Far from the Mainstream: Changhe

Our sharp-eyed readers may notice something amiss but I’ll carry on with my trawl through the obscure car brands, today it’s Changhe.

2014 Changhe microvan
2014 Changhe microvan, note the A-pillar : source

People hunting for an inexpensive and practical load carrier will find a mere two Changhe vehicles on sale at Autoscout24 at the moment. One is a small panel van with a 53 PS motor and the other is a pick-up with a tilting load bay (you load it with, say, loose marbles, snooker balls, or oranges and when you get to the delivery point you just let the whole load tip out onto the floor without all that laborious scooping or shoveling). Both cars have delivery miles yet are strangely registered in 2014. The dealer is in Dörfles-Esbach.

Before turning to Changhe, who are a Chinese firm established in the 1970s, I thought I’d take this chance to

Coburg markplatz: source
Coburg markplatz: source

say a little about Dörfles-Esbach. It’s a small municipality in the Coburg district of the mid-east of Germany, in the state of Bavaria. The name Coburg might ring a bell if you have read a little German history. The name of the town of Coburg lends itself to the princely family of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Through strategic marriages that family joined with several of the royal lines of Europe. The most notable of these marriages linked Victoria, Queen of England, with Prince Albert in 1840. Not far from Dorfles-Esbach is the town of Rodental and the river Itz, a tributary of the Main. Coburg is worth a visit as it retains many of its historical buildings, having been little damaged during the Second World War. Due to the royal associations, those historical buildings are quite grand. Among them is a lovely castle on a hill overlooking the town and a remarkably charming market square. All in all, it’s a place well worth a visit if you are in the vicinity.

2014 Changhe microvan: source

Getting back to Changhe, BAIC hold the majority of the shares and it has had cooperative ventures with Suzuki. Some of their products are sold as Suzukis. With roots in aviation, Changhe first produced buses before producing small vans made under licence from Suzuki, a Carry ST90V. Here we could dive into the world of commodity motoring: the Carry (during its eleven generations) has 18 other names among which are

Bertone brilliance, the 2003 Changhe Ideal: source
Bertone brilliance, the 2003 Changhe Ideal: source

Ford, Mazda, Chevrolet and Bedford (Rascal). It’s a kei car, dimensionally. Currently, Changhe produces versions of the Wagon R, the Suzuki Landy and the CH6390 Freedom/Friend which is also underpinned with Suzuki technology. Most of what they make involves vans; an exception is the small Bertone-designed Ideal, which dates from 2003. The Freedom/Friend comes with a 1.1 or 1.4 litre engine, disc-drum brakes and is front-wheel drive.

Changhe´s website - too much information: source
Changhe´s website – too much information: source

I had a look at the Changhe website and noticed several vehicles which were straightforward small passenger cars: a small saloon and a small CUV as well. Some of the Changhe range are exported and sold under the Effa name in Brazil and Uruguay (small numbers – under 500 units). The vehicles are also sold in Peru and Colombia. In Europe Martin Motors sells the Landy as the Martin Motors Cool Car and Ideal as the Martin Ideal 1000. This leads us to Martin Motors who have six cars. At this point it all gets a bit dizzying and the chain of connections is as convoluted as one might expect for washing machine mechanisms or air condition condenser units. A quick check to a link to Martin Motors and we discover that the car they sell as the Bubble is a copy of the Smart ForTwo.

We take for granted the idea of car companies designing ranges of cars with stable identities and identifiable characters. This brief delve into Changhe is possibly indicative of a side of the car business (hinted at in the commodity cars of South-America) where it is a matter of price points and raw functionality. These are anonymous machines which are rebadged, relabeled and shipped around the world to do banal commercial work, a long way from the carefully conceived and strongly branded cars of Western Europe and the USA. The products have the anonymity of washing machines and come in a dizzying but meaningless variety.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

9 thoughts on “Far from the Mainstream: Changhe”

  1. I have fond memories of the Bedford Rascal, my uncle being foisted with one when he worked for the East Midlands Electricity Board. Not a small man by any means, he looked like Mr Incredible getting into and out of the thing.

    1. A lack of comments reflect the totality of the article, indicating that there is little more to be said. That’s what I like to think about my articles anyway. Then I check the page view stats and… oh.

    2. yeah, except for some nodding in agreement, there isn’t really much to discuss here, except maybe the lack of cool kei vans for sale currently (in norway at least)
      i have an old 97 Domingo, and would buy a new one in a heartbeat if they offered one, even with generic Chinese branding.

    3. I enjoy these FFtM articles – as Kipling wrote “And what should they know of England who only England know?”

      In the case of the Changhe microvan I’m put in mind of the words of Ash Sutcliffe, the man behind the much-missed China Car Times; “The sort of vehicle usually found upside-down on the hard shoulder of motorways, surrounded by corpses”.

      Dongfeng offer similar contraptions in the UK, with the added attraction of a ’90s BMW-manqué grille:


      I have a bit of a soft spot for the bastard children of the Holden Scamper, but my self-preservation instinct would send me in the direction of a Kangoo or Bipper. Wer den Tod nicht scheut etc…

  2. Hello Bjarne: I will check out the Domingo.
    Maybe I need to be more aggressive and confrontational in my style! If it works for Clarkson it might work for me. I feel the press gives these obscurities no opportunity for discussion. Of course, they want to present excitement and these cars mostly lack that characteristic.

    1. i guess the easy way to gain comments is to end the article with a question ala. “Would YOU buy TEH SAME car for little less with generic branding?” or “What would YOUR dream generic chinese car look like?” 😉

  3. Thank you Robertas: yes, these vehicles are charmingly fragile, like Airfix models. The diversity and casual nature of the cars does put Europe’s rigid ways into sharp relief. The Euros put into a glovebox enough effort to engineer a whole MPV.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: