Asymmetric Dialogue

Tomorrow’s Technicals Will Be Chinese

The world’s largest automobile market is China, which also has one of fastest-growing auto industries. Likewise, higher-quality Chinese pickup trucks are spreading globally, which means they’re winding up in the hands of rebel groups.
It’s only inevitable. This comes as China, seeking a growth market, has aggressively expanded its exports, notably in African countries where there are fewer car buyers. In 2017, Cameroon held its first car and pickup exhibition thanks to Chinese entrepreneur Lu Fuqing.
It’s in the developing-world domestic markets that light pickups go from work trucks to the battlefield. In third-world warfare, pickup trucks have advantages over armored vehicles that require specialized maintenance and logistical supply lines that insurgent armies and special operations troops might not have on hand.
Not so with a pickup. Simply hop in the driver’s seat, have your Kalashnikov-wielding friends hop in the back, and you will instantly achieve far greater fuel efficiency than you will tooling around inside a 20-ton, eight-wheeled Stryker.
The tradeoff is armor — but the advantage is speed.
China’s civilian automakers also see potential for the military market. The Chinese car company Great Wall, which sells its Wingle in Australia and in Europe under the named Steed, has marketed a military version of the light truck in Ukraine.
Incidentally, Great Wall Motor’s tough-talking chairman Wei Jianjun, one of China’s richest men, enforces militaristic discipline at his factories, where workers must undergo two weeks of military-style training, according to the Financial Times. Wei did not serve in the military himself, but his father did in the People’s Liberation Army artillery force. Great Wall Wingles were spotted in action during the 2011 Libyan Civil War.
Above and at top — Great Wall Wingles, the banner photo from the Libyan Civil War. Photos via Wikimedia
However, it was Great Wall’s competitor, Zhongxing Auto, that has better capitalized on military-esque marketing — deliberately promoting its ZX line of pickups as “stronger than war” at a car show in Beijing in 2012. A screen behind the truck displayed images of ZX trucks with machine guns in the back in Libya.
The PLA, for its part, began buying made-in-China-only autos in 2014 under orders from now-president-for-life Xi Jinping. The army’s official jeep: the Yongshi Warrior.
China has also exported larger civilian vehicles for military use. During a 2017 military parade in North Korea, Chinese heavy-duty timber trucks manufactured by Sinotruk rolled past Kim Il Sung Square lugging ballistic missiles. These kind of “dual-use” vehicles allow buyers and sellers to easily avoid sanctions, and the trucks are hard to track.
Case in point was the embarrassing and briefly nightmarish event for a Texas plumbing company that sold one of its Ford F-250s to a car dealership, which then sold it at auction. The truck made its way to Turkey and then to Syria, and into the hands of the jihadist militant group Ansar Al Deen, which added a ZPU anti-aircraft cannon to the bed — the company’s logo still emblazoned on the door panels.
The Toyota Hilux — a go-to truck of choice for the start-up rebel group — has been discontinued in the United States but is still a popular choice in other countries for theft and smuggling to war zones via shipping containers.
The U.S. government, not to be outdone, also supplies pickup trucks to war zones. One 2014 shipment included 43 Toyota Hiluxes as part of the U.S. State Department’s “non-lethal aid” program to Syrian rebels. But with new Hiluxes out of the American market, and a looming trade war with China, Americans will have to stick to their Ford F-Series trucks, Chevy Silverados, Dodge Rams and Toyota Tacomas.
Which is a shame — but for third-world warfare, any pickup truck will do.