By on January 30, 2011

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 alivePart 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 …

The 90s

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.

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17 Comments on “(Not So) Brief History Of The Brazilian Car. Parte Quatro...”

  • avatar
    Bela Barenyi

    @Marcelo: You wrote:
    “Fiat would also try to re-introduce Alfa Romeo in Brazil. That effort would be in vain.”
    Could you tell more about it ? I was wondering the last years why Fiat never re-introduced Alfa Romeo in Brazil. I didn’t know that Fiat tried this back in the 1990s. I’m also asking because Alfa Romeos were built and sold from 1960 till 1986 through Fábrica Nacional de Motores:
    I’m also asking, because there’s even an Alfa Romeo club in Brazil and therefore the brand seems to be wellknown in Brazil and because there are Alfa Romeo importers in Argentina and Chile but no importer of Alfa Romeo in Brazil.

    • 0 avatar

      The problem with Fiat re-introducing Alfa Romeo in Brazil was they were too quick off the bat. As soon as importation became legal again they brought in th Alfa 164. Problem was that at first the barrier was like 50%. In the political tug-of-war that ensued, suddenly the barrier dropped to 10%. This made the car’s value plummet and left a lot of rich and influential people irate.

      Also Fiat never set up independent Alfa dealers. The rich people who buy them are not used to rubbing soldiers with the great unwashed masses who buy Unos and Palios. So, they had trouble in that, too.

      finally, Fiat doesn’t allow an independent to become official Alfa importers in Brazil. They have plans to do it themselves. Right now though they’re too distracted launching their new cars and engines. Unfortunately Alfistas will have to wait a while longer. Possibly when Fiat is able to untangle Chrysler and Dodge from Mercedes. In Brazil, Dodges, Jeeps and Chryslers are sold at Mercedes dealers. They’ll probably try to launch Alfa nd Chrysler dealers (well that’s the latest tentative plan, when it’ll be carried out only God knows).

  • avatar

    Oi Marcelo, I really enjoy your articles.

    Allow me to point a few things, though. The Fiat Tipo (it was my first car, gotten used from my mom) was highly successful in 1994 and 1995, but when Fiat started making them here it was anymore, 1996 on. The Omega was the first 90s GM, then Vectra, Corsa and Astra (first imported, then domestic only in 1998). The Fiat Marea came actually before the Brava, 1998 and 1999 respectively. The Honda Civic became “domestic” before the Toyota Corolla, 1997 and 1998 reséctively. And Renault first introduced the Scenic, then the Clio (which I almost bought as my second car – ended up with a 2000 Fiesta). You also left out the Brazilian built Audi A3, who didn’t want one?  

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the points and you are correct about launches and so on. However, I really didin’t take into account the exact dates for launches. I have just grouped them by decade. Usually also I go from the smaller car to the biggest one (thus the GM sequence: Corsa, Astra, Vectra, Omega).

      I also comment on automakers in general and usually comment on Toyota first than Honda as the’ve been here longer (Bandeirante). I also refer to the makers in bunches and mention them in the general ranking of sales. So that means VW, then GM, then Ford, Fiat and then the imports. First Japs, then French then rest. I think in the 00s article this changes to reflect the new situation in the market.

      As to A3 and even a more detailed story of Tipo (including fires), would take up to much time. Like I’ve explained before, I’m keeping to what I consider the main road. As the Audi adventure derailed off into neverland (I mean Audi produced for how long in Brazil?), I think its like a side road.

      Sometimes the side roads are definetely more interesting than the main one (like the A3). Who knows, I’lll write something about it (like Gurgel and Autolatina), but for this, allegedly brief history, it’s almost impossible to mention (and/or remember) everything.

      Thanks for reading!!

  • avatar

    I’m really loving this series. Should you decide to expand on the niches once you’ve finished this one I’m all for it!

    Ed: is there anybody on the staff willing to do a similar series for their countries? Aussie? East Euro? Himalaya?

  • avatar

    “Many of my friends had Fords in the 80s. Later, no one I knew had a Ford.”
    True. And I will also say “Many of my friends had Chevrolets in the 90s. Later, no one I knew had a Chevrolet.”
    After the string of Monzas in the 80s and early 90s, being the middle class family we were, my father obviously bought a Vectra. Man, I remember seeing the first ads for it and just drooling for the design – I still think it was one of GMs best. Oh, and the imported Calibra! Fantastic.
    Time came for a new Vectra and my father decided to test drive a Civic, well that was the end of GM for him!

    • 0 avatar

      So true Autobraz so true.

      A few of my friends actually had Kas in the 90s. That’s when Ford started making a comeback into Brazilian garages. By the end of the 90s, I also had a Ranger. Nowadays my brother has a Fusion and I had a Ka (worthless piece of junk I only kept for a year, but I digress) 3 years ago. So friends have had Focuses, but I think nowadays, in my closest family and friends the only Ford is the Fusion.

      In the 90s my dad (and then my brother) had an imported Astra wagon. Fantastic car, mainly for the motor. When GM nationalized the Astra, they ‘forgot!” to nationalize the engine. Right there I knew GM was pulling tricks, not doing it right (like Ford w Zetec or Fiat with HiTorque and later Fire). From then on, a few friends have had Astras, Vectras and Corsas, but in my family, outside that wagon, only my sister now has a 2006 Corsa 1.0. So we buy a GM car every 10 yearws or so? And that coming from a family than when we lived in America in late 70s early 80s, my dad had a new GM company car every year, and he bought a Nova for my Mom the time we lived there.

      Outside the Vectra, Calibra and Omega, there other cars were always beat by competitors (except for COrsa while Palio and Gol bolinha came out).

      Would love to see a GM back in form, but Agile family, cruze?? Don’t think we’ll see a GM like in the 90s anytime soon. Sadly.

  • avatar

    What gives with the motor anyway? Because of the Ethanol? Nowadays it should be a no brainer since most of the N/A engines are dual fuel. I can’t see why GM or Ford would have the depressing lumps like they’ve been offering in the past.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford improved greatly in the 90s in terms of engines. They introduced the Zetec and now some cars even have the Sygma (new new Fiestaand Focus).

      GM’s 1.8, 2.0 and 2.4 hark back to the 60s. Durable, but thirsty and rough.

      Fiat has Fire engines (like in Italy) and now offers the e-tor.Q.

      VW I think have finally changed the AP to EA line

      The French all use engines from the 90s they don’t use in europe anymore.

      The Japanese offer their best engines

  • avatar

    More and more I am realizing that if I manage to break into the auto industry, I will end up spending a significant amount of time in overseas markets…either Brazil or India.
    Thanks for the history lesson! Keep it coming!

  • avatar

    great series, marcelo. thank you!

  • avatar

    I think you’ll see something you like in Parte Quatro…
    Oi, you bet. That Omega ROCKS, I saw in Italy a wagon of the one that followed (and was called Catera in the US) and wow, that thing is BIG, its size is between 78 Malibu and 77 Caprice. But calling an I-6 car a muscle car is a bit of a stretch.
    Then it’s that tasty 2 door Tempra. We never got it, even less turbo, you lucky bastids.
    I agree with the Astra, the same happened here with a twist, first GM imported and then assembled the German one, sold very well (to the point of giving Toyota a serious run for the money) and then they started bringing it from Brazil with the ugly facelift done there, and it didn’t sell well. But GM was wise and in parallel brought the Optra, which after 2005 took the leadership in that segment, effectively moving Corolla (which was much more expensive) from 1st place to not 1st place.
    I once drove a Marea with the 5 cyl engine. I beat it a bit, made me smile every time I smashed the go pedal.

    • 0 avatar

      I knew you’d enjoy it!

      THe Omega was the closest we ever got to a muscle car since the demise of the Dodge/Galaxie/Maverick in the 70s. In a mareket where to get a V8 one must go German luxury that I6 was the strogest engine most will ever have the chance to drive!

      As I think about it, the 90s were the best time to drive in Brazil. Nowadays the only V6 built in Brazil is GM’s  agricultural 4.3 and only in trucks! in the 90s we had the Tempra 2.0 Turbo, then the Marea 2.0 Turbo (faster than “normal” Series 3). We also had the 2.4 24v Marea.

      Now Fiat’s biggest engine is a 1.8. That’s why i have a friend who haas a Marea turbo who says he’ll die owning the car. That kind ofengine simply does not exist in the national industry anymore.

      Sorry as I shed another tear…

  • avatar

    Another brilliant article from our Brazilian friend. I really loved this series of articles! It’s great to sit down with a sandwich or some coffee, take a few minutes from my usual work stuff and read these. I am now pretty much up to date (sort of) on the automotive history of Brazil, it was like a nice time capsule from the decades. I looking forward to reading the final one today during lunch.
    p.s: I am showing off some of the new found knowledge with some colleagues of mine from Ford Brazil ;P

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