I tell people that you can put me on a street anywhere in the world and I’ll find something interesting. Therefore, it’s always a delight to travel to a new country and discover a new automotive landscape. Mexico may be right next door to the United States but their automotive landscape is vastly different, a curious melange of Europe, the United States and developing markets.
Nissan Versa, VW Gol and Chevrolet Chevy
First thing’s first: Renault-Nissan, General Motors and Volkswagen own the Mexican market. In 2015, 9 of the top 10 best-selling cars in Mexico came from those three automakers (the 10th slot was occupied by the Mazda3). During January-October 2016, Renault-Nissan held 25.1% of the market, followed by General Motors at 18.6% and Volkswagen at 16.1%. Then, there’s a big drop down to Ford, FCA and Toyota, each with 6.3%. Around 1.35 million cars were sold in Mexico last year.
As it is the wealthiest city in Latin America, there are more premium vehicles in Mexico City than in other parts of the country. Despite this, the usual German and Japanese luxury marques don’t enjoy the widespread popularity they do in North America. Part of this may be due to the lengthy absence of German automakers from the Mexican market due to government-imposed regulations demanding a level of local content. These were implemented in the early 1960s in the hopes of establishing a local industry, and subsequently led to an exodus of automakers from the country including Mercedes-Benz.
The more affluent chilangos (Mexico City residents) appear to prefer loaded crossovers, and the commercial districts of Reforma, Zona Rosa and ritzy Polanco abound with cars like the Lincoln MKC and MKX and the GMC Acadia and GMC Terrain Denali. Interestingly, I lost count of how many Terrains I saw and only one of them was a non-Denali model. Mainstream compact crossovers are also popular, the Chevrolet Trax ranking as the 15th best-selling car in 2015. While uncommon in Mexico City, the Big 3’s full-size pickups are also strong sellers, all in the top 30 last year.
By far the most common vehicle types in Mexico City (and Querétaro and San Miguel de Allende, where I also travelled) are subcompact and compact sedans. Indeed, every single taxi in Mexico City belongs in one of thse two classes. The most common are the Chevrolet Aveo – still manufactured and sold in Mexico – and the Nissan Versa and Tiida. The latter is the name for the previous-generation Versa sedan, still manufactured and sold in Mexico.
But there is one car that will stare at you from every street corner in both the cities and the countryside. That car is the Nissan Tsuru, a 1991 Nissan Sentra still manufactured in Mexico and enormously popular with taxi companies. It was the 5th best-selling car last year despite being little changed from 1991 apart from a new grille. It doesn’t even have airbags.
It’s that last point that shows why the Tsuru is finally facing the axe after a quarter century. The Versa is already doing a good job of supplanting it anyway and, besides, the Tsuru will remain a fixture on Mexican roads for years to come. The Tsuru story is too interesting to condense into two paragraphs so stay tuned for a more detailed piece.
Alfa Romeo MiTo
I didn’t know much about the Mexican market before travelling to the country, but I had received a vague indication that there were plenty of European brands selling their wares tantalizingly close to the US border. Well, I spotted a grand total of one Alfa Romeo and zero Skodas or Citroens. Peugeots are few and far between as well, although I did spot their developing market-oriented 301 sedan a few times.
Renault enjoys success in the Mexican market, arguably because the diamond logo is attached to inexpensive Dacias. So, the country is full of chunky, handsome Duster crossovers (#37 in 2015), Logan sedans (#66 in 2015)…
…and Sandero hatchbacks (#84 in 2015).
You will also find Asia-Pacific Renaults like the Fluence, also known as the Renault Samsung SM3…
Scala (left); Volkswagen Pointer (right)
…as well as its predecessor, the Scala. Regular European Renaults like the Clio (still sold in Mexico) and the Megane (not) are rare sightings.
Nissan sold a restyled Renault Clio Symbol sedan called the Platina from 2002 to 2010. Nissan also simultaneously sold a similar-looking sedan, the Aprio, which was a rebadged Dacia Logan. Oddly, the Aprio flopped while the Platina soared.
It’s easy to assume Volkswagen’s Spanish brand, SEAT, is popular in Mexico because it is Volkswagen’s Spanish brand. However, it’s also extremely likely the brand is popular because they just look so damn good.
The B-segment Ibiza was #19 on the sales charts last year while the C-segment Leon was #81. The Toledo sedan sat at #57.
The Spanish brand’s vehicles, until recently, were designed by Walter de Silva and employed a very fluidic and dramatic design language. On some of their vehicles, like this Leon, it looked lovely.
On their larger models, like this Altea, it wasn’t quite as successful. Now, SEAT has a more conservative and angular style. Curiously, Volkswagen has applied this style to vehicles from their eponymous brand as well as Skodas and Audis. Will this design commonality backfire on them eventually?
Another curious observation is how comparatively poorly Toyota seems to do in Mexico. By far the most common Toyota I spotted was the ungainly Avanza, a high-riding, van-type vehicle made for developing markets. It was the 40th best-selling car in Mexico in 2015, although the Corolla came in at #24, the Yaris at #30 and the RAV4 at #35.
2004-10 Chevrolet Tornado
North American auto enthusiasts often pine for the little car-based pickups of Latin America because of their compact dimensions, economy and versatility. In Mexico City, these cars are quite rare although I did spot more in Querétaro and San Miguel de Allende. The Chevrolet Tornado (#51 in 2015) was the most common, although Mexicans can also purchase the Volkswagne Saveiro and RAM 700, a rebadged Fiat Strada.
I’m frankly surprised how few Fiats I saw, knowing how popular they are in other parts of Latin America. With the Fiat Chrysler Alliance in existence, Fiats are now adopting the more popular RAM and Dodge nameplates. I’m fairly sure this will help as Dodge enjoys a great deal of residual popularity in Mexico, even if FCA’s market share has decreased over the years. Mexico City police cruisers are all 2011+ Dodge Chargers, with 2012+ Avengers used for traffic and auxiliary officers. You may also find some Nitros and Stratus sedans on the beat. Popular with civilians is the Journey crossover (#29 in 2015).
This is the hilariously-named Dodge Attitude, a rebadged Mitsubishi Mirage sedan. It was the 25th best-selling car in Mexico last year.
It replaced the old Attitude, a Hyundai Accent sedan. Previously, Chrysler sold the Hyundai Accent, Atos and i10 through Dodge showrooms. These would often still carry Hyundai badges but also a little badge that read “Imported for Dodge”, much like Mitsubishi captive imports in the 1970s. Now that Hyundai and Kia market and sell their own products in Mexico – since 2014 and 2015, respectively – Dodge has switched to sourcing from its own catalogue, as well as long-time quasi-partner Mitsubishi. Also, it’s remarkable how Hyundai and Kia have stormed the market. Together, the two brands hold as much market share as Toyota. Give them a little more time and they may pose a serious threat to Volkswagen and GM.
Ford used to enjoy a loftier sales position in the Mexican market but has seen their fortunes dwindle. The most common 21st century models you will find are the Ka city car, above, and the first-generation Fusion sedan. However, the new Indian-built Figo subcompact has gotten off to a strong start, currently sitting at number 16 on the sales charts.
The mixture of General Motors vehicles in Mexico is intriguing. For example, you will find the Daewoo Matiz wearing both Pontiac and Chevrolet badges.
The Chevrolet Aveo and its Pontiac G3 twin were very popular but other Korean GMs, like the Chevrolet Optra, are few and far between. Before these came along, Mexican Chevrolet dealers sold Cavaliers before switching to the Opel Astra. Around the mid-2000s, Chevrolet Mexico also sold bowtie-badged Opel Corsas, Vectras and Merivas.
Chevrolet Corsa (left) and Chevy (right)
Perhaps the most ubiquitous GM vehicle is the Chevrolet Chevy, first introduced in 1994. It was a Mexican-built version of the Opel Corsa B and battled with the Nissan Tsuru to replace the old VW Beetle as Mexico’s favorite car. Sedan variants wore the Monza nameplate, truly a name that refuses to die. The Chevy range was sold up until 2010, receiving numerous facelifts along the way, before being effectively replaced by the Aveo and Spark. Interestingly, the Chevy outlived its replacement, the Chevrolet Corsa; the rebadged Opel Corsa C was discontinued in 2008.
The Chevrolet Spark is Mexico’s cheapest new car, which explains why it is currently Mexican consumers’ second favorite new car.
Mexicans also love domestic minivans, although newer minivans aren’t terribly common. The most common 21st century minivans are the Chevrolet Uplander and Pontiac Montana SV6, although Mopar and Ford minivans also abound.
Finally, Volkswagen, much like Nissan, possesses a sizeable amount of market share and offers a vast portfolio of vehicles. Consequently, Mexican consumers can choose from a range that includes European VWs like the up!, the Brazilian Gol, North American Jetta and the Indian Vento sedan.
The Vento in particular is proving to be a success, ranking 4th last year, ahead of the Jetta (7th) and Gol (16th). This Polo-based sedan is handsome if conservative, and is newer and fresher-looking than the Gol sedan.
When the Vento was launched in 2013 in Mexico, it replaced the Clasico. This was a Mexican-built version of the Mk4 Jetta and was one of Mexico’s best-selling cars for many years, just below the Nissan Tsuru and Chevrolet Chevy.
So, that gives you an idea of the newer metal you will find across the border. As you can see, Mexicans love conservative B- and C-segment sedans above all else. But this is Curbside Classic, after all, and you all must be very curious to see what old metal can be found on Mexican roads. Stay tuned for part two.