Monday, April 15, 2024

Brazilian 2001 GMT400 GMC 3500HD, actually a rebadged C2500 with the shortbed more often fitted to a 1500

Brazil is far from being easy to understand at all, with its automotive market reflecting so many aspects of the country as a whole. As most of the industrial policies in Brazil tender to be focused on import replacement, and the automotive market had been further affected by severe restrictions to imports which nearly wiped them off Brazil from '76 to '90 for the average Joe, the buying pattern became somewhat more conservative than usual for certain vehicle classes, including full-size pick-up trucks to which evolutions took longer to arrive. And due to economics of scale, region-specific powertrains also had a foothold after imports were allowed once again. That was the case for the Mercosur derivative of the GMT400 generation of the Chevrolet and GMC full-size trucks and SUVs, much simpler than its counterparts made in countries other than Brazil and Argentina.
Available only as RWD because of the cost, and the fact that compact/mid-size trucks took over most of the market share in retail, a regional GMC counterpart to the Chevrolet Silverado also resorted to the regular cab and short bed, with the MWM Sprint 6.07T straight-6 turbodiesel and a 5-speed manual transmission. The regular cab was not much of a big deal for most of those who bought a Brazilian-made full-size truck, considering how aftermarket cab conversions used to be relatively popular until the early 2000s, yet the absence of options such as automatic transmission or 4-wheel drive tended to be covered by grey-imports instead. The usage of a short bed in a 3/4-ton, more associated with the half-tons elsewhere, still reflected not only the imports replacement approach, but also how 3/4-tons took over the market in order to address the minimum payload requirements for 2-wheel drive vehicles to be granted the usage of a Diesel engine since '76, even though the GMT400 was released in '88 for the United States and only arrived in Brazil officially in '97 despite a grey-import presence in the early '90s...
While the GMT400 for Brazil was sourced from Argentina between the '97 and 2000 model-years, in 2000 and 2001 production was transferred to Brazil, and only for the 2001 model-year a GMC model for the retail customer was available, with little success due to the prevalence of Chevrolet. The name 3500HD was meant to reflect a GVWR slightly above 3500kg, which required a commercial driver license in Brazil, yet the yearly tax is lower as it's titled as a truck instead of trucklet for bureaucratic purpose. And even though no half-ton GMT400 was officially available in Brazil at that time, so the economics of scale could still favor a longer bed, the frame being a carryover from the previous C/K generation instead of the same of its USDM equivalent dictated the shorter bed to retain the short wheelbase.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Why should've Volkswagen kept the air-cooled boxer engine for a longer time in Brazilian front-engined models at least as an option?

Volkswagen used to be the best-selling automaker in Brazil for some decades, with some models having been developed specifically for the regional market, such as a 2-door bodystyle in the 2nd generation of the Parati compact station-wagon, in a time when Brazilians were starting to become more favorable to 4-door cars in the mid-'90s despite a more conservative part of Volkswagen's local customer base still being more fond of the 2-door models. That was also a time when 1.0L-engined cars became prevalent due to a more favorable (or less unfavorable) taxation, which former president Itamar Franco amended to allow air-cooled engines up to 1.6L to be eligible for the same benefit which remains in effect for the water-cooled 1.0L engines. Much has changed regarding engine technology, and some approaches such as 4 valves per cylinder which failed in the '90s due to poor maintenance became more usual in recent years, but a more "dumbproof" engine such as the good old air-cooled boxer could've soldiered on a little more...
While the 1.0L engines were much more relevant in Brazil than in other regional Latin American export markets, from the 16-valve which was the only within its displacement bracket fitted to the Parati to the 8-valve which soldiered on for longer in the Gol, and export markets favored 1.4L through 1.6L engines much more, eventually the air-cooled boxer would still remain more relevant in Brazil had the lower tax bracket remained effective after '96 in that very same context of "People's car" which led to the rise of the 1.0L class to reach around 70% market share in the early 2000s in Brazil. What has led Volkswagen to give up on the boxer in late-2005 were the Euro-3 emission regulations, mostly concerning the noise, and a lower production volume rendered the investment to make a flexfuel version exclusive to Brazil unjustifiable, as that engine had already been phased out in Mexico in 2003, so the 1.4L 8-valve version of the EA-111 engine effectively took over the role of the air-cooled boxer in commercial vehicles and also had an increase to its presence in regional export markets where the 1.0L would seem even harder to justify. Sure the air-cooled boxer could also seem hard to justify because of its age, yet being such a well-proven powerplant with fewer parts to break would still have its appeal among some buyers who tended to neglect maintenance, and for a front-engined vehicle the improved air flow would lead to a more efficient cooling than in older rear-engined models.
Technically simpler, with a better low-end torque than some 1.0L water-cooled engines which took its role in the "People's car" segment in Brazil, the air-cooled boxer also had its advantages compared to a water-cooled 1.6L straight-4 in longitudinally-engined models such as the 3rd-generation Gol, because a shorter engine which also happened to be lighter tended to weight distribution and decrease structural efforts to the unibody. Of course relying on an aluminium-magnesium alloy was quite troublesome due to cost compared to straight-4 engines with a cast-iron block, not to mention air-cooled engines usually resorting to a richer air-fuel ratio to assist with cooling, even though in a front-mounted application it would eventually be suitable to an oil-assisted cooling more similar to what BMW used to apply to the R-series motorcycles. So, even though the air-cooled boxer was seemingly outdated at a first glance, it still could have soldiered on for longer, at least until Volkswagen got rid of longitudinally-engined cars in Brazil only in 2013...