History: the Volkswagen Santana MPV from China

Published on February 18, 2012 by Tycho de Feijter

Volkswagen Santana MPV

A very lazy Saturday afternoon in Beijing, I can’t get the beer and smoke from yesterday outta my system, I’d better stay indoors with a cup of tea… Time so for history! Today we have an extremely rare car, this is the Shanghai SH7181 MPV, based on the China-made Volkswagen Santana.

Volkswagen Santana MPV from China

The MPV was developed in 1989 by engineers from Shanghai Auto in cooperation with the nicely named Shanghai Institute of Automobile and Tractor Research. Platform and engine came straight from the Santana, the body was an all-new design. It was a concept car for a completely new kind of vehicle for China, and made to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the PRC.

It was a serious idea, there were no MPV’s on the Chinese market yet and the Shanghai Auto wanted to find out whether an MPV was indeed a possibility. Joint venture partner Volkswagen however had nothing to do at all with the project and protested when Shanghai Auto called it ‘Volkswagen’ and put Volkswagen badges on it. The first name of the vehicle was SVW7181, ‘SVW’ for Shanghai Volkswagen. After Volkswagen got angry this was changed to SH7181, ‘SH’ for Shanghai.

Volkswagen Santana MPV from China

In the end it didn’t really matter because the SH7181 never made it to production. The platform proved too light for an MPV and Volkswagen didn’t want to make it anyway. Interestingly even today Volkswagen still doesn’t make a full-size MPV in China although they do make the smaller Touran. The good old Santana is still in production today, read all about that one in my earlier Santana-history story.

The SH7181 was designed by Mr. Zhong Boguang from China Auto, here he stands very proud right next to his baby.

Wooden mockup.

Special thanks to Erik from ChineseCars.net, additional info via: Autohome, Blogbus.


Add Comment
  1. Paul- February 20, 2012 Reply

    Would have been very ahead of the pack with this. Pity.

  2. J.I.Hosang- February 21, 2012 Reply

    Do you have any picture showing a view of the after part?

    Very interesting version which make us remember a Renault Space placed over a VW Santana´s platform/body.

  3. Ingvar- September 13, 2012 Reply

    This is a very interesting vehicle, because it predates the Volkswagen Sharan which debuted in 1995. The Sharan was developed as a joint venture between Ford and Volkswagen, and sold as the VW Sharan, Ford Galaxy, and Seat Alhambra. However it was mostly based on the VW Passat platform. The Santana MPV looks very much like how the Sharan would’ve looked like, had it been developed in the 80’s.

  4. Jonathan Miller- May 17, 2013 Reply

    Looks like a Series 1 Renault Espace

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