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.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

2nd-generation Honda CG 125 with a café-racer themed custom trim

One of those no-frills utilitarian motorcycles which used to be quite widespread in developing countries such as Brazil, the second generation of the Honda CG 125 is getting more appreciation than it used to get until a few years ago when only the earlier model effectively started to become more sought after by collectors. While it may not seem to attract so many enthusiasts for its plain utilitarian design, resorting to the very same rugged engine makes it an interesting option for a custom job without any compromise to its functionality. And honestly, the café-racer style fits it right.

Friday, February 05, 2021

5 engines that would be interesting to swap into a RWD-converted Subaru Impreza

Even though much of Subaru's marketing nowadays has been associated with the boxer/flat engine and the all-wheel drive, its mechanics are not the easiest to struggle with. Even considering how the AWD may be a good sales point for the off-road themed XV/Crosstrek trim, which is the only available with the hatchback bodystyle in my country nowadays, it not being usually taken to serious off-roading may render such feature effectively useless for the average Joe. And honestly, due to the longitudinal engine position which is a must for a boxer, it may sound tempting to replace it with something else while also converting to rear-wheel drive only. I would at least take a look at 5 engines if I were going to do such:

1 - Cummins ISF2.8/R2.8: as it caters to Asian utility vehicles with engine bays quite cramped, even though a rear-wheel drive setup would also be required to ease the task of overcoming clearence issues in a Subaru, the Cummins ISF2.8 or its aftermarket-oriented R2.8 derivative available in the United States and Canada would be among my possible choices. I am quite partial to Diesels, and since the R2.8 is meant as an option to the gasoline-powered ubiquitous small-block V8 engines more frequently swapped into nearly everything, it seems quite down-to-earth compared to other engines which would require major structural changes to allow a clean-looking installation;

2 - Chevrolet small-block V8: an engine that nearly everyone loves. Either some first-generation one or the latest designs with some newer tech incorporated, the relatively compact packaging makes it a cost-effective option for high output;

3 - Nissan TB48DE: this straight-six masterpiece, which currently has a limited availability along the Y61 Nissan Patrol, has a strong aftermarket scene in the Middle East. Even though it usually has a quite conservative tune, turbocharging and other tuning allow it to exceed 1000hp with some reliability;

4 - Toyota 1GR-FE: not exactly a favorite of mine, but it also has some aftermarket support overseas which is also interesting when it comes to a performance enhancement. Toyota being a stakeholder on Fuji Heavy Industries also makes it sound more reasonable at all;

5 - Chrysler Hemi Hellcat: one of the most exciting engines in recent times, sure the Hellcat would be a good option too.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Why going too sophisticated for a light-duty turbodiesel engine while a medium-duty follows a seemingly simpler approach?

The availability of a 3.0L straight-6 turbodiesel with a chain-driven DOHC valvetrain in the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, holding the distiction of being the sole powerplant available officially in some export markets such as Paraguay, has led to questions such as why not going bigger in displacement in order to keep a simpler (and presumably cheaper-to-manufacture) configuration. The usual marketing approach, highlighting features such as towing capacity, may eventually justify some interest on technical features of engines fitted to medium-duty trucks such as the Brazilian Volkswagen Constellation 23-230 with its 4-cylinder 4.6L MAN D0834 engine which often has to deal with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than the gross combined weight of a Silverado coupled to a trailer at its maximum tow rating. There are other aspects to take into account, such as the amount of cylinders being often pointed out as a premium feature even in a lower-displacement engine, and how customers of different segments may expect the power and torque curves to adjust to their effective needs.

While the Duramax LM2 fitted to the Silverado is rated at 277hp at 3750 RPM and 624Nm from 1500 to 3000 RPM, there are conflicting claims for the power and torque figures of the MAN D0834 LOH63, so it may be tempting to consider the LOH64 spec which is compliant to a stricter emissions regulation and has pretty much unchanged ratings even though the peak RPM bands presented are less conflicting with 220hp at 2300 RPM and 850Nm from 1300 to 1800 RPM. It's relevant to notice the magnitude of the differences between peak power and torque RPM which are roughly 63% greater for the Silverado, even though the displacement of the MAN engine is around 53% bigger. Considering the torque output of the Duramax is roughly 73.4% of what is claimed for the D08 in the trim fitted to the Volkswagen, if a 1.63:1 intermediate gear could be fitted at the flywheel of the smaller engine as an attempt to match a similar RPM output the multiplied torque would be around 19% higher at 1016Nm, which sounds quite impressive as the weight difference from the 212kg of the LM2 which is somewhat featherweight when it comes to a turbodiesel to the 510 or 530kg for the D08 which renders it 140 to 150% heavier.

While both engine configurations have their own tradeoffs, how the buying patterns on each segment is more or less willing to accept such issues also plays an important role at the strategy of manufacturers, and then it's understandable that a Silverado gets an aluminium block and chain-driven overhead cams in contrast to the vermicular graphite-iron alloy resorted by MAN which relies on a single gear-driven cam-in-block and overhead valves. It's worth to remind a light-duty truck is weight-sensitive not only due to strictly technical concerns, but also regulatory aspects such as the maximum GVWR allowed for holders of a car driving license and a minimum payload which could be required in order to register a Diesel-powered vehicle in countries such as Brazil unless it's either off-road capable or a minibus. In the end, even though a greater sophistication might seem excessive at a first glance, it's justifiable under some not-so-specific circumstances and actually crucial on more specific ones, and to a lesser extent it may even sound quite tempting to take one step further into the downsizing...

Saturday, January 16, 2021

A personal reflection about the end of Ford car manufacturing in Brazil

Earlier this week, Ford has announced it was phasing out its 3 manufacturing units still active in Brazil, to have its entire range comprising of imported models and allign itself with the truck-oriented business it's already implementing on a global basis. Some ignorants who dislike President Jair Bolsonaro are blaming him for a strategic decision that only Ford had something to do, unlike what happened to GM in Venezuela where its assets were seized by Nicolás Maduro's narco-dictatorship in 2017. It's also worth to notice Ford did not seem to really care about the Brazilian market, where it insisted in a strategy that proven itself not so suitable to the local needs, and its business model on a global basis still seems to revolve around the old body-on-frame layout which is roughly unchanged for a long time.

Ford keeping its manufacturing operations in Argentina, where nowadays the Ranger is the only model made locally, is also deeply rooted on the same mindset of the days when the Model T was Ford's only product including the overseas assembly plants. Sure a lot of technical features of the vehicles and the manufacturing methods evolved in a timeframe of more than 100 years, but it's impossible to deny the conceptual similarities between a relatively modern truck and one of the least expensive cars from the Brass Era. Even though some technical revolutions happened in the meantime when it comes to brakes, suspensions, transmissions and steering gear, there is no way to overlook the longitudinally-mounted engine driving the rear wheels through a leaf-sprung solid axle (which remains the usual drive even on 4-wheel drive versions with independent front suspension) in a body-on-frame as a reminiscence of the old times.

The closure of the São Bernardo do Campo plant in 2019, where the Cargo trucks and regional variants of the chassis-cab Super Duty used to be made, was actually more surprising, as both ranges stilll relied on the jalopy-ish layout which Ford seems to remain more comfortable to work around. Among claims of a shrinking market share due to competition and the cost to upgrade from Euro-5 to Euro-6, which is the dumbest excuse since Brazilian-made Ford trucks had been fitted only with Cummins engines since late-2005, it's also relevant to notice Turkish-made versions of the Ford Cargo are (re)making their way into Western Europe which is a highly competitive market. The demand for logistic services after the 2020 outbreak of the Chinese Covid-19 Coronavirus increased the e-commerce in Brazil also means the timing for the phaseout on local truck manufacturing was a highly regrettable move.

The reliance on the 3rd-generation Ka and 2nd-generation EcoSport which were made in the Camaçari plant located in the metropolitan area of Salvador de Bahia for larger sales volumes, with the Ka being more appealing to the fleet market than for retail customers while the EcoSport was losing much of its market share because of the increased competition, apparently was not a valid excuse for the closure of the Camaçari plant where Ford had introduced 3-cylinder 1.0L and 1.5L engines manufacture rendering much of the output of the Taubaté powertrain-oriented plant quite redundant. Both models relying on an obsolete platform, plus the Ka being made only in Brazil and India having been phased out in Europe in 2019 due to poor sales, were pointed out as a reason for the phaseout of Brazilian production which had not been as competitive on export markets as their Indian counterparts. However, it's worth to remind a tax break which has led to the Camaçari plant opening in 2000 has expired on late-2020, so Ford was looking for a government handout in order to keep operating at a claimed loss in Bahia, even though the EcoSport still seemed to be in line with a truck and SUV-oriented business model.

Ford has also planned to close the Troller factory, a small-scale and off-road oriented plant located in Horizonte, a city in the metropolitan region of Fortaleza in the Ceará state, which it had bought in 2007 looking for a tax break for companies with operations in the Brazilian Northeast (Nordeste as we say in Brazil). From what used to be described as a fiberglass copy of some previous generation of the Jeep Wrangler to the 2nd generation riding on a shortened version of the 2012 Ranger chassis released in 2014, the T4 has been the most known Troller and through most of its production run the only actual Troller model. Considering its history as an independent company from '95 to 2007 and the cult-following among the 4WD enthusiasts in Brazil, the Troller division seems to be quite an easy asset for Ford to sell before its closure scheduled to late-2021, even though it seems more likely for Ford to be actually willing to shutdown this operation instead of turning it into an eventual competitor in the SUV market.

Even though the focus (no pun intended) on SUVs has led Ford to outsource its new Territory entirely to its Chinese partner JMC, going as far as resorting to a copy of the ancient Mitsubishi 4G15 engine with few changes such as turbocharging, its shutdown on local manufacturing in Brazil to concentrate on imports while the Argentinian operation keeps going despite political unrest diminishes considerably the trust of Brazilian customers on Ford. Even though such attempt to increase the profitability per unit instead of volume may seem easy at a first glance, a brand which had never been regarded as a specialty devoted to high-end models is likely to face a hard time trying to reposition it as somewhat premium. So, despite being quite predictable due to an inefficient business model on a worldwide basis, the end of manufacturing operations in the largest country of South America is unlikely to benefit Ford at all.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Opel Corsa B, the unsung hero

Even though it's now seem as outdated even in the regions where it soldiered on for longer than its first run from '93 to '00 in Western Europe, the Opel Corsa B was one of the greatest GM cars of the '90s in a worldwide basis. Despite its absence in the United States and Canada where it was simpler to keep the strategy of selling a rebadged Suzuki within its size class, the first vehicle to challenge the Volkswagen Beetle in the Mexican market as a serious contender was the Opel Corsa B, rebadged there as Chevrolet Chevy and initially sourced from Spain before CKD assembly from Brazilian parts and ultimately made with an increased local content. Nobody will ever know exactly what prevented the Corsa to become an option for American customers too, but most likely the cost of certification while the rebadged Suzukis were already there.

A very dependable model, even though its appearance could suggest otherwise, the Opel Corsa B was also rebadged as a Chevrolet in South America where it used to be made in Brazil and Argentina, with CKD kits having been supplied from Brazil even in RHD format to South Africa where it retained the Opel branding while being fitted with more rugged engines than its European counterparts and received the Brazilian facelift from '00 to '09. Simple mechanics made it very dumbproof, even though electronic fuel injection had been a first-in-class in some markets such as Brazil where the Chevrolet Corsa was introduced in '94. The relatively modern European styling matched to some degree of ruggedness which remains as a desirable feature in Latin America, Africa and Middle East rendered the Corsa B closer to a Beetle replacement than much of Volkswagen's offering.

A sedan version had even been developed in Brazil catering to developing markets where this bodystyle is often seen as preferable over the hatchbacks which were more prevalent in Europe. To a certain point, the availability of a sedan/saloon seriously impacted the market share for the 4-door hatchback, while the 2-door hatchback remained quite competitive in a more budget-oriented approach which helped it to become a contender to the Volkswagen Beetle in Mexico. This very same bodystyle had been also made in China and assembled from CKD kits in India and South Africa.

With fewer changes and a budget-oriented approach, the sedan has soldiered on in South America until 2016, already rebadged as Chevrolet Classic and fitted only with a flexfuel 1.0L engine according to the Brazilian "people's car" program, while Argentina had a 1.4L gasoline-only engine. Still easy to spot on most Latin American medium and big cities, the Opel Corsa B is certainly an unsung hero from those times when GM was greater than any other automaker on earth. Even though the original Opel design may lead a few stubborn rednecks to not consider it Chevrolet-ish enough, the Corsa B was certainly among the greatest responses to both developed and developing markets and their needs.