Reading between the lines, will VW build Bantam at Kariga


So what are the real chances of a Ford Bantam return in South Africa? Once the denizen of the half ton world alongside the good old Nissan 1400 bakkie, Opel Corsa and one or two other baby bakkies, they’re all gone now. Only the Dacia baser Nissan NP200 remains if you want a half-tonne bakkie.

Ford Maverick
Ford Maverick

Maverick not the SA half-tonne answer

But things, they say, are a changing and there very well could be a small Ford pickup coming, but what is it? Some suggest the Maverick, a slightly bigger solution of a unicab half tonner than we are used to. It’s selling up a bomb in the good old US of A. But that bakkie is based on US-only Escape and Bronco Sport models, which makes it a bit of an enigma in many markets where those Fords are not sold.

To make a bakkie like the Bantam survive in SA, it needs to be based on a far more common platform that’s already built in South Africa. Like the first Bantam was based on a Ford Escort, and the second on a Laser. Which was actually a Mazda 323. The Bantams worked because they were basically already amortised into this market. And the latter version even shared its heart with a Mazda called Rustler.

Which means that the Ford Bantam will have to share its heart once again. But hang on a second, Mazda has split up with Ford gone off with Isuzu. And Ford is now in bed with… yes… Ford. Which means that if it must work, a next Bantam should share its heart with a Volkswagen. And which Volkswagen do they build in South Africa? That’s right, the Polo. Join the dots. There are not many!

Volkswagen Amarok
Volkswagen Amarok

Ford already building Volkswagens in SA

Ford is of course already building Amaroks for Volkswagen up in Silverton, Pretoria and Volkswagen has made no bones about the fact that it wants a third line alongside the Polo and Vivo assembly going on at Kariga. And it also makes it quite clear that it likes the idea of a half-tonne bakkie to help fill the gaping hole in the good old half-tonne world.

So voila, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s going on. And it just seems like good manners that if Ford is building VW’s one tonners in Pretoria, that VW should build Ford’s half tonners in Uitenhage. Silverton is geared to spit out over 220,000 one ton bakkies a year. VW would love to up its Kariga numbers too.

“We’re looking at the option of a half-ton bakkie,” recently appointed VWSA CEO Martina Biene admitted, just days after taking up the local reins. “There’s scope for a third model at our Kariega plant and the Polo platform is already localised in South Africa. “We’d need 20,000 domestic market sales a year of to foot the bill to develop a right-hand-drive vehicle.”

Ford Bantam Bakkie
The next Ford Bantam?

The new Bantam bakkie is yet to be revealed

Now, 75% of Volkswagen South Africa’s 135,000 vehicles produced every year are exported to more than 80 markets. An African expansion programme would boost VWSA’s Eastern Cape Kariega plant production numbers. So, a using that 75% export and Biene’s 20K local new bakkie sales idea as markers, is VW also alluding to around 210,000 vehicles a year out of Kariga? Sounds plausible!

Whatever a third VWSA variant is, it’s likely be co-developed with Brazil on the current Polo platform. Such a vehicle has not yet been revealed, but Biene also made it very clear that Volkswagen SA “does not want to rely on Europe, we want to do business at home, our long-term future is in Africa.”

Volkswagen has already announced plans for the Tiguan-based 2-litre turbodiesel all-wheel drive Tarok double cab in Brazil. But it is is not necessarily the vehicle in question. Beine alluded to that when she mentioned that the new vehicle ‘had not yet been revealed’. And the SA-built Polos are all front-wheel drive anyway. So, expect a new ‘Caddy’ bakkie to be its own vehicle.

Ford Bantam & VW Caddy

A Bantam bakkie too good an opportunity to miss?

Moving on, Ford chief product platform and operations officer Hau Thai-Tang recently suggested that the Motor Company is also keen on a half-ton bakkie for South Africa and other non-EV critical ‘colonial’ markets. “Maybe, but there is certainly opportunity for a half-tonne pickup in markets like South America and South Africa,” Thai-Tang explained.

“We must walk before we can run, but there’s a host of things we’re looking at together with Volkswagen,” Thai-Tang noted in a separate discussion. “We rely on the framework to find win-win efficiencies and the commercial space is a natural, low-hanging fruit. “Ford and Volkswagen combined account for a significant commercial vehicle market share.”

With all that in mind and considering that Ford is already running the Ranger and Amarok joint venture, it seems almost natural that Volkswagen should run a Polo-based half-ton bakkie project out of Kariga. A Volkswagen run JV to build half ton bakkies with Ford down there is just too good an opportunity to ignore. Reading between the lines, it seems a mere formality. – Michele Lupini

Bantam sketches: Michele Lupini

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