The first FAW cars landed in Mexico at the port of Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán. At the end of 2007, the Mexican company had closed a deal with the Chinese manufacturer to market three of its models, F1 , F4 and F5 , in the country. The crew of a ship from China was waiting for confirmation to disembark the first units, which months before had been requested by Salinas Motors, a subsidiary of Grupo Salinas.
One of them was exhibited during a symbolic ceremony for the laying of the first stone of a plant that in Michoacán would produce up to 100,000 units and that would generate 4,000 jobs as of 2010.
The commercialization of the models began in the first quarter of 2008 in Elektra stores with a price ranging from 69,900 pesos to 114,900 pesos, lower than the average of those that were commercialized in Mexico at that time. The company offered, via Banco Azteca, a weekly payment scheme of 350 to 450 pesos. It also reached an agreement with the Speedy workshop chain to take care of the after-sales service for the units.
Grupo Salinas sold around 5,000 units under this scheme in the first year. But the economic crisis of 2009 brought down the house of cards. The company discontinued the sale of FAW cars, so the plant project was cancelled, the promise of jobs vanished, and the deal with Speedy ended.
In less than a week, the FAW logos disappeared from the Elektra chain of stores, leaving 5,000 buyers of the cars without parts or workshops that could service the units.
The three FAW models
Grupo Salinas chose three FAW models for the Mexican market, the F1, F4 and F5, of austere design, which were offered with small engines that did not exceed 100 hp. The first two do not have airbags or ABS anti-lock brakes, while the F5 does have some assists.
F1 (hatchback and sedan)
Engine: 1.0-liter, 3-cylinder, 65hp and 66 lb-ft
Safety: no airbags or ABS brakes.
2008 price: 69,900 to 86,900 pesos
Engine: 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder, 85hp and 82 lb-ft
Safety: no airbags or ABS brakes.
2008 price: 89,900 to 96,900 pesos
F5 (sedan and hatchback)
Engine: 1.5 liter, 4 cylinder, 101hp and 96 lb-ft
Safety: airbags and ABS brakes
2008 price: 104,900 to 114,900 pesos
Offered in both sedan and hatchback body types, the F5 is powered by a 101-hp Toyota-branded 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that the Japanese automaker used for its Corolla model in the late 1980s.
The specialized media that tested the three FAW vehicles at the time said that the F5 was a “good alternative” to the Nissan Tsuru, which at that time was the best-selling model in the Mexican market.
The two smaller ones received harsh criticism due to their “plain finishes” and “low quality”, and the absence of basic security elements.
And the spare parts?
Erick Sosa was one of the customers who bought FAW models a decade ago. He, a civil engineer, used to make repairs to his models, “but when I saw the shortage of spare parts, I sold my FAWs myself,” he says.
Some neighbors, mainly taxi drivers, who knew that Sosa fixed his own cars, constantly asked him where they could buy the parts. “I saw it as an opportunity,” he says. So he contacted the FAW corporate in China to get spare parts. “After about 1,000 emails that I sent, they answered me,” he says.
It started receiving a container from China every three weeks, and although most of the models have been looted to be sold for parts, Sosa estimates that there are still around 1,000 FAW models rolling in Guerrero, Veracruz, Mexico State and Mexico City. Mexico, mainly.
Almost 15 years after the commercialization of these models, Sosa says that the most recurrent failure is in the suspension. “This is the most demanded piece. (The models) don’t have the best suspension in the world and the roads in Mexico don’t help either,” he says.
“Some other models are already beginning to require some spare parts for the engine and transmission, as well as accessories, such as handles,” he adds.
Many of their customers use them as “low profile cars” . “We have gone to fix them at residences on Las Palmas Avenue or in Reforma (CDMX). Customers put 10,000 pesos into a car that is worth 20,000 and they are happy,” he says. “Even if they fail, no one steals them.”