BRAZIL has long been known for one thing: ethanol. Ever since the national pro-alcohol campaign was set up in 1975 in response to the oil crisis at the time, Brazilian drivers have been hooked on the eco-fuel produced from sugar cane.
These days, well over 90% of cars sold in Brazil are flex-fuel –– they can run on either ethanol or gas or a combination of the two –– and the country is entirely independent from foreign oil imports.
Thanks to that independence plus strong exports of raw materials and big domestic demand, the Brazilian economy has been growing rapidly every year since 2003.
It’s now the fourth largest car market in the world with 3,5 million cars sold last year and annual sales are on course to hit four million vehicles by 2014.
What was apparent at the 2012 Sao Paulo Motor Show was that major manufacturers from around the world no longer see Brazil as just a quirky ethanol-dependent region in Latin America, but rather as a market key to their overall success.
Rather than throwing Brazil old cars full of old technology with new faces grafted on, the handful of targeted concepts and production cars on display in Sao Paulo proved that as the Chinese market slows down and Western Europe falls to its knees, the car industry is ready to give Brazil the respect it deserves.
Nobody knows Brazilian car buyers quite like Volkswagen. It started building cars here in 1953 an operation that consisted of assembling Kombis and Beetles in a shed –– before opening its Anchieta plant in 1959.
In 2011, VW had a 20,4% share of the market and built 882 444 cars at four factories.
Its top-selling model, the Gol, has been the best-seller in Brazil for 25 years straight. It was VW who stole the show with the Taigun concept.
Sitting on a slightly stretched version of the Up! city car’s platform, it’s VW’s first attempt at an SUV that sits below the Tiguan in the brand’s lineup.
For taxation reasons, anything with a 1.0-liter engine or smaller (the Taigun has the same three-cylinder 1.0-liter turbocharged gas engine from the Up! GT concept) and with good ground clearance (to help tackle the masses of unpaved roads outside the cities) is bound to be popular in Brazil, but VW has bolder ambitions for this car.
The other standout concept was the Nissan Extrem –– an “urban coupe crossover” designed at the Nissan Design America studios in San Diego and built in Brazil. Based on the same platform as the March, it previews a small crossover that could slip neatly into the range below the Qashqai and Juke –– and judging by Nissan’s huge success when it comes to mold-breaking crossovers, this could be the next big thing.
Carmakers like Hyundai and Honda also pulled the covers off production models based on existing cars.
As for the other big American and European players –– including Chrysler, Jaguar Land Rover, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Ford, and Chevrolet –– there weren’t any spanking new concepts or world debuts.
Ultimately the crucial point seemed to be that these carmakers were there showing recognition of how pivotal the Brazilian market has become. –– Motortrend.