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BJ set to return?

BAIC ponders local production

The Chinese auto giant BAIC gave a glimpse of its “global flagship”, the BJ40L, at this year’s Festival of Motoring at Kyalami and indicated that the jeep-like all-terrain SUV is being considered for local production at the BAIC assembly plant in Coega, close to Port Elizabeth.

Inspired by the iconic Jeep Wrangler, as is clear from its boxy design, five-slat grille, and simple, angular lines, the BJ40L is the four-door version of the BJ40 introduced in 2013. This model made its debut at the 2016 Beijing Auto Show – also previewing the facelift of the shorter wheelbase BJ40.

However, it is not the first BJ-model to make it to South Africa. Oh, no. Nearly thirty years ago, in the early ’nineties, two local entrepreneurs tried
to introduce the BJ2020, the long-living predecessor to the BJ40, to South Africa.

Propelled by an underpowered 2,5-litre four-cylinder Chrysler-derived engine and exported under the name Beijing Jeep, the canvas roofed vehicle was cheap compared to its rivals, but very crude and rudimentary, and it did not find favour with local buyers. Its importation was discontinued after a few short months.

While not successful, the BJ2020 did pave the way for other BAW vehicles (a subsidiary of Beijing Jeep Corporation at the time and now of BAIC) to be introduced in South Africa. With BAIC now fully invested locally and already producing its X25 compact SUV in Coega, the old BJ nomenclature (it stands for Beijing Jeep) can be revived here. (Incidentally, the first Toyota Land Cruiser was also called BJ, before it was changed to FJ …)

No further details were revealed at the Festival of Speed, but the BJ40L, with a length of 4.630 metres, width of 1.843 metres, height of 1.861 metres, and wheelbase of 2.730 metres, has a part-time four-wheel drive system and a ground clearance of 210 mm.

In other markets it is available with a choice of three engine types – an outmoded 2,4-litre four-cylinder G4CA petrol engine delivering 105 kW and 217 Nm of torque, and two old Saab-derived mills, a 2.0 turbo petrol mill with 150 kW and 283 Nm of torque, and a 2.3-litre turbo with 186 kW and 350 Nm of torque. All engines are mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The latter powerplant is also used to power the BJ40’s bigger brother, the BJ80 with a design inspired by the MercedesBenz G-Class. Who knows, dependant on the sales performance of the BJ40 we may just see the bigger BJ80 also being introduced here …

– Paul van Gass