Shanghai auto show: where you, too, can buy a machine-gun ready pickup

A Chinese company's trucks were a hit among Libyan rebels, and it's now seeking inroads to the lucrative insurgent market. 'The car really proved its launch strength,' wrote one Libyan rebel.

By , Staff Writer

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    Libyan rebels riding at the back of a pickup truck retreat east towards Benghazi from Ajdabiya, Libya, in April 2011. When the Shanghai auto show opened a week ago, ZX Auto, proudly displayed on its stand a version of its trucks that were a hit among Libyan rebels.
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Ever fancied owning your own “technical” – the sort of pickup truck fitted with a heavy machine gun that rebels careering around the streets from Somalia to Libya have made notorious? Come to the Shanghai Auto Show and a Chinese automaker will sell you one.

When the show opened a week ago, Zhongxing Auto proudly displayed on its stand a version of its Grand Tiger pickup with an unusual accessory – a four-legged steel frame fixed to the cargo bed, ready for the weapon of your choice.

Once upon a time, irregular forces had to do their own welding to turn Toyotas and other pickups into mobile platforms for rocket launchers or machine guns. Now the small Chinese auto company, based in the eastern province of Hebei, takes the trouble out of such transformations for you.

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Zhongxing Auto, known as ZX Auto, seems a little conflicted, though, about its new model. The vehicle is clearly designed for people going to war, but the pickup on display at the opening of the auto show was emblazoned with the slogan “Resist war, love peace!” In Arabic…

That is because the idea for the ready-made rampage wagon came from Libya. ZX had sold thousands of its Grand Tigers to Libya during Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s rule, and as rebel forces took over government car pools during the civil war they came into possession of the Chinese-made trucks.

It didn’t take them long to fit them out with rocket launchers and machine guns, and TV news footage carried images of ZX pickups around the world.

“The car really proved its launch strength, engine strength … and stability,” wrote one Libyan rebel, Saad Sati, in an account published on the chinacartimes.com website. “It acted as a catalyst in the process of the Libyan revolution … and gave the rebels the upper hand.”

ZX was pleased with the publicity. If World War II shot the Jeep to international prominence, and the Gulf War made the Hummer a must-have for a certain sort of driver, the Libyan civil war might do the same sort of thing for the Grand Tiger, the firm hoped.

“Models will stand out after the baptism of war that prove reliable, durable, and easy to maintain,” the company says coyly on its website. “The Libyan civil war could really help build a name for the Zhongxing pickups.”

Heaven forbid, though, that anyone should think the appearance of the ZX technical on the company’s Shanghai Auto Show stand might suggest that the company is seeking new strife-torn markets.

“All the cars we design are for civilian use,” insisted Lin Jing, a ZX sales department employee, in a telephone interview from the auto show. “If Libyans used them as vehicles of war that has nothing to do with us.”

Why had the company installed the machine gun stand, then? Ms. Lin’s answer was unconvincing. “So that when people saw it they would think of the Libyan war which brought such disasters,” she said.

Eh?

There are no signs yet that Syrian rebels have done the same sort of thing as their Libyan forbears did to their Grand Tigers; ZX has sold less than 500 of the vehicles to Syria, according to Lin.

But if they want more, ready for action, they know where to come.

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