VW set to run half ton second leg of Ford bakkie JV in SA
There’s a major hole in the South African car market. Once a vibrant sector fought out between the Opel Corsa Utility, Ford Bantam, Mazda Rustler, Volkswagen Caddy, and Datsun 1400 among Fiats, Protons, and other half-ton bakkies, only the Datsun’s ageing and somewhat agricultural Dacia-based Nissan NP200 descendant remains.
The Nissan is the only choice that security firms, small businesses, and the many other entry bakkie buyers have had since the demise of the by the Corsa, nee Chevrolet Ute on GM’s exit five years ago. The Bantam, originally based on the front-wheel drive Ford Escort and later the Mazda 323, exited the market a decade ago. The almost vintage Datsun lasted a bit longer.
Now it seems that among SA’s favourite half-tonners may be making a comeback, with Ford Bantam and Volkswagen Caddy bakkies once again under consideration for South African production. This follows on Ford taking charge of New Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok production, spun off a Ranger base at its Silverton Pretoria plant, now geared to spit out over 220,000 one ton bakkies a year.
A POLO-BASED CADDY BAKKIE COMEBACK?
New VWSA CEO Martina Biene recently returned to South Africa. She previously worked as head of marketing under recently appointed VW global chief executive Thomas Schafer in SA. Beine made no bones about the prospect of a new Volkswagen half-ton bakkie when she picked up the reins: “There’s room for a lower-cost model in the market, aimed at South Africa and the rest of Africa.
“We are looking at the option of a half-ton bakkie. “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.” Whatever a third VWSA variant turns out to be, it will likely be co-developed with Brazil on the current Polo platform. Such a vehicle has not yet been revealed.
The arrival of a third VWSA line however hinges on developments in Europe and elsewhere. New Euro VII emission regulations proposed from 2025 will add significant cost and complication to vehicles produced in South Africa and shipped north. Europe further plans to ban internal combustion engines by 2035, but faces strong carmaker, and public resistance.
BADGE ENGINEERED HALF TONNER FOR THE CARBON BELT
“We see Africa, South America and India as a Combustion Belt that will continue through another few engine model cycles,” Beine explains. “Europe, America, and China will switch to EVs after 2030. “When Euro VII kicks off affects the timing of our third model. “If capacity is still taken up by exporting cars to Europe, then we’d push it out to 2030 to also buy time to grow the African market. “We don’t want to rely on Europe. “We want to do business at home, our long-term future is in Africa.”
While Volkswagen has already announced plans for the Tiguan-based 2-litre turbodiesel all-wheel drive Tarok double cab with a neat variable loading area in Brazil, this is not necessarily the vehicle in question. VW SA boss 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 the new ‘Caddy’ bakkie to be its own vehicle.
75% of Volkswagen South Africa’s 135,000 vehicles produced every year are exported to more than 80 markets. Polos mainly go to Europe and Vivo sells in sub-Saharan markets. An African expansion programme would boost VWSA’s Eastern Cape Kariega plant production numbers, but that may not be the only consideration.
A POLO BASED FORD BANTAM COMING TOO?
Ford’s 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 markets that correlate with VW’s ‘Combustion Belt’. “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. Which shifts the focus over to what the bakkies will be, and how they will look.
WHAT ABOUT A BANTAM & CADDY DOUBLE CAB?
Will there be a double cab? Well, there was never a half-ton double cab sold in South Africa before, but several factors could see that change. Not least of all VW boss Biene’s suggestions, and demand for cost effective double cabs of any spec grade. A double cab would likely see the rear overhang grow in order to maximise the available load bay behind as spacious as possible a cab.
Looking a little deeper at the prospect, half-ton bakkie hindquarters were traditionally grafted onto the front ends of front-wheel drive sedans over the years. Volkswagen has all but confirmed that the current generation AW/BZ Polo will remain in production for the foreseeable future, presumably with a second update and facelift around the arrival of the new ‘third line’ model. So being, that would mean that the new bakkie would be based on the next step of the existing Polo’s MQB A0 platform.
Expect no frills plastic bumper and steel wheel security patrol, florist delivery and rental base models to get old school 81 Kw 152 Nm 1.6-litre petrol engines driving the front wheels via a 5-speed manual gearboxes. Mid-tier models will get that, as well as 70 kW 175 Nm or 85 kW 200 Nm versions of VW’s turbo one-litre triple turning 5-speed manual or 7-speed double clutch gearboxes. And maybe even a 147 Kw 320 Nm 2-litre turbo petrol 4-pot GTI flagship with a 7-speed double-clutch auto.
PRETTY MUCH A VW POLO INSIDE
Polo’s McPherson independent front suspension will gain tweaked coil springs, dampers and the rest. The semi-independent coil springs rear suspension will be beefed up for bakkie duty. Some variants will also likely benefit raised ride height for a more rugged bakkie stance. The Polo sedan’s wheelbase will stretch to maximise the load bed, which should benefit some of that Tarok’s cool adaptable advantages. A slightly rearward extended single cab will also help accommodate bigger blokes.
As it is in the Ranger and Amarok, while the front end should retain its Polo hatch sheetmetal, the Ford and VW half-tonners will be differentiated by family bumpers, grilles, wheels, and trim. The Volkswagen should adopt a mini-me Amarok look with optional matrix LED headlamps and light bar. The Ford can be expected to ape the F-150, Ranger and Maverick, et al. With C-shape LEDs each side of a bold blue oval adorned grille.
Don’t expect too much change from the Polo sedan inside. Well from the B-pillar forward that is. The bakkie will carry over the likes of the latest hatchback’s slick cockpit designs. Add redesigned touch climate control, an Active Info Digital Display Cockpit and infotainment in various steps up the grades. Ford cockpits will get a different look and feel, and likely latest Ford Sync guts and graphics for the electronics.
WHAT WILL THEY CALL THEse NEW HALF TONNERS?
The last remaining question about these bakkies remains what they would be called. Ford sources are already calling its next half-tonner the Courier. But that’s confusing to most of the Combustion Belt markets. The Ranger evolved out of the previous Courier and the Bantam was always the baby. That’s why we still prefer Bantam. There would be no need to convince anyone what it will be…
The Volkswagen half-tonner was always called Caddy, which is now the domain of VW’s popular small panel van. There would be no harm to call the half tonner the Caddy Bakkie. Or will VW name it something else altogether? something beginning with an A…
Either way, there is little doubt that a Volkswagen run joint venture to build half ton bakkies with Ford out of Kariega makes too much sense on too many levels to simply ignore. In fact, reading between the lines, it already seems a mere formality. And one that South Africans and half-ton bakkie owners across the Carbon Belt will jump at. Because right now, there simply isn’t any choice in that neck of the woods. – Michele Lupini
Image renderings – Michele Lupini