two words: Red Flag.
Big, black and with flags always fluttering on front mudguards, Red Flag limousines have been an imposing sight since the first model - the CA72 - rolled out of Changchun First Automobile Works (FAW) in Changchun, Jilin province, in 1958.
The car's design and make - which first appeared as one model, but now hits the street in three categories - has been greatly developed during the past 47 years.
No longer are they lumbering bricks on wheels, but vehicles that hold their own against the world's leading brands.
Red Flag has been to China what Cadillac has been to the US, Mercedes-Benz to Germany and Rolls-Royce to Britain.
According to Red Flag designers, their latest creation - the HQD concept car - is better than a Rolls-Royce.
But even if you could afford the price tag, believed to be between four and five million yuan, you can forget it because when the car rolls off the assembly line in 2008 it will be for government service only.
I can still remember the first time I saw a Red Flag. It was an ageing CA770, in a motorcade at West Lake in Hangzhou, where I lived in the late 1980s.
Also in the motorcade was a Toyota Crown 3.0L, one of the most expensive cars on the mainland at the time.
But the old Red Flag was the one drawing everyone's attention because of its rarity, and because people were trying to guess who was sitting in the back behind drawn curtains.
Red Flag, whose limousines were once the preserve of government leaders, started making cars for the masses in the 1990s, producing them in three categories: top-of-the-range Flagship (or Qijian); mid-range Century Star (or Shijixing); and an economy model, the Mingshi. Nowadays, the Red Flag badge is available to anyone with the money.
FAW displayed the HQD at the Changchun Auto Expo this month after first showing it to motoring enthusiasts at the Shanghai Auto Expo four months ago.
The big limousine will be the most expensive luxury vehicle produced by Chinese carmakers. Measuring 6,325mm long, 1,990mm wide and 1,670mm high, and powered by a six-litre engine, it has all the characteristic Red Flag luxury traits.
In the 1990s, FAW started working with overseas marques such as Volkswagen and Toyota, to make cheaper cars.
The Flagship is the product of co-operation with Ford and is based on the firm's popular Lincoln Town Car. The basic model has a four-litre engine and an automatic transmission costs about 688,800 yuan. The luxury stretch model costs about 1.1 million yuan.
The Century Star series, which is suitable for businessmen and government officials, comes with two Nissan VG20 engine options - 2.0-litre or 2.4-litre - and costs 159,800 yuan and 225,800 yuan, respectively.
The 1.8-litre, manual-boxed Mingshi has been on sale since 2001, and costs 139,800 yuan.
Admittedly, the Bentley Arnage, Rolls-Royce Phantom and Maybach 62 would make any limousine fan happy. But give me a good old Red Flag any day, because of its historical significance. Preferably, it should be a 2004 Century Star stretch limousine, which at 225,800 yuan seems to be reasonably priced.
For that money, you get a 5,122mm long, 1,814mm wide and 1,422mm high car powered by a 2.4-litre engine with a top speed of 190km/h.
What more could a motoring patriot want?