Will BAIC's Senova fit the bill as the next Eleanor?
Film star Nicholas Cage the latest celebrity to front for Chinese cars
US actor Nicholas Cage, Ferrari designer Leonardo Fioravanti and Australian designer Peter Arcadipane have combined with Chinese carmaker BAIC to launch a rejuvenated version of Sweden's Saab 9-5.
BAIC has brought in Cage as a brand ambassador, joining Brad Pitt (China-made Cadillac XTS), Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi (Chery Riich cars) and Houston Rockets player Jeremy Lin (Geely-Volvo) in promoting cars in the Chinese vehicle market.
As multicultural the players are in creating the BAIC Senova, it's destined - at least initially - only for the Chinese market.
Beijing Automotive (BAIC), one of China's biggest and most profitable private carmakers with production forecasts of 2.1 million vehicles this year, this week started selling its 9-5 based Senova D in China.
BAIC - which already joint ventures with Mercedes-Benz's Daimler AG and Hyundai and is gearing up to build another factory for Hyundai - bought the first-generation 9-3 and 9-5 technology from a decaying Saab in 2009.
The Senova - called Shenbao in China - sits on a modified Saab 9-5 platform and uses the same drivetrain specifications that include turbocharged petrol engines in 1.8, 2.0 and 2.3 litre capacities and five-speed automatic transmissions. It will compete with the Mazda6, Kia Optima and Hyundai i40/Sonata.
BAIC this month appointed Australian designer Peter Arcadipane - designer of the Mercedes CL, CLS and ML and previously employed by Chinese electric-car maker BYD on the Denza project - to head up the design studio. Arcadipane is also known as the designer of the Interceptor car from the Mad Max movie.
BAIC also contracts the Fioravanti design studio in Turin. Headed by father Leonardo - who penned the Ferrari Dino, F40, Daytona , 308 and 365 - and with sons Matteo and Luca, the studio showed two BAIC concepts at last year's Beijing motor show. Fioravanti also built the running cars - a C90L sedan and Concept 900 SUV - and is now working on production projects.
The Senova, with the 2-litre engine, has a starting price equivalent to $30,000. Modifications from the 9-5 include making the wheelbase 50mm longer than the Saab platform. Standard equipment includes safety systems including blind-spot detector, driver fatigue monitor and front and rear parking sensors.
BAIC is 12 per cent owned by Daimler and aims to spend almost $1 billion on production facilities to make 300,000 cars and SUVs a year. Five new models - two compact sedans, one luxury sedan and two SUVs - are planned to be launched within two years. The state-owned company this year is seeking to list as a public company in Hong Kong.
This reporter is on Twitter: @cg_dowling