Monday, March 13, 2023

Brazilian Chevy 500 with a modular van roof

The popularity of the Chevette in Brazil, and the demand for small utility vehicles in the '80s, prompted the local branch of GM to create a coupé-utility based on the Chevette for the local market and regional exports. The needs and preferences of some operators for an enclosed loading bay also brought a good opportunity for a van version, even though it was simple to just slap a fiberglass high roof above the original loading bay. The former Varig flag-carrier airline had some for ground support, no wonder it's still possible to see few still roaming around in my hometown Porto Alegre, even though most had the van roof removed and turned back into a coupé-utility.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

Is phasing out the Gol a smart move from Volkswagen?

A formrely successful nameplate, mostly in Brazil but also with some presence in the regional export markets and even some minor presence in other "emerging" markets stretching as far as China, the Gol was most likely of a greater importance to showcase Brazil as a development hub for cars targetting to budget-oriented regions. Even though it actually had 3 generations, with the second having 2 facelifts advertised as if they were different generations on their own, and the third and last going the same way, Volkswagen claims the Gol had 7 generations, with the last being the so-called 7th generation released in 2017 and produced until 2022 having featured the same 3-cylinder 1.0L and 4-cylinder 1.6L engines fitted to naturally-aspirated versions of the 6th-generation Polo since 2017, yet the 1.6L was phased out for the Brazilian domestic market in 2022 while it remained available for regional export markets where the displacement-biased taxation enforced in Brazil has no effect. While the recently facelifted Polo lost the naturally-aspirated 1.0L engine in Europe, it was retained in Brazil in order to retain a foothold with the austere buying pattern which kept the Gol relevant locally, which is essential for Volkswagen to try getting rid of the Gol and keep its Brazilian range more alligned with international markets.

Presumably it might be quite risky to phase out the Gol, as it had a good reputation in countries such as Brazil and other regional markets where it had also been a best-seller, including Argentina where it was also made for a while and Uruguay where CKD assembly of the 1st-generation model took place for the local market. On the other hand it's important to notice the Gol emerged in the '80s in a closed Brazilian market where the earliest generations of both the Polo and the Golf were never officially available, and Volkswagen tried to use as much of the tooling for the 1st-generation Passat as it could, no wonder only the 3rd actual generation initially presented by Volkswagen in 2008 as a 5th generation was the only to finally replace the longitudinal engine layout to a transverse layout which went mainstream on its class in the meantime. Even though Volkswagen in Brazil used to be too much reliant on a more conservative customer base since the time of the Beetle, the reopening of the Brazilian market to imports in '90 was a chance to bring modern models as imports relying on a perceived prestige of overseas models, while it was still relevant to keep the Gol as a budget-oriented model eventually allowing Volkswagen to make a larger profit on the import range exactly because models such as the Golf tended to be always perceived as more prestigious than a Gol, and both the 3rd generation of the Polo brought to Brazil only in sedan bodystyle and the 4th generation made locally in hatchback and sedan bodystyles struggled to take the position of the Gol as a local best-seller, and so the 2008 Gol relying on a simplified variant of the very same PQ24 underpinnings of the 4th-generation Polo was an obvious choice for Volkswagen, soldiering on until 2022.

Even though Brazil still has a role as a regional export hub for the automotive industry, it's now facing a fierce competition from China and more recently India on export markets, so it may be quite predictable most efforts to develop models catering specifically to "emerging" markets would be more focused to meet Chinese preferences and accomodate adaptations to RHD markets with India in mind, while there was never any RHD version of the Gol not even when Volkswagen exported RHD Brazilian-made CKD kits to South Africa and Indonesia. Sure a car which still has a rather convenient size for city traffic like the Gol, smaller on the outside than many of its more modern contenders, could be a valuable asset also in the countryside where that very conservative customer base Volkswagen used to have experienced a difficult transition from the rear-wheel drive of the Beetle to the front-wheel drive as the Gol took over. But in the end, considering how the Brazilian customer nowadays may see "emerging" models as if they were inherently "inferior" to other models more closely alligned to international markets with a more advanced technological level, it might turn out to be a quite understandable move to phase out the Gol.