By on February 5, 2011

This is the fifth and last installment of the Pictorial History of the  Brazilian Car, a five part series, brought to you by our boy in Brazil, Marcelo de Vasconcellos. 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. Part four took you to a Brazil of change. The fifth and last part finally brings you to the past decade.

The 00s

The Workers’ Party finally elected their eternal candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, as President. Before he took power, there was some panic and almost 5 reais were necessary to buy a dollar. Inflation seemed to be back. However, after Lula took over, he implemented a steady as she goes policy that calmed the markets down. Lula in fact deepened some and kept most of his predecessor’s economic policies and obtained great success.

Economically, Brazilians had never been better off. Jobs are plentiful. Brazilians come back home in droves (especially those who had gone to America and Japan). Actually, the risk now is that there won’t be enough labor. The construction industry for example already shows clear signs of this. Wages also are on the way up. Credit becomes available in greater amounts than ever. Sound familiar?

All these factors contribute to an astonishing fact. Brazil is now the world’s fourth largest car market. Ahead of all the European countries. From 1 million cars in the 80s, to almost 2 million in the 90s, by 2010 sales reached almost 3.5 million.

Imports are gaining market share and set off all kinds of alarms, bells and whistles in the halls of power. Hyundai is the main beneficiary of this. After a slow start when imports were freed in the 90s, their presence has been gaining speed since the beginning of the new milennium. So much so that they succeeded in selling more than 100 000 cars in 2010 (not counting associate Kia, which sold 50 000).

Fiat took over and consolidated its leadership in the 00s. Really redesigning and improving its cars and engines, and adding on to what they already sold in the 90s (in the old Uno’s case in the 80s, BTW Fiat tried to kill it many times, but the market just won’t stop buying – as many have said – the Uno is the new Beetle), Fiat gained greater and greater acceptance.

Here are some cars they introduced into their line-up (with varying degrees of success).

The successful Idea.

The Punto.

The not that successful Linea (which I think would make a great new Dodge Neon).

Their new Uno also came out this year and has created a huge splash.

If Fiat finds enough production capacity, this car might just take away from VW’s Gol the title of most sold car in Brazil.

Fiat also sells a car that must look curious to Americans. (You might get used to it – acquired taste.) Feast your eyes on the Doblò, a car-based commercial van for passengers. Great for families.

Just for show (and that beloved, but elusive halo effect), Fiat also imports and sells for absurd prices the delightfully charming 500. Especially with Rio as the backdrop.

A leader in the flex fuel car technology, Fiat now shares with VW top mindspace in Brazil. Particularly with the younger crowd. Very importantly, the last shreds of their failed marriage with GM are all forgotten, even in Brazil. Having bought the Tritec factory in Paraná, Fiat no longer has to use GM’s rugged, but otherwise hopelessly outdated 1.8 liter mill. Fiat now offers cars in Brazil with engines anywhere from 1.0L to 1.8 16V (and everything in between), with output varying from 75 ponies to 156. Quite adequate for our market.

Rattled VW (Was erlauben die sich! Fiat!) answered with a broadside. They launched the Fox.

Followed by the SpaceFox.

Followed by the CrossFox (Fox in off-road drag).

Foxy as they are, VW suffers from an attitude problem. Sometimes, VW still behaves like it’s the uncontested sales leader. When launching a new car or version, they often ignore what Brazilians want and insist on doing what they believe is right, ramming down people’s throats not exactly what they want, but rather whatever is convenient for VW. The Wolfsburg covenant.

An example is the Fox itself, which they launched and sold for its first full year with just 2 doors. They did that at a time when nobody wanted to endure the humiliation of flipping  a seat forward and clambering to the backside. When Volkswagen held the market in a stranglehold of more than 50 percent (which they haven’t come close to since at least the middle of the 80s), they could perform such antics with impunity. Nowadays, where every sale is hotly contested, such behavior can only be put down as hubris and arrogance.

What else? Oh yeah! They also launched the Polo.

And finally Volkswagen got around to launching a Gol that follows the modern recipe for small cars. They achieved a really modernized Gol. Maybe because the Chinese demanded it – the Gol is also built at the VW joint venture in China.

Volkswagen also relaunched the Gol’s sedan version, the Voyage. The decision to cancel the Voyage after the launch of the second generation Gol back in the 90s was a decision VW just can’t explain, considering the potential of that segment in this developing nation.

Volkswagen’s downfall from first place was very much aided by this ill-advised move. However, the Parati SW is no longer available. The SpaceFox is supposed to fill in for it.

GM? From the glory days of the 90s, oh GM how far back you’ve gone! Apparently in the midst of a fundamental change (from depending on Opel to dependence on Daewoo), GM do Brasil seems lost somehow. Their latest offerings have not been home runs. Neither the Agile …

… nor the new Vectra.

GM relies heavily on very old cars based on the first generation Corsa platform. As evidenced by this Classic.

Or that Celta.

And that museum-quality Prisma. From having been at the forefront of technology in the 90s, they are now viewed as some of the most hopelessly backwards cars in Brazil.

Ford on the other hand got frisky in this decade. The EcoSport is a huge success.

The (new for Brazil) Ka …

… and the old/new Fiesta have held their own and sell well enough.

The Ford Focus is considered by many to be the best car in Brazil.  Their Fusion is the leader in the “luxury” segment of the Brazilian market.

Renault seemingly is changing its strategy, too. They basically now make here Dacias.  Namely the Logan – the one in the picture is just like my wife’s —

— and the Sandero.

There is also an old, facelifted Clio, and and a new for 2011 Samsung, sorry Renault Fluence. Renault is growing, but is it enough?

The other French, PSA, seems lost, too. With no low cost car (like Renault’s Dacia) they seem to be too expensive for Brazil. Their position seems tenuous.

The Japanese, Honda and Toyota, are the leaders in the so-called executive market segment. A Corolla is the archetypical executive car in Brazil. However, the Nipponese luster has worn off somewhat. Competitors are reaching their levels of reliability. And they seem to have been overambitious in terms of pricing. We know, the Yen is high. But expect no mercy from a Brazilian that had been tortured by his own currency. The Japanese are facing a definite backlash. Can they weather the storm?

The Chinese are just arriving. However, they have made inroads at least in the light commercial vehicle sector. In terms of passenger cars, their full frontal assault is not happening – yet. A topic for the next Pictorial History of the Brazilian Cars perhaps, to be written 10 years from now.

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

  • avatar


    In the VW segment;what is the difference between the Fox, Polo and Gol? They look remarkably similar and of a size.

    • 0 avatar

      The Polo is one size below the Golf. German development. Introduced (by yours truly) in 1974. Mk1 based on the (soon discontinued Audi50).
      The Gol is a Brazilian development. Developed by Polo designer Jürgen Schmidt around 1980. Built from the VW parts bin. Size somewhere between Polo and Golf. Mk1 had the old aircooled Beetle engine. Later generations less haphazard, and with modern injection engines.
      The Fox is also a Brazilian development. Size below the Polo. It was brought to Europe and replaced the Lupo.The Fox is Volkswagen’s low-cost (sub €10,000) offering. No frills. Thirsty for its size. A successor is in the works. We’ll see what happens when the UP! is out.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for filling in Bertel. With the house in the midst of a remodeling chaos, the internet’s been out.

      Both Fox and Gol now ride on old Polo (generation 4, IIRC) platform. Both seem here to stay in Brazilian market. Now Polo is a question. Since it’ll ride on VW NewCompactCar Platform (or some such name), apparently we’ll be getting a reskinned Polo this year and then all bets are off.

      FWIW, both Fiat and VW are working on smaller car that will probabbly be their entry segment car in Brazil. Yes some Up! variant. Pictures have already appeared in press.

      Thanks for the info on the Gol Bertel. Brazil has now definetely taken a backseat to China. I mean, the market clamored for a modern Gol for 20 years and only when the Chinese got one, did VW deem to modernize it down here too. Sigh!

  • avatar

    Where are all of the big SUVs, pickup trucks, and large vans?  With a hot economy are middle class Brazilians still buying modestly sized and efficient cars? It seems a very different world from the US.

    • 0 avatar

      I concur with Monomille about the appaling exclusion of pick-up trucks, SUVs, and larger vans. You also left out some of items such as Chevrolet Omega that were locally built from 1992 to 1998 but were imported from Australia (rebadged Holden Commodore) from 1999 on.
      Ford do Brasil built the right-hand drive F-250 and F-350 pick-up trucks for Australian and South African markets from 2000 to 2006 as well as the left-hand drive F-Series pick-up trucks for Argentinian and Brasilian markets. Chevrolet has the local-built S-10 and Blazer along with the Tahoe (for short time).

    • 0 avatar

      As this was a “brief” history, I chose to tell the main story. And the main story in Brazil so far is cars. Don’t get me wrong, Brazilians love themselves some big honkin’ trucks and SUVs, but we ain’t got no money for them. Trucks have never sold here in the numbers they have in NA. I mean, the Fiat Strada and sometimes the VW Saveiro are able to get into the top 10 cars sold, but both are compact-car derived trucklets. As are succesful vans. Vans here have never been for families. They’re used for public transportation, as school transportation and sometimes even to take groups of execs around, but rarely do they sit in families’ garages as a family car. Well, except for the Doblò pictured above and Fiat Fiorino mentioned in another article. Or the small jeep or SUV pictured in article, the Ford EcoSport. Or when they do have some success in private sales I showed them, like I showed the Chevy S10 in part 4.

      That’s why I stayed away from trucks. As the 00s progressed, more and more imported SUVs are sold. But even import leaders Hyundai sells more cars than trucks.

      As to Omega, yes it’s still sold. But how many per month? 50? 100? When the sales leaders sell close to 25 thousand a month and the number 10 in the top 10 is selling more than 10 thousand a month, 100 cars a month barely warrants a footnote. Now, when it was relevant and sold a bit more, I mentioned it. Take a look in part 4 (parte quatro), there the Omega is greatly praised. 

  • avatar

    I’ve enjoyed these looks at an auto market that seems to me to be more like those in the rest of the world than like the US auto market. It causes me to think that the market here is insular. We may not have tariff walls but the US-only regulatory structure seems more than an adequate substitute for keeping out a lot of interesting vehicles.
    I’ll admit that the US market is not as insular as it once was. I once looked at a registration list for King County (Seattle area) for 1939; could only find two foreign cars, a Rolls Royce and a Fiat 500. On the other hand there were cars still being registered from fifteen or twenty then-defunct American manufacturers.

    • 0 avatar

      thanks for reading!

      But don’t be fooled. Our regulations and market conditions make us a very weird market worldwide. Nowhere else do 1.0L cars sell so much. And that’s just one example. Another, nowhere else do compact (or subcompact to Americans) derived sedans and pickups sell as much (maybe Argentina). We are an oddball market, too.

  • avatar

    Americans knew the Gen 1 Gol by its stablemate with a trunk, Voyage. It was sold here as the VW Fox (not Audi Fox).   Think Dasher (Passat) bits in a Golf MK1 sized package

  • avatar
    Carlos Villalobos

    Hola Marcelo: my first car was a 2005 3 door Fox. Great car for me at that time and I was so sorry to let it go on March 2010. The Fox is not sold anymore here due to costs. Its cheaper to bring the European Polo to Chile than the Fox from Brasil. GM is selling here just the old Corsa Classic and the rest is coming from Korea. Finally Renault sells the Dacias and we are starting to get the Fluence. Samsung sells a lot here directly. Saludos.

  • avatar

    After seeing that “redesigned” Ka my eyes hurt. The facelift on the Fiesta is ok. Fortunately, since we-re moving, there-s no bleach at home for the eyes.
    I don-t like the Fox. The current SpaceFox looks nice, but my mind has problems with paying that much money for a car with a SOHC 8V engine. At least this time it doesn-t look that cheap.
    About Linea as Neon, a serious reskin would be needed.

  • avatar

    Great job, Marcelo! Quite the whirlwind tour. Those Neon/Linea numbers again:
    neon I: L:171.8 W:67.5 H:54.9 Lbs:2580
    Neon II:  174.4     67.4      56         2640
    Linea:     179.5     68.1      59         2557

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the kind words and for getting the gist of this tour!

      From what I’ve been hearing down here, the people at Fiat are debating putting a butt on the Bravo and selling that as a Neon. So you’d get a larger Neon than ever before. BTW, could be first Fiat car sold as Dodge in America, but the trigger hasn’t been pulled yet

  • avatar

    Just a comment on the bridge picture.
    That’s not Brazil.  That is the Auckland Harbour bridge in New Zealand.

  • avatar

    An interesting series, this, but why is the second photo showing traffic driving on the left side of the road? They drive on the right side in Brasil, as far as I know…

  • avatar

    I was surprised that Part 5 didn’t have any perspective on the flex-fuel engines available in Brazil that can handle Petrol, Gasahol, Straight Alcohol, and even some that can switch between those blends and LNG.

  • avatar

    Great work, Marcelo. I just was in Brasil and as every time I go there, I got interested on your local cars. Is there any “long” history on the Brazilian car available anywhere that you could recommend? I can understand portuguese enough (I’m Chilean).
    This time I was surprised to see the Fiesta RoCam. I didn’t know about it and I really like its looks, even better knowing is yet another reskin. And I learnt to love the Gol design. It’s beautiful (Voyage too). Sadly I read it is about to be given the corporate VW front. Boo hoo!

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