Jim Freeman takes a look at VW's small car history and what the Vivo has to offer.
Marketing people are, by and large, a very smart bunch. Take the people at VWSA.
Golf was launched in South Africa in 1978 and became a huge success as a locally manufactured entry-level car. However, when the bigger, more sophisticated “Golf II” was introduced in 1984, the rand had deteriorated against the Deutschmark, with the result that Golf leapt several price brackets and out of reach of the market segment it was intended to serve.
To avoid disaster, then VWSA managing director Peter Searle lobbied head office in Wolfsburg for Golf I to be reincarnated as Citi Golf (unique to South Africa) while adding Golf II to the line of Eastern Cape-made vehicles.
As author John Lemon says in his history of “a car so loved by the nation that it lived a new life of 25 years”, “to retain Golf I and reinvent it as Citi Golf must rank as one of the greatest marketing decisions in motoring history”.
Citi Golf production ended in 2009. A total of 377 484 had been made and VWSA estimated that each had been re-sold at least three times, making it one of the most popular cars ever manufactured and sold in South Africa.
Despite the fact that Citi Golf had become something of a clunker, you would have thought the company’s fortunes would have blipped. Not so – Citi Golf’s successor, Polo Vivo, quickly moved up the ranks of best-sellers and has stayed there.
Sales since its launch in 2010 amount to about 65 000 units, with January seeing a record 4 074 Vivos leaving the showroom floor.
Like Citi Golf, Polo Vivo is manufactured exclusively for the South African market.
NOT JUST FOR YOUNGSTERS
Matt Gennrich, VWSA’s general manager in charge of communications, says its overwhelming popularity has come as a surprise.
“Ironically, Vivo was aimed primarily at people aged 18 to 28. The reality is that the average age of ownership is closer to 47.
“What we’ve done with Polo Vivo is base our marketing on cost of ownership rather than list price.
“If you look at the total picture in terms of cost of parts, finance and insurance, your monthly repayments are roughly the same as those for Citi Golf – but for a much better product.
“We were never going to be able match Citi Golf’s list price. However, you’re getting a lot more car with a lot more safety features. It’s cheap and cheerful, rather than cheap and nasty, which can be the case with entry-level cars.”
Gennrich stresses that Vivo has never been positioned as a successor to Citi Golf but as a “young, funky brand in its own right”… whose appearance on the market just happened to follow soon after the disappearance of Citi Golf.
“The beauty of our products – starting with Beetle – is that they tend to be classless. A businessman is just as happy to hire a Polo Vivo as a student would be to own one as his or her first car or a housewife to have as her daily runabout.”
It’s also a hit with rental companies, he says, because it’s “a safe, good-value offering”.
What’s it like to be behind the wheel of a Vivo? On a superficial level, I felt no shame pulling it up alongside Port Elizabeth aircraft collector Stu Davison’s prize World War II warbirds to photograph them. Vivo’s sleek and, like them, looks as if it can do the job.
And indeed it can; it’s a lot of car for relatively little money. For one thing, there’s power-steering, for another there’s a gearbox that’s smooth and predictable – not the “pick a gear and see what you get” of some older Volkswagens.
I cannot attest to the accuracy of the VWSA-supplied fuel consumption figures because my 10 days of swanning around the Eastern Cape was done in anything but controlled conditions, but the vehicle was far from thirsty.
Vivo was never intended to deliver a fighter aircraft’s performance. It will never be a P-51 Mustang or Hawker Sea Fury, but those who pilot it will have a lot of fun and look back on it with fondness.
I went solo in the Polo and loved it. -Saturday Star
POLO VIVO 1.4 BLUELINE
Price: R128 900
Engine: Four-cylinder, fuel injection, 1.4 litre, 55kW
Fuel requirement: 93 octane petrol.
Fuel consumption: VW’s official figures are 7.1 litres per 100km in the city, but realistically you are looking at around 8 litres/100km, which is still good. Same goes for the highway number: VW says 4.4 litres/100km but bank on between 5 and 6 litres/100km at the 120km/h speed limit. Again – that’s good.
CO2 emissions: 128g/km (official figures)