In October 1984, Volkswagen signed a contract with the STAC (Shanghai Tractor Automobile Corporation), along with the CNAIC (China National Automotive Industry Corporation) and the Bank of China to form the Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive joint venture.
This JV was established to build the VW Santana, in spite of its limited success in Germany where its career only spanned 4 years (1981-1985). The car’s history in China provides a unique insight into the country’s move towards motorization.
Experimental production of the Santana started in 1983. In October 1985, the first assembly line of the Chinese Santana launched, and by September 1986, the 10,000th Santana was built in China.
The Santana was the first car to be mass produced in China and even though many of the cars were government cars reserved to an elite, it would end up being many Chinese consumers’s first car. Over the next 25 years, more than 3.2 million Santanas would be produced in the country, and it still dominates Shanghai’s taxi fleet nowadays.
The Santana is therefore in all likeliness the unquestioned Chinese sales leader between 1986 and the mid-nineties when the Jetta started production.
Source: Wikipedia, The Truth About Cars (many thanks to Bertel Schmitt for the insights!)