Innovative Porsche C88 Concept Car Could Have Been The Chinese VW Beetle

Porsche's innovative C88 sedan concept is a rolling case of “what might have been”. Designed in the mid-1990s yet still looking remarkably contemporary today, the C88 could have been “The Chinese VW Beetle” if only China's government had not withdrawn their support for the project.

The story begins in November of 1994 when the Chinese government invited about 20 foreign automakers to a conference in Beijing. There, they presented their concepts for a proposed family car to be produced by a joint venture with state-owned automaker First Automotive Works (FAW) around the turn of the century.

Porsche, having had some previous success with so-called People's Cars, tasked their Engineering Services with designing what amounted to a modern-day Volkswagen Beetle, albeit with Chinese characteristics – poorly-paved roads instead of autobahns, for example. It took Porsche a mere four months to come up with the C88 sedan – the only one of three proposed submissions to make it to the mock-up stage.

The C88 was anything but fast or luxurious yet it offered optional front-passenger airbags and ABS brakes. Its black plastic bumpers and analog dashboard screamed “cheap!” but affordability and simplicity were the watchwords, and projections were for annual production in China of from 300,000 to 500,000 vehicles annually.

Looking at the C88 prototype now residing at the Porsche Museum, you won't find a Porsche emblem anywhere, inside or out. Only the shape of the headlight covers alludes ever so slightly to its heritage.

The car's projected performance was hardly Porsche-like as well: its 1.1-liter four-cylinder engine only offered 67-horsepower. Quick and precise use of the five-speed manual transmission was required if drivers hoped to achieve 0-62 mph (0-100 kph) times in 16 seconds.

In the event, the Chinese government inexplicably shelved the idea of a locally-built people's car, annoying Porsche and some of the other participating automakers who understandably felt they'd been taken for a ride, so to speak. Porsche's irritation lingers to this day.

“The Chinese government said thank you very much and took the ideas for free,” said Dieter Landenberger, manager of Porsche's archives, in an October 2012 interview with Top Gear Magazine, “and if you look at Chinese cars now, you can see many details of our C88 in them.” Maybe so, but no single currently-made Chinese car can compare to the success and longevity of Porsche's original People's Car, the Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle. (via Ran When Parked)