The Truth About Cars » Marcelo de Vasconcelos The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:36:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Marcelo de Vasconcelos UAW: Brazil Has It Better Than America Thu, 01 Nov 2012 14:07:45 +0000

According to the Brazilian enthusiast site webmotors, the UAW has come on down for the São Paulo Auto Show for the first time ever. Could it be that they were interested in checking out the product specialists?

Officially, no. The UAW is hard at work researching how and what factors drive Brazilian consumers to buy the cars they do. More specifically, the UAW wants to know if Brazilians consider or would be willing to consider work relations and conditions as factors in their decision.

Ginny Coughlin, the UAW representative in Brazil declared to “The future of the car industry is in Brazil. As purchasing power has risen over the last ten years, everyone wants in on the opportunities.”

The Federação Nacional dos Metalúrgicos (or, National Federation of Steelworkers), the Brazilian union, is helping out the UAW on this endeavor. João Cayres, the Federation’s International Relations secretary, stresses that they want to build awareness in Brazilians of the conditions under which their cars are built.

Case in point: Salaries. São Paulo area workers are the Germans of the Brazilian car industry. On average they earn twice as much as workers in other areas. Cayres likes the still Swedish Volvo trucks as the company that pays the best. According to him, those who sweat under the Italians at Iveco (Fiat’s truck arm) get the lowest salaries of all.

UAW’s Coughlin likes what she sees in Brazil and doesn’t like what she sees a home. Coughlin  bemoans that “America is going off in the opposite direction of Brazil. Income distribution is worsening as are work conditions.” She attributes that to the fact that unlike Brazil, U.S. labor laws are local and automakers actively take steps to block unionization. She also complains that temp workers are hired in a de facto permanent condition (without their corresponding rights), maternity leave is only ten days, workers  don’t have rights to a vacation and bonuses. In Brazil, all workers have 30-day paid vacation, Christmas bonus, severance compensation and up to 5 months of maternity leave.

So, what do you say? Do you consider worker benefits, salaries and conditions when buying a car? Does Coughlin have a point and should the U.S. become more like Brazil?

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Marcelo’s Multi-Picture Report From The São Paulo Auto Show Thu, 25 Oct 2012 13:00:56 +0000 Brazil is now the world’s fourth largest market. With sales of almost 4 million cars, the magical 5 million mark is not a mirage anymore. Accordingly, São Paulo, Latin America’s second largest city and the economic hub of the country, holds the grandest of the region’s trade shows. Known as the Salão do Automóvel de São Paulo, the fair expects to attract over 750 thousand visitors.

Marking its importance, everybody’s here. From VW’s Martin Winterkorn, to GM’s Dan Akerson and Ford’s Tim Foley, not to mention assorted honchos with names difficult to spell from a host of Asian makers, everybody wants a piece of the bootylicious Brazilian pie. I can’t remember another Saloon in which more stellar members of the rarefied pinnacles of the worldwide car industry were present and making themselves so accessible to the press.

Let’s take a walk through the Salão and see the highlights according to this auto scribe’s humble point of view.

First off, Honda. The big news is that Acura will finally be making the rounds. In 2015 that is. To whet Brazilian appetites, the Japanese maker is showing off the NSX supercar concept. Brazilians are also getting their first gander at the ILX and RDX.

Honda proper is showing their version of the peculiar Brazilian sub-genre known as the aventureiro. Invented by Fiat, it’s nothing more than a visual package to give a regular car some of the cues of an SUV. Honda saw fit to fit its Fit with the treatment. Called the Twist, Honda’s take is maybe too tame for Brazilian tastes. At the show, Honda for some reason thought it appropriate to say that in 2014, the Civic will have a 2.0 engine as an option.

Over to Toyota. The world’s largest car maker decided to tease Brazilian with the best they have to offer elsewhere. They’re showing the 86, the Prius and two concepts: NS4 and Iiimo (with two ii), which they describe as the first tablet car. I’m sorry, but I don’t care. The 86 comes with a Toyota badge, the Prius is promised to be on sale for R$120,000 ($60,000 – look at what protectionism can do for you!). After wowing Brazilians with such potential, the reality sets in as they’re showing what they really sell us – the Etios.

Lexus has a big stand and is showing many cars and concepts. This time, they promise they’re here for real and are ready for the uphill battle against the über Germans. For sale there will be the ES and one, yes one, unit of the LFA. This one unit can be yours for two point nine million reais (one point forty-five million greenbacks)! The price was so big I saw it fitting to spell it out.

Over at Fiat, with not much to show, they decided to bring over the sisters to lend them some prestige and visits. They’re showing the Ferrari 458 and Maserati Gran Cabrio.

Of their own, they show two new versions of the 500, the Cabrio and Gucci versions and the rest of their usual line-up. Nonetheless, a visit to them is worth it, if not for the Ferrari, then for the booth babes. Fiat doesn’t disappoint here and I call them best in show!

On to the French. Renault is having an important year and is making an important launch. They show the face-lifted (in Brazil by Renault’s dedicated design center in São Paulo) Clio. Still the second generation, they get a face in line with their European offerings.

A conceptual Duster, the Juke-inspired Captur and an electric Twizy and Fluence are there to ignite imaginations. Not for us though. What really called my attention at Renault was a Willys Interlagos. This brand-new car is a replica of the first Brazilian sports car. Built by Willys in Brazil from 1961 on, it was done so under license from Renault as it used an Alpine as its base.

We well know that PSA is in trouble in Europe. Looking for some sales from their Brazilian subsidiary, Peugeot is showing the 208. It is aimed at the likes of Punto and Polo, and most comments have been very positive. Citroën’s stand however, is the real attraction. They show off the DS line and their recently launched models. For the first time in South America, Citroën’s all electric, sports car, the Survolt is on display.

To end our European tour, VW. The Germans are showing off all the creativity they can muster using the Up! as a basis. As for concepts, there is the water-proof Buggy Up!, the GT Up!, and the Taigun that forgoes the Up! in its name.

Of course, the regular version of the Up! is there, albeit in Euro-guise. Let’s hope Brazilians are not too disappointed when our simplified version comes out. Also interesting, VW displays its Cross Coupe which can be summed up as VW’s take on BMW’s X6.

The São Paulo show is a big one for the Americans. GM is showing off its new line. The traditional  dependence of GM do Brasil on Opel is in history’s dustbin. Now, GM do Brasil is firmly tied to Daewoo. Regardless of the controversial styling, the cars are gaining lots of conquest sales. More importantly, GM also shows the Onix. This supermini is already in production and differently from the other Daewoo-based cars was developed largely in Brazil (how much I can’t say, but this always an excellent way to gain points with patriotic Brazilians). GM suits are talking of taking on the Gol. Like with the HB20, the Gol as an inspiration is evident in the car’s design. Depending on price (not announced), the car could become a contender for the title of most sold car in Brazil. [Let's just hope the Onix never makes it to germany. It means "oh,  nothing" ion German - B] 

Ford is showing its new stuff, too. The highlight is the new Ford Fiesta. I don’t know if they consulted with Aston Martin, but the car’s fascia is now very British.

Also present and sporting the new family face are the Fusion and the EcoSport. Now in 4WD, the EcoSport is a darling of Brazilian consumers. The Fusion is causing a lot of shock. The first version to arrive boasts a price tag of R$113,00 ($56,500). Isn’t protectionism grand?

Showing that Brazilian engineering isn’t dead, Nissan of all people is showing the Extrem concept. Designed by Nissan’s San Diego, California office, Nissan swears the mechanical bits (1.6 turbo – 1.6 by Renault, turbo by Nissan) were developed in Brazil and shows Nissan’s love for my country (hahaha!). The car could turn into a future mini-SUV/CUV dedicated to fight market darlings EcoSport and Duster and future darlings Taigun and a future Onix-based Chevrolet product.

Finally, Hyundai. The great attraction is the HB20. Developed for Brazil, adaptation has happened fast. So much so that the Koreans are showing they have Brazil down pat and already have an aventureiro dubbed HB20X. Following the script more closely than the Fit Twist, the car sports a jacked up suspension, wider tires, but misses that much loved affectation, the tire mounted out back. Why, oh why, Hyundai? Also, a brand-new, imported i30 and Santa Fe.

Of course, others are here, too. BMW, Mercedes, Kia, the Chinese. The Chinese however are mostly speculation. The Mercedes and BMWs have all been seen elsewhere. Nothing new called my attention at Kia.

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed your visit.

Sao Paulo. Picture courtesy Acura NSX. Picture courtesy Honda Fit Twist. Picture courtesy Toyota 86. Picture courtesy Lexus LFA. Picture courtesy Ferrari 458. Picture courtesy Fiat 500. Picture courtesy Renault Clio. Picture courtesy Renault Captur. Picture courtesy Peugeot 208 GT. Picture courtesy Volkswagen Buggy Up. Picture courtesy Volkswagen Cross Coupe. Picture courtesy Ford Fiesta. Picture courtesy Ford EcoSport. Picture courtesy Nissan Xtrem. Picture courtesy Hyundai HB20. Picture courtesy Chevrolet Onix. Picture courtesy Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 34
Toyota Etios in Brazil: Blasé Market Reaction Makes Toyota Slash Prices Sun, 23 Sep 2012 10:30:56 +0000 Little known to many, Toyota’s first venture out of their home country was in Brazil. Over 50 years ago, they built factory here in which they manufactured a version of their Land Cruiser, called it Bandeirante and kept on building it, unchanged, for almost four decades. When the Brazilian market opened up (ever so slightly) in the 90s, Toyota was relatively quick and soon had a second factory in which they built their Corolla. That was it. Until the Etios arrived.

Convinced by recent policy changes in Brazil that make the life of a car importer miserable unless factories are built on Brazilian soil, Toyota built a new plant near Sao Paulo, and started to crank out its BRIC-car, the Etios. The Etios was originally launched in the eye of BRIC, in India. Now, the car comes to the B. In Brazil, the Etios is aimed at the very heart of the market, the compact car. It already causes heart palpitations.

Last month, Toyota took the car on a road show, dubbed the Etios Connection Experience, exhibiting the sedan and hatch versions at chosen locations in major cities. Brazilian enthusiast site Bestcars  reported that Toyota was fishing for pre-orders during the roadshow, saying that the car would cost between R$35,000 and R$48,000 (US$17,500 to US$24,000), depending on engine and trim level.

Presumably, Toyota did not get of pre-orders it hoped for, and embarked on a novel marketing strategy. Toyota discounted the price before the car was launched. According to a new Bestcars report, at the official wine and dine fest for the press, Toyota shocked the assembled Fourth Estate by announcing that the car would cost between R$30,000 and R$44,700 (US$15,000 to US$22,350) , depending on engine and trim level, of course, you know the routine.

Instead of rejoicing at the $2,500 deal, the Brazilian motor press pounced on the matter, and said the car is sold cheaper because of its lame design. Says Bestcars:

“Without a doubt, the price reduction is due to the market’s reaction to the model’s static presentation, be it at the Connection shows throughout the country, be it to pictures of the car divulged through the press.”

All I can say is that I went to one of these shows and the car’s design is, at best, quaint. As Bestcars put it after their test drive:

“It is not easy to fall in love with the Etios’ design. The car reminds one of models from the 80s and 90s, with details of questionable taste like the grille and lights. They are similar to a Logan, and this is far from being a compliment.“

The center mounted instrument cluster appears to be universally hated by the press. Otherwise, the car does not seem to elicit strong emotions. An ambivalent Bestcars says that the manual five speed is precise and has good throws, but is not brilliant. The acceleration is acceptable, but nothing to brag about. Noise levels are fine, but exist. Steering is correct, but rather numb. Braking is progressive, but… must we say more?

Only the car’s India-proof suspension makes journalistic hearts beat a little faster. According to the reviews, the Etios handles the (bad) roads of Brazil quietly and competently, but is never too hard. Bestcars says the set-up is robust and well-adjusted to Brazilian conditions and that the car will probably last a long time.

Despised by the pundits, boring design, driving dynamics out of a lullaby, built to last, and already $2,500 less?

Toyota could have a winner.

After all, Renault is setting new sales records in Brazil with its likewise maligned Logan & Co. 

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International Crisis Reaches Brazil. Government Action Knocks Prices Down. Wed, 30 May 2012 16:12:05 +0000
Brazil has historically been a difficult place to do business. The government keeps foreigners out as best as it can, and that extends to vehicle importers as well. In the car business, you are welcome to market your wares as long as you build locally. Imported cars have always been expensive, and the costs are set to rise, as the government has taken new measures that affect both local makers and importers. Read this very closely before you ask for import restrictions into your country.

On Monday, May 21, Finance Minister Guido Mantega announced a series of measures. A 14 percent drop in car sales, a record high 5.7 percent delinquency rate on car payments and an average of more than 40 days to move the metal were some of the justifications for the intervention. I wouldn’t call you a cynic if you believed that this action was taken mainly because the automotive industry is famous for its lobbying prowess and politics. Local elections are right around the corner, and the government finds itself in the middle of a debilitating scandal involving public contracts. A McCarthy-style Investigative Commission has been set up in Congress, and the circus act is on full swing in Brasilia. Most analysts agree that this commission will most likely get results about as valuable as McCarthy’s.

With some close races to be had, especially in the all-important city of São Paulo, which to the glee of our politicians holds the third largest purse in the country, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to imagine the automotive industry threatening mass firings and a government cowed into spreading some cheer, divert attention from its troubles and avoid unemployment and loss of votes.

Measures included in the government’s pacote de bondades, as the Brazilian media likes to call such things,  involve cutting taxes. The Minister mentioned that the government will pass up 2.1 billion reais in uncollected taxes. Cars will now incur less IPI (Tax on Industrialized Products,) measured according to displacement, vehicle class, its fuel requirements and country of origin. As a peace offering to OEMs that import, rather than build locally, imports will also benefit from lower taxes – as long as they have a displacement of 2000 cc or less (see tables below). Supposedly that’s for ecological and economic reasons.

A cut in the IOF (Tax on Financial Operations) was approved to stimulate consumers to take more credit and pay longer plans. This way, more costumers will be in a condition to get themselves into further trouble, I mean, take on more debt. Previously, consumers paid an IOF of 2.5 percent a year. This has been cut to 1.5 percent.  Imagine that instead of taking the interest of your alleged home equity loan off your taxes, you would have to pay additional interest to Uncle Sam. Inconceivable? Welcome to Brazil.

Banks will also have to make fewer compulsory deposits. This will free up about 18 billion reais for the banks to apply in long-term financial operations. According to the Central Bank, this figure represents 10 percent of all the credit available in the car segment.

Cars produced locally or in Mercosur or Mexico
Category/Displacement Fuel New IPI Tax Previous IPI Tax
Up to 1.0L Any 0% 7%
Between 1.1 and 2.0L Ethanol and flex fuel 5.50% 11%
Between 1.1 and 2.0L Gasoline 6.50% 13%
Above 2.0L Any 25% 25%
Commercial Vehicles Any 1% 4%
Cars Imported from countries other than Mexico and Mercosur
Category/Displacement Fuel New IPI Tax Previous IPI Tax
Up to 1.0L Any 30% 37%
Between 1.1 and 2.0L Ethanol and flex fuel 35.50% 41%
Between 1.1 and 2.0L Gasoline 36.50% 43%
Above 2.0L Any 55% 55%
Commercial Vehicles Any 31% 34%

In Minister Mantega’s explanation, he warned that the IPI reduction would be valid only until August 31. At that point, he seemed like any small time dealer shouting, “Buy now!” on TV. The IOF tax and reduction on compulsory deposits are good for an undetermined amount of time. He stressed that makers had agreed to sacrifice for the good of the country and agreed to reduce list prices anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 percent depending on model. Buyers of imported cars above 2 liters are out of luck. They keep paying a dizzying 55 percent tax on their cars.

As analysts have pointed out, delinquency on car loan payments has almost doubled from a year ago. That means many consumers are already strapped for cash and heavily in debt. The Minister stressed that the government expected its measures to trigger a reduction of around 10 percent in prices for cars in the 1.0L category. For the higher displacement cars expectations hovered around a 6 to 8 percent drop. Also, the lowered IOF and easier credit would naturally lower interest rates, extend the number of installments and reduce the necessary outlay demanded by each installment.

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Peugeot 301: Low Cost, This Time With Style Sat, 26 May 2012 11:59:58 +0000 As evidenced in Matt Gasnier’s most excellent series, the Renault/Dacia/Logan/Sandero/Duster/Lodgy is making waves throughout the world. In a way, the multiple personality car is even present in North America, albeit under a Japanese kimono. Unbeknownst to most up there, when they buy a Nissan Versa, what they are getting is some solid Franco-Romanian engineering with some Japanese know-how thrown in for good measure.

But what is a Logan? And why is it so important?

The Renault/Dacia Logan family is a worldwide hit. Let’s take a look at just how big it is. I’ll be using Matt’s numbers to prove it. Matt’s latest article tallied up the 100 best selling cars all over the world in Q1 2012. The Logan came in at number 46 with 81,158 sales. The Logan-hatch (Sandero) ranks in at 54 (72,278 sales). The Logan-SUV/CUV (Duster) is in position 81 (52,514 sold). There is also the very recently launched Logan-minivan (Lodgy) that managed 117 sales in its first month of sales (March) in France. The Logan family produced a grand total of 206,067 little Logans. As they’re all basically the same car, that total would put them in 4th place worldwide! Just for the sake of argumentation, if one included the Nissan Tiida/Versa/Sunny to the ‘family’, it would take first place from the Corolla. Quite an accomplishment for a solidly unpretentious car developed (largely) by a little known Romanian company.

Numbers aside, the Logan was a quiet revolution. It has prattled the market by offering a B-segment size vehicle with a palpable larger car ride at traditional A-segment prices. It is a hit because it offers (not just) third world denizens a valuable commodity. Room, and thus comfort. The Logan’s wheelbase is longer than a Corolla’s, but the pricing… In Germany, the car became a hot during the cash for clunkers times: A clunker, government largesse and a little pocket change translated into a new car. In Brazil at least it starts off at less than half a Corolla’s price, and I’m pretty sure that would hold true the world over. With it, you get more than enough space to take your family of 5 plus their luggage. It offers a solid ride and dowdy styling. The styling (as it were) is there to cheapen production costs and keep that price down.

In Brazil, Chevrolet has taken a page out of that book and launched the Cobalt (no relation to the American version), with a similarly square style and the bowtie brand  (at least in Brazil it’s still worth something). Fiat has grown its Siena in all dimensions, called it Grand and insists the design is its differential. I don’t quite believe, but yes they did, they’re adamant about it!  Nissan, Renault’s partner, also got into the act and offers the famous Versa of more back seat legroom than a Bimmer 5 Series (though as an unfortunate side effect of the ‘better’ styling there is headroom only for kids back there!), which wears it Japaneseness on its sleeve and offers that to consumers as its selling point.

Soon, Toyota will jump into the fray with its Etios. The Etios will offer absolutely no styling, but ample internal room and, of course, the brand.

Peugeot then has had a long time to study this successful car and segment. Peugeot has come to the conclusion that its sedan version of the 207 quite lacking. It lacks space, it lacks price and to me at least it sorely lacks style. The car is called Passion, which is strange since it is a car singularly incapable of provoking that feeling.

So now we come to the 301. With it, Peugeot offers the same kind of space as the Logan, hopefully with a similar price, but Peugeot also banks its raison d’être on style. Take a look at the pictures. In them you can see some thought has gone into the design. The new car will sport the new corporate mug. Out are the gaping maw and the feline eyes. In are a more restrained grille and squarish lights.

Square seems to be the name of the game. In the back the 301 is quite square. For developing world consumers the car trunk houses 506L worth of bags. It’s a big car in all dimensions. Its wheelbase is 2.65 m long. Longer than a Jetta, and it beats the Logan’s by a hair. In length, it stretches to 4.44 meters. All very much in the general ethos of the segment. That length makes it longer than the Logan, shorter than the Cobalt, Versa, or, for that matter, Jetta, Corolla or Civic.

The 301will be moved by two gasoline engines and a diesel. The gasoline engines will displace 1.2L (3 cylinders, 72hp), or a more healthy 1.6 (115hp). The diesel is a 1.6 that makes all of 92 horses.

According to Brazilian enthusiast site (BTW, all numbers presented here taken from that source and also, the car will initially be built in Spain. It will be launched at the Paris Salon de l’Automobile in September, and sales will begin in November. Sorry my dear North Americans, you can’t touch this. If you live in Turkey, Greece, Central and East Europe, the Ukraine, Russia, Gulf States, Middle East and selected African markets, you’ll be able to put your paws on the newest baby lion by the end of the year.

In Latin America, this car will offered in ‘some markets’. Brazil of course, with its great acceptance and tolerance for largish sedans of simple construction will surely be among them. Peugeot do Brasil, much like a lion slumbering in the noon-day tropical sun, has been quite lethargic of late. Expect this car in a dealer near  me sometime in mid 2013.

Oh, one more thing. The transmissions. Peugeot talks of automatic and automatized options. However, as you can see in the interior shot, the car has 3 pedals, even though the stick looks an awful lot like an automatic one. Maybe this is Peugeot’s revolutionary differential that will set it apart in this quietly revolutionary segment?


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JAC ix35, Sorry JAC Q5, No It’s The JAC SII Wed, 18 Apr 2012 14:17:51 +0000 The Beijing Car Show is the one to watch for Brazilian car aficionados. Though we drool and slobber over at what’s shown at NAIAS or in Paris, Brazilians must look elsewhere to see what’s coming to local showrooms. The New Delhi car show had some cars of interest, now it’s the Beijing show a Brazilian must watch.

Case in point, the all-new JAC SII. With a styling strongly reminiscent of a Hyundai ix35 (née Tucson) in front, and more than a passing resemblance to an Audi Q5 in the back, it should be available soon in Brazil. Though the styling is, shall we say, derivative, some of the technology available is quite surprising. According to Brazilian car enthusiast site, this SUV sports a force-fed 1.5L engine (good for about 120 hp) and a double-clutch transmission.

It looks like this maker will carry on the proud Chinese tradition of lookalikes. The only Chinese jeep sold in Brazil is the Chery Tiggo, which looks like an old Honda CRV in the front and a Toyota RAV4 in the back. As SUVs are all the rage in Brazil and this car should undercut the competition in price, it’s very possible they’ll wrangle some sales. At least they are creative in their designs and mix up  strong genes from two or three hapless donors  in the same car!

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New Or Used In Brazil: Car Shopping Tips For Gringos Fri, 13 Apr 2012 14:46:51 +0000

Welcome to New Or Used Without Borders, where the international team of TTAC answers your intercontinental car shopping questions.

Robstar asks:

My wife & I are about to have our first child in December.  We visit Brazil (SJC, SP) typically twice per year to see my wife’s relatives. Usually each trip lasts about a month (I’m only there the last week or two).  My wife has talked to me about possibly buying a car in Brazil because of our frequent travel there and our need to get around with an infant/toddler.  During past visits, I drove or we took the bus together.  Now that she’ll be taking an infant with her, she wants to be able to drive herself when I’m not there.  We are also worried about safety using public transportation — A single mother & a baby/infant who may speak English at an inopportune time may appear to be an easy target for criminals.  In any case, our current transportation options won’t work because they are not automatic & not as safe in an accident as we’d like.

Our current options are:

1974 (IIRC) VW Beetle with a 4 speed, 1.5L, 40′ish hp.  — Not in any way safe enough for the baby.

2004? 2005? VW Polo, 5-speed, 1.8L.  Not sure on HP but I’d guess it’s 90′ish ? 100?  — 5 speed.

We are trying to decide if we want to buy new, or have my father-in-law help us look for something used.  I’ve asked my wife about renting, but it’s not safe to leave an unsecured car outside overnight (and my in laws don’t have a gate secured spot in their house for a third car).  I don’t think my brother-in-law would be opposed to an upgrade of his Beetle, so that is what we’ll most likely do.

 Here are our requirements in order of need … (Listed in the response.)

Marcelo answers from Brazil:

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey, I went for a walk..” California dreaming. I caught myself humming this song as I read your query. It made me dream of California and the USA. Ah! What a country! One in which we can get a gargantuan car, laden with safety features for a paltry fee. Unfortunately, you ask too much from our still infant market. Let me try to help you as best I can.

1) It must be automatic/reliable — If it isn’t automatic my wife can’t drive it.  Dealerships/service should be common in the SJC area.

Let’s lump that together with:

9) Cost should be under $30.000,00 reais.  That is $17,500 US according to Google.  If it was that price we’d have to finance, but if it was 1/2 of that we could pay cash.

Sorry, you’re out of luck. No brand-new car meets those two requirements in Brazil. The closest you’ll get is a Renault Logan. With 1.6 16v engine (110hp), it can be had with a full 4-speed automatic. But it’ll set you back R$41,320. There are some other possibilities like a Fiat Grand Siena Essence (1.6L 16V, 116hp) for R$45,590 and VW Voyage (1.6L, 102hp) for R$46,600. Sadly, in terms of automatic cars, that’s the closest you’ll get. Bear in mind that only the Logan is fully automatic. Both the Fiat and the VW have so-called automatized transmissions. What this means is that the car shifts the gears itself, but all the mechanical bits are still there. Though cheaper and easier to maintain than a true automatic, there are real drawbacks. The main one is that you should drive it like a manual. In other words, every time you sense a gear change coming, you should lay off the accelerator or you’ll be rewarded with a very noticeable bump.

The Logan is bigger than its rivals. It has a wheelbase longer than a Corolla, for example, which makes for more internal space than you get in a Civic or Cruze. The trunk is good for 510L. The Voyage is the smallest, think New Ford Fiesta size, while the new Grand Siena falls somewhere in between, though its trunk is larger than even the Logan’s.

As to the price, I’d fully expect to knock off at least 2 or 3 grand if I were paying cash.

In terms of support and maintenance, all 3 brands have an extensive presence in Brazil, though Renault’s network is smaller. As you’ll mainly be in São Paulo, no biggie. In terms of reliability all these cars are considered good. The Renault might be a little more expensive parts-wise, but the insurance is usually lower than for the other cars, which should off-set that pretty much. Now, you probably will not be able to serve these cars at your friendly neighborhood mechanic. Chances are he won’t know how to deal with automatic or even automatized cars. There are good indie shops though who could probably do a good job. There is a Bosch Service network of shops for example. If you need the dealership…

Your best bet would be the Renault as it offers a 3-year warranty. Both Fiat’s and VW’s is just for a year.

2) It must be something that has very high safety features, especially if the vehicle is involved in a crash — This is one of the main points of the purchase.

The Fiat Grand Siena comes with airbags and ABS in this version. It also offers side bags and window bags for extra dough. The Voyage comes with airbags and ABS, but only offers side bags for more. The Logan comes with 2 airbags, but doesn’t offer ABS, side or window bags even as an optional. However, the Logan is made to sell worldwide so maybe you’d like to take that into consideration. It is sold in Western Europe. Now, both the Grand Siena and Voyage are strictly emerging market cars. Take that as you may.

3) It must not scream “money!” or “foreigner!”. It has to “blend in.” I think this rules out anything Japanese, Korean, German, ALL SUV’s, ALL minivans, etc — We are trying not to be car-jacked or kidnapped.

The Fiat Grand Siena is at launch. So it will call people’s attention. The Voyage and Logan have been around for a while, but thieves seem to have a thing for VWs in Brazil. The Logan is very low key. This is reflected in the insurance for these cars. As for used minivans see below.

4) It should be easy to insure — We’ll buy full coverage, so we want it to be somewhat affordable.

The Logan can be insured for the lowest rates in the market. You’ll probably be quoted a little less than R$1,000. The Voyage will cost a bit more than R$1,200 and the Grand Siena is so new it doesn’t have any on-line quotations yet. Expect something similar to the Voyage.

5) It should be easy to get an infant/toddler in and out of.  My wife is about 5’2″ or so…. keep that in mind.

Again, the same order of ease due to the cars’ size. The Logan is tall and wide. The Voyage is the lowest and narrowest. The Grand Siena falls in between. Since I am in a similar situation to yours and own a Logan, I can recommend this car to you. We fit our baby seat very easily into the car and (almost) never bang the baby’s head when getting him into and out of the car. Head, shoulder and leg room in the Logan is the best, followed By Grand Siena and Voyage.

6) It should have at least 4+ doors (hatch ok, wife prefers sedans)

All cars I recommended have four doors. I recommend them over their hatch brethren not for the doors, but for the trunk. Again, I own a Logan. In it, I can put our baby’s stroller and we still have room to spare for some luggage. The Logan’s trunk is quite square (the wheel wells interfere very little) and that helps a lot. The Siena’s trunk is bigger by a hair, but as the car is narrower the shape is not quite so baggage-friendly. The Voyage is smaller by a good margin. All of the cars have goose-hinge arms. The Logan’s disadvantage here is that it’s the only one whose back seat does not recline.

7) It should get decent gas mileage.

Though I have no experience with these automatic or automatized cars, I would expect anything from 6.5 to 7.5 km/l in heavy city driving. If you choose to fill up with ethanol, expect around 30% less mileage. Highway driving should return in the range of 11 to 14 km/l. The Renault is famous for being economic in the city, though its shape doesn’t do it any favors on the highway. Overall, I’d expect the Voyage to be the most miserly, the Logan in second and the Grand Siena would trail.

BTW, factory numbers are based on such an unrealistic test standards to render them (almost) completely worthless.

8) It should have a free/cheap yearly registration.  If not we can live with it, but something way less than the Polo (800?900 reais/year) and greater than the fusca (free) would be what we are expecting.

Yearly registration is of 4% of a car’s price. Should you buy in December, you’d have to pay 1/12 of 4% of the price you effectively pay for the car. Buying in January you’ll pay 4% of the price you effectively pay.

Should you buy used it could be the yearly tax has already been paid, so you wouldn’t have to. The tax is 4% of the price of the car on the list as compiled by Fipe (though I don’t know how they arrive at the numbers they do because nobody ever pays full Fipe price).

If we go used, we’ll need resources we should be looking for.  Is there a equivalent in Brazil?  Should we just look in the newspaper?  Is there such thing as “CPO” in Brazil?  How is title transfer done?  What is the most secure way to do a used transaction? Is it common to get to test drive the car?  Do banks finance used/new cars to non-residents?  Would we better off selling a vehicle here to pay in cash or the equivalent?

If you go used you can start hunting at such sites such as You could also look at the on-line versions of local newspapers. Of course, there will be some sites specialized in São Paulo, you should check that.

CPO programs are not offered by all makers in Brazil. However, even some run-of-the-mill makers have them. Such as Chevrolet with its ‘Siga’ program. If you buy from a dealership, normally they provide full-guarantee for 90 days. You could buy from an indie shop. Though the law states that they have the same legal responsibility as the dealers, getting them to honor it can be close to impossible. There are some serious ones out there, but if I were you, a foreigner, I’d have second, third and fourth thoughts. Should you buy from a private seller, you’re buying ‘as is’. They have no legal responsibility.

Please bear in mind that this kind of buying can be tricky even for a local. Titles sometimes are not clean, sometimes you end up buying a cloned car or even one that’s been judicially alienated. Also, tickets stick to the car, so after a while you could find yourself responsible for something you didn’t do. Dealers usually offer clean, legal cars. Indie shops can be tricky. If you go private all bets are off. Always check the car at the DETRAN (the local DMV), but even so something could crop up.

Safety is also important to you. It is not unheard of for private sellers and indie shops to not replace the airbags of a car that’s been in a crash. But they turn off the warning light. Buying used in Brazil can be a hassle, if you get even a whiff of suspicion run.

As that other song says, “This is not America, lah, lah, lah, lah”.

Banks finance cars to residents. To get a line of credit, you’d have to show proof of residence, ID and proof of your income. I think it’d be hard for you to get credit as a foreign national, but that’s where your in-laws could come in handy. I wouldn’t bother though. I’d get credit in America and bring cash. Car loans can be had for anything between 1 and 2%. For a used car, you’d have to pay over 2%. Cheap, you say? That’s PER MONTH. I’m sure you could get much better rates in America.

Lastly, you discarded minivans. Keep in mind that minivans in Brazil are much smaller than those in America. Some of them like a Citroën Picasso, Renault Scènic or Chevy Zafira blend in nicely and don’t call attention. Some came with automatic transmissions, airbags and ABS (but not all, check!). Insurance for them is not so bad. They can handle your baby needs. They may not be as economic in terms of mileage as the cars mentioned above, but they usually offer more.

Happy motoring!

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Who And What Is Moving In Brazil (Not Just To The Rhythm Of Samba) Fri, 06 Apr 2012 13:35:35 +0000

Brazil provides the first letter of BRIC. Without the BRICs, we’d have tombstones for carmakers. How are we keeping the global auto business alive, down here in the Southern Cone? Follow me as I give you the highlights.

According to the well-informed Auto Informe site, of the Brazilian Big 4, only Fiat grew (less than one percentage point) in the first trimester. VW and GM both fell more than 4%, while Ford dropped a little less. This must hurt, especially for GM as they are in the midst of their line-up change. The Cobalt, Cruze and S10 have all been launched. The factory could  have trouble ramping up the production, but GM must be worried that they are still not gaining traction. They must wonder how Fiat is doing it.

Brazil’s Automakers, Q1 2012

Brand Q1 2012 Q1 2011 Share Change
 Fiat 173,540 171,907 22.46% 0.94%
 VW 159,782 167,027 20.68% -4.33%
 GM 136,757 142740 17.70% -4.19%
 Ford 72,622 74,269 9.40% -2.21%
 Renault 52,325 38,338 6.77% 36.48%
 Nissan 27,307 13,396 3.53% 103.84%
 Honda 23,212 27,789 3.00% -16.47%
 Hyundai 21,516 25,095 2.78% -14.26%
 Toyota 21,165 22,019 2.74% -3.87%
 Citroën 16,426 22,367 2.13% -26.56%
 Peugeot 15,578 19,708 2.02% -20.95%
 Mitsubishi 12,095 11,552 1.57% 4.70%
 Kia 10,017 17,330 1.30% -42.19%
 Chery 5,057 2,591 0.65% 95.17%
 JAC 5,029 461 0.65%
 Hafei 3,175 3,618 0.41% -12.24%
Mercedes-Benz 2,175 2,931 0.28% -25.79%
 Land Rover 2,129 1,488 0.28% 43.07%
 BMW 1,888 2,136 0.24% -11.61%
 Suzuki 1,562 1,457 0.20% 7.20%
 Iveco 1,502 1,103 0.19% 36.17%
 Audi 1,056 752 0.14% 40.42%
 Jeep 904 513 0.12% 76.21%
 Dodge 785 671 0.10% 16.98%
 Ssangyong 775 1,123 0.10% -30.98%
 Volvo 758 763 0.10% -0.65%
 Lifan 588 692 0.08% -15.02%
 Mini 568 599 0.07% -5.17%
 Chana 479 - 0.06%
 Subaru 310 692 0.04% -55.20%
 Jinbei 303 129 0.04% 134.88%
 Chrysler 239 177 0.03% 35.02%
 Troller 237 356 0.03% -33.42%
 Smart 146 240 0.02% -39.16%
 Porsche 131 286 0.02% -54.19%
772,749 777,442 100.00% -0.60%

Indeed, Fiat Group has good news considering that the market has fallen by 0.6% (which basically means it’s stagnating) and competition is growing. Here, they’re doing the opposite of Europe and bringing new offerings to the market. Their new Palio, received with some doubts by some specialists, mainly because of sticker shock, has managed to get back in third place in sales. The all new Grand Siena is going on sale this month and will surely help the Italo-American maker. Chrysler’s brands are all up, though their sales are marginal, but they all help the bottom line. Even Fiat’s commercial truck brand, Iveco (though only LCVs are counted in this list), is up by more than 30%.

Another maker that is worried is Ford. While they dropped a little, they are seeing Renault and Nissan slowly creeping up on them. If one takes Renault-Nissan sales as a unit, they are now the fourth biggest in Brazil with combined sales of 10.3%. Renault grew by more than 30% and Nissan, riding on the success of both their new launches, March and Versa, has more than doubled sales.

Further down the ranking, Hyundai-Kia have seen their sales plummet. The new tax slapped onto imported cars has really hurt them. As Brazil and Mexico renegotiate their free trade agreement, all brands importing cars from Mexico are hurting. It now seems there will be quotas instead of free trade. Some makers are facing that by building factories in Brazil (like Nissan). Some makers have put plans on hold. However, this decision will surely hurt those dependent on Mexican production for sales in Brazil.

Of note, Chinese makers. While none of them have managed even a 1% share in our market, Chery and Jinbei (don’t ask me what that is, have never seen one and if I have, I didn’t notice) grew at around 100%. Even Chinese-owned Land Rover grew by almost 50% due to the strength of Evoque sales.

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Fiat’s Future In America And Elsewhere: A Counterpoint Wed, 28 Mar 2012 18:28:11 +0000


Our own Ed Niedermeyer recently penned an excellent and well-thought-out article involving the whole Fiat-Chrysler imbroglio.  Now, I don’t work for Fiat. However, I do live in, arguably, Fiat’s most important production center. You can’t go anywhere without running into someone who works at Fiat. Heck, Fiat owns 50% of the car market in my city!

So, you ask? Well, sometimes I have professional dealings with Fiat people. On occasion, I go to social functions where I mingle with Fiat people from Italy, Brazil, Argentina. Being who I am and what I do, you can well imagine that at these times I drill these people with questions on Fiat and their views. I gather much valuable info on the going-ons at the company. Granted, they come with a Brazilian-sized distortion as the people here are mainly interested in Fiat in this country. However, Chrysler is at the forefront of many of the conversations I have with Fiat guys and gals these days.

As I talk to people at all levels of the company, from high brass to middle managers, I believe I have a window into o mundo da Fiat. Take a journey with me as I sum up what Fiat guys are saying. In off, of course. Just so you know, this summary is an amalgam of what I’ve been told. I kept my two cents out of it. Except for the conclusion. That much is mine.

Fiat-Chrysler management difficulties:

Oh, they’re real. Very real. Some of it has to do with cultures clashing. Others have to do with attitudes. Some guys at Chrysler cannot understand that their boss is now called Luigi and doesn’t speak or understand English very well. This happens up and down the company. Some managers resist the new reality. And some workers cannot wrap their minds around the fact that Fiat is changing everything.

At to shop-floor troubles, Fiat is implementing production changes. Full-scale, Japanese methods inspired changes. It is closely watching the workers and was dismayed at the level of disfunctional processes, methods, work, ideas found in some North American plants. They are aggressively weeding out the bad seeds. They recognize that there are many good, interested, intelligent guys on the line. These guys are being pampered and promoted. But yes, Fiat was surprised that the work ethic (not to mention the quality of the work) was not something easily found in North American factories.

As to management level troubles, suffice to say culture. Don’t want to start a flame war, but some managers really have trouble wrapping their heads around the fact that little, foreign, dark-haired people who have names full of vowels are now calling the shots. Compound that with the fact that sometimes some South Americans are paraded around as examples and go North to make presentations, suggestions and decisions.

Take that as you may. And, no, I have no proof. But I hear this comment all the time.

Fiat-Italian Management Style:

A little crazy. A lot of impromptu decision-making. Makes follow through difficult. But makes things very agile. Quick response to market realities. Though some people call it into question, one must not forget that Italy is Europe’s third largest economy (still?). Bigger than Britain (or was until recently). Yes, they have troubles. Yet they manage to do some things right. Berlusconi was a circus act and gave Italy a bad name. Monti seems much more professional and seems sincere in his efforts to modernize.


Refer above. All the organizational, operational changes have made the launch difficult. Fiat people are mindful that the market is closely watching this launch. They are trying to get the kinks out. Many people in the company prefer it this way. The consumer will not get a “beta version” of the car. People have told me they are mimicking the Linea launch in Brazil. They delayed it over a year. Launch dates came and went (IIRC) six times. By the time the car came out, it had nary a hiccup (though the car is not a hit, their -few- owners are happy and are future buyers and word-of-mouth propagandists of  future Brazilian Fiat larger cars like possibly a Brazilian Dart, or so Fiat do Brasil hopes).


Sergio Marchionne had to cite big numbers. Americans like big numbers. As it is, the car is selling what in reality they expected. Internally, there’s no surprise. It seems to be holding up well and buyers are happy. Akin to Brazil in the Linea’s case, they realize the 500 is gaining but a beachhead in the ole US of A. Because they don’t know if or when or what others products will be launched in America. Though, apparently, the 500L, Panda and Punto are heading Canada’s way soon enough.


They sell about 750,000 cars a year here. The Uno is a hit and giving the 25-year market leader VW Gol a serious run for the money. Their other mission critical car (the Palio family) debuted to some mixed reviews and a lot of price shock. Their new Siena had just been launched. It has been positively reviewed so far, though they’re trying to move it up market, which is always a risky move. It is yet another crucial car to maintain Fiat’s position in the Brazilian market. They sell almost (if not as many cars) here as they do in Italy. They are certainly much more profitable here than anywhere else.

The market now sells 3.5 million cars. Some analysts say this will grow to 5 million in 5 years. How many markets are growing like this? If Fiat keeps their share Fiat could be selling close to 1.25 million cars in Brazil in a few years.

Now for a bit of gossip. Lots of people down here are frustrated. Brazil was Fiat’s golden boy (and cash cow). Now, all eyes are on Auburn Hills. Much money has been diverted and that is surely good for America, but bad for Brazil. However, they have to tread carefully. With Toyota and Hyundai about to launch new products at the entry level, it could well be that Fiat will (almost surely) lose market share. As the market is also not growing this year, they could end up losing absolute sales numbers. Brazil has sustained Europe through thick and thin. Let’s see if they have the ability to not throw the baby away with the dirty water.


Yes, they’re hurting. Exactly because of that, plans have been delayed or frozen. Of course they’re doing a juggling act. If they launch the new cars now, they may sell slowly and lose that novelty factor that so spurs car sales nowadays. The kind of people who buy Fiat cars are spooked right now. They are holding on to their old cars. When the crisis blows over they’ll come back en masse. And because of the crisis they’ll be looking for more affordable cars. Of course you can’t delay forever or the cars will get stale.

Fiat’s Future:

It’s like the man (Marchionne) himself has said over and over. It’s all about the 6 million cars. Pre-crisis Fiat sold around 2.5 million cars worldwide. Chrysler about 4 million. The future was guaranteed.

Along came the crisis. Fiat shed 750,000 sales? Chrysler dropped below 3 million? (Numbers out of my head hence the question marks) That’s why a Mazda, or better yet, Suzuki (who they already collaborate with), are cited all the time. À la Renault-Nissan, they could then be a presence worldwide. Fiat and a little Chrysler in Europe, Chrysler and a bit of Fiat in North America, Fiat and a few Chryslers in South America, Suzuki with a sprinkling of Chryslers and Fiats in Asia. They could then become one of the really big elephants in the proverbial crystal store again (along with Toyota, GM, Ford, VW, Renault-Nissan, Hyundai-Kia and possibly a Chinese group or two).


Lots and lots of question marks. It all depends on how it goes. If Fiat can pacify Chrysler, if the integration of Fiat-Chrysler works, if Americans really buy smaller-engine cars, if the new platforms prove successful, if they keep their position in Brazil and manage to break into Russia and China, if Europe recovers. However, there are good, solid reasons for hope of a better future. Dark clouds abound, but here and there, there are rays of sunshine.

They are well-positioned in some key markets. They’ve established a foothold in North America. They have a big presence and are a player in markets all over the world (except Asia). The cars are more reliable than ever before, yet still manage to be engaging and more fun than some of the competition and most owners are satisfied. Their new engines are renowned and studied and copied by other makers as they really do point a way into an ever more frugal future.

However, do they have the capacity to overcome the difficulties? You can be an optimist or a pessimist, but the reality is… Only time will tell.

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The Cars Brazilians Love. Contest: Catch The Boo-Boo! Sat, 28 Jan 2012 12:50:28 +0000

Ever wonder what Brazilians are buying? Well, Fenabrave (Brazilian Federation of Vehicle Distributors) breaks down the market into 16 rhymeless and reasonless categories (in technical terms). Being that, nowadays, some cars really are difficult to categorize, you could say that this breakdown at least helps you see how dealers market their wares.

Fiat walks away as the winner in 4 categories. Volkswagen and Chevrolet both take 3 wins. Honda leads in 2 categories, while Ford, Hyundai, Renault and Toyota all come out on top once.

The number behind the car is the Brazilian unit sales in 2011. Full listing with pictures after the jump.

Entry Level:
VW Gol – 293.454
Fiat Uno – 273.537
Chevrolet Celta – 149.044
Fiat Palio – 105.794
Ford Ka – 63.764


Small Hatch:
VW Fox and Cross Fox – 121,588
Ford Fiesta – 86,204
Renault Sandero – 81,780
Chevrolet Agile – 73,255
Chevrolet Corsa – 41,954


Medium Hatch:
Fiat Punto – 36.547
Hyundai i30 – 35.717
Ford Focus – 27.611
Chevrolet Astra – 21.554
VW Golf – 15.515


Small Sedan:
Chevrolet Corsa Sedan (Classic) – 125.777
Fiat Siena – 90.167
VW Voyage – 87.210
Chevrolet Prisma – 51.063
Renault Logan – 39.086


Compact Sedan:
Honda City – 24.637
Peugeot 207 – 19.045
Ford New Fiesta – 13.074
VW Polo Sedan – 12.939
Ford Focus – 8.357


Medium Sedan:
Toyota Corolla – 53.147
Honda Civic – 22.962
Kia Cerato – 20.688
VW Jetta – 14.085
Fiat Linea – 12.258


Large Sedan:
Hyundai Azera – 8,412
Hyundai Sonata – 7,757
VW Passat – 2,161
BMW 320 – 1,513
Audi A4 – 1,507


Compact Station Wagon:
Fiat Palio Weekend – 22,853
VW SpaceFox – 20,502
VW Parati – 4,835
Hyundai i130 SW – 3,957
Peugeot 207 SW – 3,135


Large Station Wagon:
Renault Mégane Grand Tour – 9,810
VW Jetta Variant – 1,908
VW Passat Variant – 131


Mini Minivan:
Honda Fit – 28,761
Fiat Idea – 26.053
Chevrolet Meriva – 22.252
Kia Soul – 17.926
Nissan Livina – 16.684


Large Minivan:
Chevrolet Zafira – 7.744 unidades
Citroën C4 Picasso – 5.230
Citroên Xsara Picasso – 4.431
JAC J6 – 2.503
Kia Carens – 810


Small Pickup Truck:
Fiat Strada – 118.579 unidades
VW Saveiro – 71.212
Chevrolet Montana – 45.830
Ford Courier – 7.706
Peugeot Hoggar – 5.655


Large Pickup Truck:
Chevrolet S10 – 42.818
Toyota Hilux – 33.259
Mitsubishi L200 – 22.140
Ford Ranger – 14.988
Nissan Frontier – 13.680


VW Kombi (Bus) – 24,802
Fiat Ducato – 13.415
Hyundai HR – 10.331
Kia K2500 – 10.029
Renault Master – 7.395


Small Van:
Fiat Fiorino – 18,009
Hafei Towner – 5,434
Fiat Doblò Cargo – 4,299
Chana SC – 2,803
Hafei Minivan – 1,683


Ford EcoSport – 38,530
Hyundai Tucson – 18,023
Mitsubishi Pajero – 17,022
Citroën C3 Aircross – 16,717
Honda CRV – 16,282

[Editor’s remark: Marcelo dumped this in my inbox with the advice that I “may want to put some pictures in to illustrate it.” Marecelo, a newly minted dad, suffered from “short time.” It was left to this editor to pick the right picture. Folks, the only thing I know about Brazilians sadly is deemed NSFW.

Picking pictures in a language one does not speak, and from a country where generations of cars can coexist in the showroom, is an engraved invitation for disaster.  Most likely, half of the pictures in tyhis list are wrong.

This is where YOU come in. Right the wrongs! In the comments, please place links to pictures (do NOT post the picture itself) of the correct car (Brazilian spec.) Please peer-review. The one with the most CORRECT links wins the coveted

TTAC Get Out Of Jail Free Card

 The holder of this card may disregard all TTAC commenting rules for a full day. The lucky holder can flame, use dirty words, call us biased all day long – for one day. Obrigado. BS]

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Review: Chevy Cobalt, Brazilian Spec Mon, 16 Jan 2012 20:14:42 +0000 GM do Brasil has been having many problems. Though dearly beloved by many Latin Americans, in Brazil its image has been severely tarnished. When GM promised a slew of new products that would substitute its ageing line, many doubted it. In fact, many doubted GM had it in them anymore. Like a phoenix, GM is being reborn. The new product onslaught is in full swing. First off the bat was the Cruze. Now, Chevrolet is really starting to put on offer its mission-critical small car, the Cobalt. Will it be enough?

First a little background. After a very prosperous and promising 90s, it seemed GM had called it quits in the 00s. Extreme penny pinching eliminated but the most basic forms of engineering and development. The interiors were the most hideous on this side of a Trabant. You get the picture.

GM managed to alienate much of their fan base. GM hit record growth. As they hit lower price points they grew and then grew some more. Even in a market like Brazil, so sensitive to prices, inevitably GM hit a wall. Sales started to fall. People caught on that they were buying the same tired car from 10 years ago. The competition improved by leaps and bounds. GM not only stalled, they seemed to go back. Most people buying the General’s cars were doing so because of the ‘deal’, not because they liked the car. How would GM climb back out the hole it had dug?

To find out, I headed on down to my local friendly dealer to see and drive the Cobalt. To gather some impressions that I’ll now share with all of you.

What first hit me was the back. Big. The Cobalt sports one the largest trunks in Brazil (always good for a people who are big into, well, trunk. It’s a shame then that its space is not all that useful. Though it has great capacity, a lot of this capacity comes from the lid being very tall. As the car is relatively narrow, you may just have to put your bags side by side instead of one on top of the other.

In Brazil, the car is sold with a 1.4 L engine, which is good for 97hp on Brazilian gas or 102hp on ethanol. On the sugarcane juice it puts out 13kgfm of torque. This all means that if you want the car to go, you’ll have to row your gears with competence and keep the revs high. This car weighs little more than one metric ton and this taxes the little engine. Imagine this large car, loaded with baggage in the huge trunk and 3 good size teenagers in the back. Daddy will have to plan his passing and merging gingerly.

GM talks about 0-100km/h times of less than 12 seconds. My highly scientific test methods, laying on the accelerator, and keeping it floored until the shrieks of the salesman makes me slow down, make me believe in something around 14 to 15 seconds. If GM is to be believed, this car will, with a backwind and an endless straightaway at sea level, get to 170km/h. The torque available for such a small engine is nice and it feels like that there is some at lower rpms. Like Americans often times repeat, there is no replacement for displacement and miracles are rare to come by. My short test drive showed me that you will need to rev, but this little engine does not rev as freely as other small engines I’ve tested. It becomes gruff and complains as the revs go up.

Alas, my test drive was limited. Worried that my unwilling partner was going to hit me after a few short bursts of acceleration, I couldn’t test it in the curvies or broken pavement. If you believe what the press is writing though, it does feel solid. It drives like a big car, with all the good and bad that entails. According to the press, it does do curves nicely enough. My impression is that at a sedate pace it will be comfortable enough. It rides on 15′ wheelies.  The tires are 195/65, which is good as sidewalls thinner than that become very tiring on Brazilian roads due to bad maintenance.

Inside is where this car really shines. The seats and even the instrument cluster have been seen before in the Agile. However, the seating position is much more straightforward and less convoluted than in said car. There is good head and shoulder room. Your legs will not bump against anything either. Very good. As this platform is all new and global, and was done taking into account that new thing called ergonomics, it’s easy to find a comfortable position (without having to twist your spine like in the Agile and other GM small cars heretofore). The greatest ergonomic mishap is that the power windows’ controls are too far back on the arm rest. Thus, you’ll be forced to get your hand in all kinds of weird shapes to access the switches.

The seats themselves apparently are a little bigger than those found in other cars of this segment in Brazil. They also seemed comfortable enough. They have a nice wavy pattern on them and manage to escape the black on grey theme found in almost all other small cars in Brazil. The dashboard and door panels use plastic a touch above the competitors which is nice for GM in Brazil (head bow to you). Like the seats, they also managed to get some greenish and brown hues into the plastic making them much more visually pleasing and soothing than those in competitors.

Another nice touch is that GM has used bits and pieces from the Cruze in the Cobalt. This gives it a nicer overall feel and will please all but the most soft-plastic fanatic. The turn stalk, for example, is the same one found in the Cruze. The instrument cluster is like in the Sonic reviewed by Steven Lang. Inspired by sport bikes it is different from the norm. My only gripe is the needle of the tach. Seems like a really cheesy piece of very cheap red plastic. Few people will notice or care though.

The exterior design is pleasing. At first glance, Brazilians will be forgiven if they just think it’s an Agile sedan. But pay close attention and you’ll see that the Chevrolet family truck-like fascia has been softened. The little curves make all the difference and while on the Agile it is ugly, on this car it works. The greenhouse is short, much more so than in the main competitors Logan and Versa, but it follows the spirit of the times and most people will mindlessly sacrifice visibility for style. The sides as slab-like. This is fine with me as I’ve said it here before, I like boxy cars. However, the tall cabin and seating position, plus the relatively low hood and very high trunk lid make parking sensors almost an obligation on the car.

Taking it all in, design-wise there are just two ill-resolved issues. One is the trunk lid. It’s very tall. This characteristic is punctuated by having a crease run down the middle of it. This visually spikes it up even more in a place where I think it would benefit from being flatter. There is another odd crease that starts out in the back of the car and makes its way through to the back door where it plunges down and just dies. It appears to be there just to break some of the slabness. However, the execution was clumsy and, especially on lighter-colored cars, it makes it seem like the car’s been hit. The first time I saw Cobalt in the wild, the first thing I noticed was what seemed like a huge dent in the back door. No, it’s just that styling effect.

All in all a good, professional design. A little boring, but sedan buyers in this segment in Brazil are boring, I mean conservative. The few pieces of chrome here and there sophisticate it a little, the proportions are generally ok. At the price point, you really can’t complain. Much more of a looker than the Renault Logan that, with the exception of me and a few ex-Soviet bloc expats, nobody likes. The other main competitor is the Logan-in-Japanese-drag, the Nissan Versa (Sunny in America), which is very Asian. Which is good or bad depending on your personal tastes.

So now we come to pricing. Let’s consider that, roughly, 1, 80 Brazilian reais equals one American dollar. This cars starts at $39,980 (US$22,200). This gets you the basic LS trim, which gives you AC, hydraulic steering, power locks and a pocketknife key (don’t ask me why but this is a big deal in Brazil and GM proudly emphasizes this, I mean on a VW Gol you can pay extra to get one!). There is the intermediary trim and the top of the line LTZ that starts at R$45,980 (US$25,500) and adds special alloy wheels, power windows (only front doors), double airbag, ABS, fog lights in the front, trip computer and CD player. Sadly, this makes this car very competitive in Brazil. In our not-so-little-but-still-very-warped market this makes the Cobalt really attractive, GM predicts sales of 3,500 cars a month, and I believe it. Especially after the market knocks off at least R$2,000 from the basic one and maybe 3 or 4,000 from the LTZ.

So like the Sonic previewed by Steven Lang, two big hits in a row for GM on TTAC. Must be some kind of record.

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Italian Job: Badge Engineering Baby! Thu, 03 Mar 2011 15:28:01 +0000

Coming soon to a friendly dealer near you (if you live in Europe) and in a couple of months to another whole set of friendly dealers (if you live in Brazil), ladies and gentlemen, the totally brand-new, super exclusive, Italianate Fiat Freemont! Never seen before at Fiat dealers. This beast is all new. Well, to Fiat buyers anyway.

According to my local paper Estado de Minas, Fiat representatives in Europe, talking to Brazilian journalists at the Geneva Autoshow, swear they have sweated out the details, giving it a whole new interior with a truly Italian vibe (interestingly though no pics of said interior were forthcoming). While at it, they continued the Italian job and decided to change the engines and offer two 2.0 diesels with outputs of 140 and 170hp, both of which developed by FPT (Fiat Powertrain Technologies, the Italian maker’s supplier of engines and transmissions). The venerable 3.5 V6 Pentastar from Chrysler will also be available for those who prefer their Italian with some American punch. News on the engines as per Brazilian enthusiast site

Though slow in America, the joining of the hip between Fiat and Chrysler is fast gaining pace in Europe. Brazil is also a “beneficiary” of this growing collaboration. At Geneva, Fiat launched the Lancia Thema and Grand Voyager (see here). Easy to spot what cars donated their lithe bodies to their Italian stablemates, no?

For Brazil, no word on pricing or engines. Here, diesels are verboten for passenger cars. That means at first probably the Chrysler’s 2.7 24v engine will continue to be the only choice. This engine powers the Dodge Journey now available in Brazil.

As Fiat has a better brand than Chrysler in Europe and (especially) in Brazil, will this be enough to get this baby rolling? In Brazil, the car is sold in two versions. The cheaper one goes for R$85,900 and the more expensive one goes for R$99,900 (at R$1.7=US$1, $50,529 and $58,765 verdinhas. )

One thing it has going for it as a Fiat is that it will be sold at Fiat dealers. The Italians have a very capillarized network in Brazil (second only to VW’s). Meanwhile, Dodge’s are sold at Mercedes dealers (a hangover from DC times), which is basically present only in larger cities. The negative? The price and competition. This bird, in Dodge guise, is rarely seen in Brazil’s cityscape. Without the stigma of an import brand (high-cost and difficult maintenance plus difficult re-sale), could this crossover (yes, in Brazil it is marketed as a crossover and not minivan) get close to the segment leaders (Chevy Captiva, Hyundai ix35, Kia Sportage among others)? That’s the Italians’ bet.

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