Sunday, June 13, 2021

Honda XLX 250 from the '80s with a Honda CBF 250 engine

It's not any breaking news the Honda XLX 250 was one of the most successful dual-purpose motorcycles in Brazil during the '80s and early '90s, with its 4-valve RFVC engine with a single camshaft. It's still not unusual to see some which remain used as a daily commuter, even though their owners may prefer to do subtle upgrades. This one featured a front disc brake swap (originally it had drums all-around) and what has caught my attention even more, the stock engine was replaced by the same DOHC one fitted to the Honda CBF 250 (known as Honda CBX 250 Twister in the local market) and to the Brazilian XR 250 Tornado from 2001 to 2009 and for export markets until 2012.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Why would've been better to resume production of the 1st-generation Fiat Strada somewhere else?

Among the most iconic car-based coupé-utilities which are so popular in Brazil, the first generation of the Fiat Strada had a production run from '98 to 2020 highlighted by the introduction of features such as the extended cabin in '99 increasing its appeal to private users. The release of a new generation has led to its phaseout, even though the Strada retained a quite comfortable leadership in Brazil not only within the sub-segment of small pick-up trucks but also leading the ranking of all the commercial vehicles. Its availability on regional export markets remained noteworthy, even though it had been repositioned as a RAM product in countries such as Mexico and Chile under the brand rationalising initiated by the FCA holding, now trading as Stellantis after the merge with PSA Peugeot-Citroën.
With all the production concentrated in Brazil since 2005 when the assembly in South Africa ended, its presence on overseas markets such as Europe and South Africa soldiered on until at least 2013 when the last facelift applied to the 1st generation got released and the Fiat Strada became restricted to selected Latin American regional markets. Besides Brazil and South Africa, considering how other derivatives of the 178 Project such as the Palio/Weekend and the Siena/Albea were supplied from other manufacturing hubs such as Argentina, Turkey and Poland, seems like the Strada was quite neglected while it could be a valuable asset for Fiat to strengthen its foothold in markets where it previously had a comfortable position. Sure it's not a Toyota Hilux, but its size may become more convenient under certain conditions and its relatively simple technical features lead to lower overall costs.

The availability of a double-cab, introduced with only 2 doors in 2009 and featuring a right-hand rear suicide-door since 2013, has also positioned the first-generation Fiat Strada more comfortably than both station-wagons and sedans/saloons while the demand for SUVs on emerging markets such as Brazil and India started to rise. Sure the cost os developing another bodyshell with a left-hand rear door catering to RHD markets such as India or South Africa could seem harder to justify, as the marketing perspectives were not as certain as for Brazil which remains the most important South American automotive market, despite not being the only major production hub as Argentina emerged through an export agenda when the Mercosur became effective. Considering historical precedents within Fiat itself, when the Brazilian Fiorino switched from its first generation to a newer one and the previous model had its production run extended in Argentina mostly for the local market, retaining the production of the previous generation of the Strada in Argentina could make sense.

While a considerable amount of buyers in Brazil are willing to get the updated model despite the longer waiting periods reaching 4 to 5 months, the previous generation is already capable of addressing actual needs of many professional operators, and could eventually remain offered along its replacement on the local market if supplied from Argentina for instance. It's also worth to consider how an affordable small cargo vehicle such as the 1st-generation Fiat Strada could remain competitive against the Chinese-made copies of older Suzuki and Mitsubishi trucklets and microvans, which would be reasonable enough to justify an extended production run elsewhere. Even though it might sound "natural" to simply phase it out, the 1st-generation Fiat Strada could still be a valuable asset for Fiat/Stellantis.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Could bias-ply tires have any future in a 3rd-world perspective

There were times when bias-ply tires were the rule instead of an exception, owing to their affordability and smooth ride compared to radials which were initially somewhat a specialty. Models such as the VW Beetle resorted to them for most of their international production run, even though in countries such as Mexico and Brazil there were some model-years fitted with radials as most of the mainstream suppliers moved away from bias-ply tires for light-duty vehicles. Odd enough, for some sizes such as the 155R15 which was recommended by Volkswagen as a suitable replacement for the 5.60-15 bias-ply got phased out too fast somehow, and even the 165R15 which Goodyear offered as a replacement for the previous measure is also now only available from some obscure suppliers from China which is better to avoid not only due to the usage of lower-grade materials but also due to the SARS-CoV outbreak which was a threat to the economy of the whole world.
Besides the cost of any tire matching the correct measures fitted to classic cars, to which a replacement may now be quite overpriced as they're now more valued for their historical significance and well-cared for by collectors instead of being steadily subjected to the harsh operating conditions some were meant back in the day, it's also important to consider the economical and political implications to get rid of the Chinese communist dictatorship and its filthy commercial warfare. I usually refrain from any usage of the word coolie/koelie due to its modern racist conotation being insensitive to both non-Chinese Asians and the Chinese victims of communism, but the labor conditions in China resemble in many aspects the so-called "coolie trade" on which Asian contract workers meant as a replacement for black slaves were fooled and enslaved by debt. In the middle of the crisis led by the outbreak of the Chinese coronavirus and the Chinese dumping of all sort of lower-quality manufactured items being a threat to the industrial output of other developing countries, including my homeland Brazil, it's worth to consider some ways to overcome the reliance on China which became too dangerous for the free world.
Sometimes it may seem pointless to suggest newer cars, to which the improved handling provided by a set or radial tires is often pointed out as a key to road safety and fuel-efficiency, could revert to bias-ply, but it's worth to look further on this matter before pointing it out as totally unsuitable. For instance the Thai version of the Toyota Yaris which is actually a rebadged Vios, is fitted with 185/60R15 tires both in Thailand and in Brazil where it's also assembled, and maybe it could benefit from those 13mm taller sidewalls of a Beetle-sized bias-ply to cope with rougher terrain conditions on those country roads and even on city traffic. Sure the lower speed ratings usually applied to bias-ply tires might be challenging to lead-footed drivers on the open road, but would in fact be more than enough to most average driving conditions. Concerns regarding the impact of bias-ply tires on fuel-efficiency might be somewhat easily addressed by the narrower tread and higher diameter of this specific set, not to get into how the CVT is good at keeping the engine at the higher-efficiency RPM band throughout most of the circumstances.
Nowadays since even the entry-level cars are getting bigger wheels in order to provide clearance to the upgraded brakes, it's worth to notice the impact on the availability of smaller tire sizes which are often the only ones which fit without much effort into previous generations of economy cars still common to see roaming around in some countries where budget is one of the most relevant aspects on motoring. So there is a reasonable business case for regional suppliers to provide bias-ply tires catering to that market segment, not only because they're more affordable for the customer but also due to the lower production cost, thus rendering for instance 6.45-13 tires a suitable replacement for the 145/80R13 which are now on short supply in Brazil despite their former usage on popular models such as the Opel Corsa B locally rebadged as a Chevrolet. In the end, not only among budget and technical standpoints, bias-ply tires are still likely to remain a reasonable option in 3rd-world countries for a while.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Brazilian Ford Pampa 4WD

One of the Brazilian derivatives of the Renault 12, which was already scheduled to be manufactured in Brazil when the local branches of Ford and Willys-Overland merged in '67, the Ford Pampa was made from '82 to '97 is more often found on the same front-wheel drive layout of the Ford Corcel (Stallion in Portuguese), yet a now very rare 4WD option had been offered from '84 to '95 always with Ford's own spec of the 1.6L Renault Cléon-Fonte engine named CHT and more often ethanol-powered instead of gasoline-powered. Exclusive to the Pampa 4X4 was the dual-tank fuel system, with the main fuel tank placed midship under the loading bay floor and a secondary after the rear axle, each other with its own filling cap. While the standard tank had its filling cap right behind the driver's door, the secondary had it closer to the rear-end. Usually the main tank was only removed when a Pampa underwent some dual-cab conversions which were quite popular in Brazil, in order to clear room for passengers' feet in a rear bench seat when a raised roof section and taller mounting brackets for the seat were not fitted, yet this one caught my attention for retaining the regular-cab while only the rear filling cap was at its place. The differential housing and the rear wheels with clearance for the more salient hubs fitted only to the 4WD left no doubt, even though the front wheels were the same standard fitted to front-wheel drive versions. Unlike larger 4WD trucks which used to be rear-wheel drive by default and resorted to a transfer case, the Pampa 4X4 had the rear axle driven through a power take-off at the 4-speed manual transmission, which had been retained along the CHT engine even after other versions became available with a 1.8L Volkswagen-sourced EA827 engine and 5-speed transmission.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Honda CG 160 with a scrambler-themed customization

This beauty may look as it had been from the '70s or early '80s, even with drum brakes all around, but that's not the case. As the Honda CG is bread-and-butter for Honda in the Brazilian market, it's actually no surprise some examples feature interesting custom jobs, which usually enhance its appearance to the point the humble and strictly utilitarian appeal of a stock model become barely recognisable at a first glance. This one specifically featuring drum brakes all-around suggests it may be even based on the entry-level version CG 160 Start, yet the CBS brake was retained despite the front torque plate being of an earlier model in order to provide a mechanical feedback for the analog speedometer fitted to instead of the digital instrument cluster which was factory-fitted. It's worth to remind mechanical drum brakes are often still favored on harsh environmental conditions by some riders, who see hydraulic disc brakes as more prone to damage by debris on unpaved pathways. Knobby tyres enhance the classical scrambler appearance, even though the exhaust with a low-hanging muffler doesn't seem to match the off-road appeal so effectively from a more orthodox perspective. But one thing that definitely cannot be said about this beauty is to claim it lacks personality to get highlighted.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The example of the Fiat Strada and why a compact car-based bakkie should be taken seriously

Small coupé-utilities based on the same underpinnings of any assortment of small cars available, such as the Fiat Strada which remains extremely successful in Brazil, may be not always taken seriously as a commercial vehicle, yet their convenience for inner-city small freight compared to their larger and more traditional body-on-frame counterparts is quite hard to ignore. The higher degree of parts commonality with basic runabouts, even though being often mistaken for "weakness" as if they did not also have to overcome the harsh riding conditions usually encountered in 3rd-world countries, is another highlighted aspect due to the lower overall costs of ownership throughout the useful operating life of a bakkie. Even though most economy cars nowadays feature front-wheel drive, which may sound detrimental for cargo duties at a first glance as the weight bias changes drastically according to the load, this does not prevent this segment from becoming a mainstay of the commercial vehicles market not only in Brazil but also to regional export destinations.
Popularity of bakkies as a personal vehicle dictated the need for improvements to the cabins, noticeably the option for extended or crew-cabs even among the car-based ones, allowing a single model to fare as a versatile tool not only for work and extending their capabilities to address a diversified array of needs and subjective preferences. A more compact layout enhancing inner-city maneuvering on tight spaces is another valuable asset for daily commuting, while some off-road themed models such as the Fiat Strada Adventure cater to customers who look at a bakkie not only for utility, but also to the image associated to the vehicles as more capable and rugged than an ordinary no-frills hatchback. Even though the small coupé-utilities retain most of the technical features of whatever runabout they happen to be based on, to the point of a seemingly gutless engine making its way even along the fanciest trim such as when the Fiat Strada had been supplied to South Africa with the 1.4L Fire engine combined with the Adventure trim instead of the 1.8L ones fitted to their equivalents meant for sale in Brazil, bakkies may often still be perceived as inherently more prestigious.
In a world where "multitasking" is highly sought after, it's no surprise the compact car market also had to provide a similar approach covering the greatest possible amount of needs and occasional wishes of buyers who would be otherwise unable to settle for either an affordable-to-own runabout or the bakkie they perceive as more attractive. And even though the Chicken Tax is more effective to repel the small car-based coupé-utilities in general from the American market than EPA/CAFE and NHTSA regulations would, their classification as commercial vehicles also often leads to occasional advantages pertaining to the displacement-biased taxations which are harsher over conventional cars in markets such as Brazil and most of Europe. Despite being often mocked for not being "real trucks", due to the unibody layout in contrast to a body-on-frame, compact car-based bakkies prove their point and should definitely be taken more seriously, eventually as an option to those Chinese low-quality copies of the Suzuki Carry available even in the United States as "off-road only" vehicles.

Friday, April 09, 2021

1st-generation Honda CG 125 turned into scrambler

Popularity of the Honda CG 125 in Brazil since its 1st generation is no surprise, due to the ruggedness of the OHV engine it featured. Even though this engine had already been phased out by Honda, there is a widely-available aftermarket support, catering not only to those who still resort to its utilitarian aspect but also to its enthusiasts who look at a CG 125 as a reliable base for custom modifications such as this scrambler.
The shorter and straight exhaust pipe with its end raising higher, usual on motorcycles aiming to a more off-road operation, is one of the features easier to spot on a scrambler, along the slightly higher front mudguard which is also more open to the sides in order to not trap so much mud and debris. Since many enthusiasts of the scrambler style actually ride their motorcycles on paved pathways, changes to the suspension and the usage of knobby tyres in order to improve off-road ability may not be present, not to mention the dependability of the early Honda CG 125 which rendered it popular even in rural areas.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Brazilian DKW-Vemag Fissore

Based on the very same chassis of the DKW F94 made under license in Brazil by Vemag, the Fissore had a more upscale approach targetting the imports. Made from '64 to '67 when Vemag merged with the Brazilian branch of Volkswagen, this model had low production figures despite its then-modern look and the simple underpinnings which led to an ease of maintenance. Unlike the German DKW F102 which resorted to an unibody structure and evolved into the Audi F103, the Brazilian Fissore didn't get a direct replacement within the local Volkswagen range, even though a few had been repowered with Volkswagen EA827 and Renault Cléon-Fonte engines.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Could the Brazilian Chevrolet Corsa Pick-Up/Opel Corsa Utility have been compliant with American regulations?

It's no surprise the Opel Corsa B had a considerable popularity, including its Chevrolet derivatives from Brazil and Mexico which were available in most of Latin America and even in Africa and Middle East, but none of its versions had ever been available in the United States and Canada. When it comes to regulations, which may be quite stricter and expensive to get the EPA, DOT and NHTSA certifications, all those Suzuki and Daewoo rebadges have shown it would not be so pointless to consider the Corsa. When it comes to engines, at least the 1.6L one which used to be the only option in Brazil and Mexico had some versions of the same Family 1 engine range EPA-certified for other models during its entire production run. Not even the preference for automatic transmissions in the United States or the Chicken Tax should've prevented it to catch some attention from American customers, as some versions of the Corsa with other bodystyles had automatic transmission available as optional equipment and Mexican assembly could enable it to circumvent the Chicken Tax through the NAFTA. And also considering the GM4200 platform served as the underpinnings for models meant to developed markets such as Europe, Japan and Australia, even though their safety regulations are not the same as the ones enforced by the NHTSA, the 2-seating configuration could've made it easier to certify the Corsa Pick-Up in the United States than the hatchback or even the sedan bodystyles.

Monday, March 08, 2021

How did Fiat get it so right with the Argo?

It may seem quite pointless in Europe, but the Fiat Argo was launched in 2017 as the replacement for both the Punto and Palio in Latin America while also attempting to fill the gap left by the absence of the current generation of the Fiat Tipo in countries such as Brazil where it's made. Besides the "emerging" approach similar to how the Fiat Palio used to be positioned in markets outside Western Europe, a need to compete both in the Brazilian "popular" segment and remain somewhat attractive for customers who would be more inclined toward the next size class for which Fiat was left without a contender in Brazil after the Bravo got phased out demanded its design to not appear of a much lower cost than the larger European Tipo. Engine selection also had to include a 1.0L option for Brazil, with the 3-cylinder variant of the Global Small Engine (GSE a.k.a. FireFly) which shares the basic design features with the 4-cyl 1.3L offered as the base engine in regional export markets such as Argentina and Chile, with the top of the range featuring the E.torQ in a 1.8L variant. Fiat is often pointed out in Brazil as more "specialized" in small economy cars since it started local production in '76, not being so much of a strong contender in more prestigious segments, then it's quite understandable why it decided to concentrate efforts on this stopgap model catering to regional needs. Even though the one-size-fits-all approach may not usually be so effective when it comes to the automotive market, Fiat got it right with the Argo because it doesn't look impoverished for an entry-level model (disconsidering smaller offerings in the Brazilian Fiat range which are too compromised regarding design and interior space), while an "emerging" approach doesn't effectively prevent it from being suitable to some customers with a more conservative profile within the segment immediately above who considered a downsizing in order to adjust their budgets in the middle of some disastrous economic policies which were implemented not only in Brazil but in neighboring countries too.