The first in a three-part story about the continuation of the Maestro’s afterlife in China. The acquisition of production rights for the Maestro in the late-1990s by Etsong was intended to signal the beginning of a new venture for the Chinese company, and a rebirth of the Maestro.
It remained in production for just two years…
Chinese Maestro story: the Etsong years
Following the ill-fated Bulgarian adventure, the Maestro and Montego found a new home in China. Etsong is an important Chinese tobacco company, but it also has an industrial division, a construction group, a travel agency and owns a football club and gymnasium.
Having acquired the production rights and tooling for the Maestro and Montego from RDS International Engineering, Etsong began building a factory for this new venture in March 1998. The Chinese company embarked on the construction of a factory to produce these models in March 1998. Costing around 500 million Yen, the completed factory occupied a site of some 640 acres, and was operational by the end of 2000.
Two prototype Maestro vans were built in December that year, having Toyota engines and Nissan-sourced dashboards. Etsong went on to produce Maestro-based models in both hatchback and van form, designated QE6400 and QE6440 respectively. The fact that the numerical part of these model designations is in the 6000 range reveals that the vehicles were officially classed as buses – a popular expedient amongst Chinese manufacturers.
The remaining digits indicate that the hatchback was classed as being 4.0-metres long, and the van 4.4 metres. Incidentally, the Etsong retailer QE Autosales website referred to the QE6400 as the ‘Ruby’, and the QE6440 as the ‘Laird’. Could it be that these traditional Austin/Leyland names were revived for these models in China?
Another Chinese dealership’s website called the QE6400 the ‘Land Leopard’…
More details of the Etsong deal
In April 2001, MG Rover executive John Dalton recalled: ‘I was aware that the Maestro had gone into production in China from a contact in the Rover parts business. Etsong has built a new factory for car production to diversify its activities. The units produced should not be classed as semi-knocked-down (SKD), as built-up (BU) units to base them on have not been made for five years.
‘Rover sold the tooling to a third party a couple of years ago and this company has supplied it to Etsong. Etsong should now have all the body tooling for Maestro and Montego and should be in a position to build four body types: Maestro van, Maestro five-door hatchback, Montego four-door saloon and Montego five-door estate.’
‘It may also be possible to produce a Maestro pickup from the van body. Vendor tooling for components is being transferred to China to support the project while guaranteeing the supply of parts needed by Rover. The Maestro van was the first model to be produced back in December (pre-production/prototypes). It would appear they have now started producing Maestro hatchbacks. The comment that Etsong does not have a licence to build cars intrigues me; as I understand it this is part of the five-year plan to diversify the business which has Government approval.’
|Specifications, as produced by YIZHONG (ETSONG)|
|Engine type:||Toyota 8A-FE 4-cylinder|
|Maximum Power:||63KW at 6000rpm|
|Maximum Torque:||110Nm between 5000 and 5400rpm|
|Top speed:||145 km/h (91 mph)|
|Acceleration (0-60mph):||22 seconds|
|Fuel consumption:||5.5 l/100km|
Re-rebirth: First Auto Works
The rights to build the Maestro and Montego were later acquired by China’s giant First Auto Works group, which launched its own take on the hatchback – the Lubao CA6410 in May 2003. The extra 10 in the numeric part of the model designation reveals that FAW’s version was effectively 10cm longer than the original, thanks to its Montego-sourced front end…
With thanks to:
Juan Cheng of AUTOCAR China and Erik van Ingen Schenau for providing much of the above information;
Neil Turner for providing some of the photos;
Graham Arnold for his general assistance with this feature.