Uitenhage - With the demise of the Chevrolet Utility late last year (not to mention the Ford Bantam and Fiat Strada many moons ago), South Africa’s compact bakkie market has withered down to just one option in the form of Nissan’s NP200.
Now there is some distant hope that Volkswagen SA could enter that space, although at this stage no final decision has been made.
At the launch of the new Polo on Thursday, VWSA managing director Thomas Schaefer told Roy Cokayne of our sister publication Business Report that the company was considering investing in the production of a third model to be built alongside the new Polo and Polo Vivo at Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape.
Schaefer said that the company is currently considering four different model options and was hopeful that a decision would be taken this year. It would entail a further investment of around R1.5 billion, over and above the R6.1bn that has already been invested in the ramp-up to produce the new Polo for local and export markets.
But here’s where it gets interesting.
Schaefer told Business Report that the money would be invested in “specific tools such as skin parts and the boot lid for a special utility vehicle or a pick-up”.
This surely means that a bakkie is at least under consideration, along with an SUV (which could be the upcoming MQB-platform compact crossover that’s also set to be produced in Brazil), but what are the other two options in the running?
That’s up to speculation at this stage, but our guess would be a sedan - and quite possibly the Virtus, which is based on the new Polo and which could partly fill the void left by the Jetta when it exits our market this year.
Either way, Schafer’s words (and the investment amount for that matter) imply that it will be a new bodystyle rather than a completely new model - which begs the question of what form the bakkie would ultimately take.
One option would be a much-speculated next-generation compact bakkie for Brazil, which has yet to be revealed and which is set to be built on the MQB platform as per the latest Polo.
But that would likely be an expensive and upmarket option.
Another alternative might be to create a bakkie based on the new Polo Vivo (which is essentially a stripped-down version of the outgoing Polo hatch). We say this because it’s unlikely that VWSA would go through the effort of bringing the Brazilian-designed Saveiro half-tonner in its current form, since it appears to share nothing but its basic platform with the past two generations of Polo.
Being based on the Gol hatchback, the Saveiro’s body panels and interior are completely different from anything on the VWSA production line and the company would no doubt want some commonality with an existing product to minimise parts investment and simplify production.
But that’s not to say VWSA wouldn’t use some of the Saveiro’s back end components in the creation of this Vivo-based bakkie - assuming it ever happens. Ford SA performed similar ‘Frankenstein’ conversions in the past, when creating its three generations of the Bantam bakkie - once even putting a Ford rear end onto a Mazda 323 front - for the second iteration.
And how cool would it be to have another bakkie that South Africans can call their own.