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Waving the Red Flag (3)

By Cheng Lu and Liu Xin (Shanghai Daily)

08:26, February 19, 2013

At first, Luo aimed to exhibit Chinese cars as they reflected the history of the nation. But only a few schoolchildren and individuals visited.

It was a losing proposition and still isn't making money.

He doesn't have enough to maintain and repair his collection.

Tickets cost 50 yuan per person. Luo also rents cars for exhibitions and movie shoots.

Many people have offered to buy the highlight of his collection, a 10.08-meter-long Hongqi, but Luo has refused.

The super-long, 10-passenger V8 is equipped with a refrigerator, TV, telephone and, of course, air-conditioning. Naturally the seats are made of leather.

"How could our country produce such a great limousine in the 1970s? Its technology and design are so amazing that even now many countries cannot produce one," he says, declining to say how it came into his possession.

According to the First Automotive Works research institute, this Hongqi in Luo's collection was ordered by Chairman Mao in the early 1970s. It was completed in 1976, the year of Mao's death, and it was never used.

Before the 1980s, the Hongqi reigned supreme in China, but its popularity waned with the influx of advanced foreign cars.

In 1981 the government ordered an end to Hongqi limousine production.

"The year 1981 was a watershed in China's domestic auto industry," Luo says.

Hongqi were produced again, starting in 1995, but most used Audi and other engines. Luo says that today's Chinese autos, including Hongqi, have higher technology and quality but lack a sense of history.

In Beijing, there are 21 Audi dealerships but only three FAW dealers.

"I like the Hongqi brand but worry about its quality," says Shulei Chris on Sina weibo, Chinese version of Twitter.

She intends to buy a BMW 320li for 350,000 yuan (US$56,157) and indicates that domestically made cars are not competitive in quality and after-sale service.

China remained the world's largest producer and market for automobiles for the fourth consecutive year in 2012.

"I hope a Chinese car with good brand history and quality will be thrust into the world spotlight one day," Luo says. "It may not be Hongqi but it carries the dreams of all Chinese people."

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