Venturing into part four of the Pictorial History of the Brazilian Car, a five part series, brought to you by our boy in Brazil, Marcelo de Vasconcellos, we finally get into times where most of our readers were alive. Part one one took you back to the beginnings, part two did let you revisit the turbulent 60s. Part three took your to Brazil’s malaise years, with nothing more than facelifts. This part takes you to …
Earthquakes around the world, earthquakes in Brazil. The Soviet Union died but the Worker’s Party gained traction in Brazil. The first part of the decade was a repeat of the 80s with a new cruel twist. Now people not only didn’t have money, they didn’t have jobs either.
Fernando Henrique Cardoso became President. He launched a series of measures known as the Real Plan that finally killed inflation. Then he went on a path of liberalization that did lead the country onto the road it’s currently travelling. Privatization. Consolidation of democracy. Less government intervention in economy, but much higher taxes. Credit slowly started to become available. By the end of the decade, Brazil was growing like it hadn’t since the 70s.
In the car industry, the earthquake was the end of prohibition of imports. The tariff went as low as 10 percent. That was a come-on: The tariff was raised again to 75 percent. Finally, it settled (and is still there today) at 35 percent. Imports bloomed. Ferraris again could cruise the streets. Rich folk once again had access to Mercedes and BMW. Ayrton Sena himself went into agreement with VW and started to import Audis. Backed by his impressive popularity (Brazilians know he’s the best F1 pilot ever, no discussion!), Audi outsold their rivals hand over fist. Toyota woke up from its slumber and first imported the Corolla, then built it locally. Honda followed in their rivals footsteps. Renault led the French assault and soon set up shop, too.
Of course there were some flops. Lada came and went. So did Suzuki, Daihatsu, Mazda and a host of others. The Koreans timidly came, some stayed (Hyundai, Kia), some packed their bags (Daewoo, Asia). They would only show their true strength in the 00s.
This was the glory decade for GM. After decades of slumber, relying solely on the 60s Opala and the 70s Chevette, suddenly GM was offering the Corsa (above).
Followed by the Astra.
And the Vectra, which quickly substituted the Monza as the new dream car for the high middle class.
The creme de la creme of the Opel-buffet was the Omega. Last of a breed, the last really large car built in Brazil, the stuff of enthusiasts’ wet dreams, a real muscle car, I want to cry.
Wiping the tears off my face, I even throw in a picture of its engine. 3.0 with 6 cylinders, the likes of which have abandoned our shores, never to be produced here again (there goes another tear.)
The S10 and the Blazer inaugurated a new segment in Brazil. Wow! All on par with the best GM offered in America. Well, except for some of the punier engines. Nomatter, the market reacted with ethusiasm. GM grew like never before. It even took first place in sales. With magic or not. This GM, the one that happened in Brazil in the 90s, I respect. The GM of before that decade and the GM currently peddling its wares in Brazil are but a shadow of this once great car company.
While GM thrived, VW withered. VW insisted on living off the Gol and derivatives (with new designs and revised versions of old engines) and an aging Santana.
Anything new? Oh yeah, finally the Golf reached our shores. In its fourth generation iteration. Sadly, it remains in said iteration till this day! Who are we? China?
Volkswagen received the proper punishment for its sins: VW’s market share dropped and dropped and dropped. GM first and later Fiat took over first place a couple of times.
Ford, after a weak 80s, a tumultuous alliance in Brazil with VW called Autolatina (which served only to benefit VW and weaken Ford), a crushing strike which brought production to a grind and poisoned relations in the company for years to come, at the end of the 90s Ford could proudly and rightfully proclaim: We survived! Here’s what they did to remain relevant in Brazil. They launched the Fiesta.
Then came the Ka, which after a couple of years in the market gained a more striking backside. It seems Brazilians like a little extra booty. After a nip and tuck, the car sold better. They started importing the Ranger. Later, they built it in Argentina, which renders it for all intents and purposes a Brazilian car – for customs purposes and intents, I jest, I jest!
Ford imported the Mondeo, even the Explorer.
Ford tried hard to please the market. There is, however, one way to thoroughly p.o. a market: ask too much money. Ford’s offerings offered less for more money. This lead to some mistakes, i.e. excessive cost-cutting that gave the interiors the charm of a jail cell. This turned off traditional Ford buyers, and did not attract news ones fast enough.
After some hesitation, Ford atoned for its mistakes. By the end of the decade, interiors were at least back up on par with others. This lesson however would not stop them from repeating the same mistake when they launched the EcoSport, which sold very well, but could have done even better if the inside would have been a little more welcoming. Ford launched new engines. They gradually overcame the rumors they were leaving Brazil (rumors which had assaulted and set them back for much of the 80s). They slowly adjusted their line and settled into fourth place. Too comfortably. Many of my friends had Fords in the 80s. Later, no one I knew had a Ford.
The 90s was the decade when Fiat finally grew up. Tired of a single digit market share in the 70s and much of the 80s, Fiat stepped on the accelerator. They passed Ford. They passed GM. As the 90s closed, Fiat vied neck on neck with VW for first place (with GM in a close third, sometimes second).
The 90s saw Fiat launch the Tempra. It introduced a bunch of firsts in the Brazilian car industry, such as the delicious turbo version pictured above.
Fiat’s Tipo would be the most sold car in Brazil for a couple of months in 1995 and 1996 – very cool car, I always wanted one but this one is one of those that got away.
The pace of the market quickened. Fiat was one of the fastest to react. Later in the decade Fiat introduced the Brava.
The Brava was followed by the Marea. Both had mixed results, the market seemed to prefer the Tempra and the Tipo.
The Tempra and Marea would mark Fiat’s advances to more affluent clientele. Some would approve, some would wrinkle their noses. Finally, it was no longer considered an embarrassment to be seen in a Fiat. Fiat would also try to re-introduce Alfa Romeo in Brazil. That effort would be in vain.
More successful for them was the Palio family launch. I remember well, for the world estréia was in my hometown and extended all the way to Ouro Preto (the drive from Belo Horizonte to that beautiful colonial city served as the journalists’ test-drive). All of downtown was blocked for most of the morning. Utter chaos!
As successful as the Palio may have been, it has never taken over first place from the Gol (which was its intended goal at launch), though it did give the VW a run for its money many times. The Palio was exported to many countries in the Southern hemisphere and many of those in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia (eventually they would be fabricated all over the world, too). The Palio even made its way back to Italy and other countries in Western Europe. Above is a picture of a snorkeled Palio hatchback rallying in Turkey.
The Palio was an energetic father, it sired a huge number of offsprings. Above is the Siena.
The Palio Adventure, for urban cowboys.
And the Strada. Taken together with all derivatives, the Palio has sold (and still sells) more than the Gol family (Parati, Saveiro). So in a way, the Palio is the de facto market leader (in terms of business costs it surely is).
Besides Fiat’s rise, the biggest news from the 90s was the entrance and consolidation of Japanese and French car companies. Toyota started building the Corolla.
Honda built the Civic.
Both the Civic and the Corolla would (a couple of years and redesigns later) take from GM’s Vectra that place of honor that rests in the garage of a middle class Brazilian.
Renault chose to build the Clio (my brother had one exactly like that, while I had one just like that, too, but in black – sweet 1.6 16 v engine!)
Renault also brought the Scènic, which introduced the minivan to Brazil. Mother had one, previous generation, in green. Oftentimes she proclaimed it was the best car she ever had – God bless her soul. Both cars were great hits, at least for a while.
Peugeot chose to make do only with its very successful 206.
All of these companies imported a host of other cars from their first world model range, too.
In the early 90s, Brazil would blow the door to imports wide open. As the 90s wore on, the growing market share of imports would force the government to slowly close the door again (though they could never close it completely shut).
Seeing an opportunity and taking advantage of the tax wars that engulfed Brazilian states at the time, Renault opened a factory in Paraná state. PSA would do the same in Rio de Janeiro state. Toyota and Honda would open facilities in São Paulo state. Even the old-timers took advantage of the situation and opened new factories to take advantage of the special conditions and also run away from São Paulo’s increasingly aggressive unions. VW started a new factory in Paraná state. GM opened a new factory in Rio Grande do Sul, while Ford opened theirs in Bahia state. All successful.
In terms of new factories, there were some failures. Land Rover bought the old Karmann place in São Paulo from VW to build the Defender. It’s closed now. Chrysler tried to enter the market again. They opened a facility in Paraná to build the Dakota. After the merger with Daimler, the Germans shut that down. Chrysler left Brazil as a manufacturer for a second time. How much damage did that do to their image? Daimler also decided to shut down Chrysler’s joint-venture with BMW (called Tritec) to make engines for the first generation of modern BMW Minis in Paraná state. Daimler failed miserably with a white elephant of a factory still open in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais state. Built to build 50 thousand cars a year, it’s been open for almost 20 years now, and still hasn’t reached that level.
Hyundai was another failure (at least in that decade). Some wounds they received in those days are still open and bleeding. They are still in a court battle with the Brazilian government over a problem from the 90s. Asia, an independent Korean car company at the time, received incentives from the government to build a factory. They went bankrupt before they could get to work on it. Hyundai absorbed Asia. The government is suing Hyundai to get their money back. Hyundai says it’s not their problem.
This concludes part four of the Pictorial History of the Brazilian Car. Mark your calendar next Saturday for the final and crowning episode.