Although it did not show a particularly varied range, Volkswagen managed to be the European manufacturer with the highest turnover already in the mid-fifties. A complete success. Especially if we take into account how he based his offer on the simple and concise Type 1. A model with pre-WWII engineering and, furthermore, endowed with a design completely opposite to the pattern set by the innovative and efficient Mini with front-wheel drive.
However, in order to understand such a commercial achievement we must acquire a global perspective. And it is that, as soon as he was able to recover muscle in the middle of the German postwar period, Volkswagen began its infiltration in the so-called emerging markets. Characterized by a low capacity for consumption, they nevertheless had enormous demographic potential.
Thus, in 1953 Volkswagen do Brasil was created. Only one among the various franchises sponsored by the German house, which had as its flag to give a remarkable autonomy to each one of them. Without a doubt a real success. And it is that, after all, the products demanded by those new markets were very different from those demanded by Europe and the United States. With fewer public profiles and, therefore, in need of more economical, versatile and easy-to-maintain vehicles.
In addition, subsidiaries such as Volkswagen do Brasil had to face the difficulty of manufacturing in areas with little auxiliary industry. All this in adverse geographical conditions. Surrounded by a high level of humidity and, therefore, enormous exposure of bodies and chassis to the effects of corrosion. In short, although the technical perfection achieved by Ferrari or Lotus is admirable, producing utility vehicles in Brazil efficiently and profitably was a much greater logistical challenge.
At this point, the Volkswagen Type 1 became an icon of the masses for the Brazilian fleet. In fact, in his success he was known under the affectionate local name of "beetle”. In addition, in 1973 its offer was extended with the arrival of the Brasilia. An updated version of the Type 1 with a cabin with more interior space. A complete sales success with more than a million units produced in Brazil without taking into account the thousands assembled by the Mexican factory in Puebla.
With all this, Volkswagen exercised an evident hegemony in the field of popular passenger cars for developing markets. Moreover, that success made it possible to build up to five plants only in Brazil, coming to represent around 20% of the global turnover for the German house. However, towards the end of the seventies, this advantageous position began to be seriously altered due to the appearance of FIAT.
Leader of the automotive sector in Argentina, it decided to export to other countries in the region at the end of the sixties. In fact, by 1967 it already employed more than 22.000 workers on Argentine soil for a production of more than 40.000 units. All this, by the way, with a range in which there were even niche models such as the 770. Without a doubt, a real threat to Volkswagen.
Even more so if we take into account the appearance of the 127 in 1976. Baptized as 147 in the Brazilian market while their bodies received a special treatment against corrosion. Thus, if the subsidiary of the German brand wanted to continue being a leader I had to go looking for a replacement to the effective but outdated Type 1 "beetle” and Brasília. A key moment in which the engineer Philipp Schmidt made his appearance.
VOLKSWAGEN GOL, A GREAT COMMERCIAL RESPONSE
As we have said before, one of the basic characteristics in order to understand how the Volkswagen do Brasil worked was its autonomy. In this way, far from following the designs coming from Germany, he designed his own proposals -and even pieces- in order to meet local requirements. In this sense, the engineer Philipp Smith was put in charge of a development team with an eye on designing a replacement for the Type 1.
At this point, he obviously used the German matrix designs. What's more, he himself was the one who had created the master lines of the Volkswagen Polo. However, he always did it with great creative freedom. In fact, went to Japanese factories with the idea of improving production in Brazilian assembly lines. In addition, his work on the ground testing all kinds of elements before sending them to Germany for final checks ended up creating a well-defined team.
Something that, on the other hand, was based on a certain design tradition created by the Brazilian subsidiary. Responsible for projects as showy as the SP of 1972. Deficient at the level of benefits but really seductive at the level of style. So things, by 1980 the so-called BX Platform was finally ready. Basic to understand the evolution of Volkswagen do Brasil, since a multitude of models have been developed on it, from Pick-up to sports cars.
However, focusing on the task of replacing the Type 1 Philipp Smith used that base in order to finalize the presentation of the Volkswagen Gol. And yes, there is no typo. Far from it the lack of “f” is not due to any association with the popular European C-segment Golf. It simply means what it looks like, connecting this model with the obvious soccer passion so typical of Brazil.
From then on, on its self-supporting chassis, the Type 1,3 1-litre boxer engine was installed. Obviously an unsatisfactory mechanical endowment in terms of transition, so in 1981 a 1,6-litre block with two carburettors and, oddly enough, still air-cooled. Nevertheless, in the middle of the decade finally came a real break with the past mounting the 1,6 and 1,8 liter water-cooled engines from the Passat. Likewise, given the circumstances of the Brazilian market, the Volkswagen Gol had an ethanol-fuelled engine in its range since its introduction.
With all this, this commitment to retake the commercial leadership became the leader in sales for almost two decades in Brazil. What's more, thanks to its different generations and updates - rich in all kinds of versions and adaptations - the Volkswagen Gol can be tracked through Mexico, the United States and even China. Definitely, Philipp Smith's design was one of the greatest successes in Volkswagen history despite the unknown that the Goal is still today for the European fans.
What's more, among its rich history there are sports versions such as the GT or the GTI. The latter with the honor of being the first car with direct injection assembled in South America. Something that we will talk about in future publications about popular sports in the Southern Cone.