CC Global Capsule: Caminhões do Brasil

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The car/pickup concept that dates back to the first Ford Model T truck of 1925 has disappeared from the United States and been successful in few other markets during the past half century.  In the United States, the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino sold well for over a decade after their late 1950s introduction but disappeared by 1987.  Australia has its popular “ute” market segment which has thrived from the 1950s to today.  Elsewhere, the car/pickup generally is a fringe vehicle if it exists at all, although some manufacturers such as Peugeot have long histories of producing them.  Brazil, home to many automotive oddities based on foreign designs, may even surpass Australia as the world leader in car/pickups.  There, the car/pickup is a hotly contested market segment that accounts for a large share of sales.

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The car/pickup formula in Brazil is similar to in the U.S. and Australia, but with a significant difference: the base vehicles are typically small four cylinder economy cars that Americans would consider to be subcompacts.  Americans saw similar vehicles only briefly during the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the VW Rabbit pickup, Subaru Brat, and Dodge Rampage.  In Brazil, the most popular are from Fiat, which has produced similar vehicles since the late 1970s.  Its current offering is the Strada, shown in the first photograph (the appropriately named Strada Working), based on the Fiat Palio supermini and not related to the Fiat Strada subcompact introduced in the U.S. in 1979.  The VW Gol-based VW Saveiro, introduced in 1983, is another popular model (shown here in its 1983-94 first generation).  Chevrolet and Ford produce similar vehicles in large numbers as well.

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These small car/pickups serve exactly the same role that a compact or even full size pickup would fill in the U.S.  They are the standard all-purpose light duty trucks, used by farmers, construction workers, deliverymen, and anyone else needing a personal-size cargo hauler.  Being small, front wheel drive, and with engines in the 1.2 to 2.0 liter range puts them at a disadvantage for doing heavier work compared to even the smallest Toyota Hi-Lux, but in Brazil people manage fine with them.

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Compact pickups and a few full size pickups are seen in Brazil, but in very small numbers compared to the car/pickups.  Full size Chevrolet and Ford pickups dating back to the 1960s are common sights in Brazil, indicating that their size and weight capacity are coveted and make them worth keeping as long as possible, but high prices and import taxes make American full size pickups inaccessible to most Brazilians on the new car market.


Shown here is a Chevrolet Montana Conquest, based on GM’s subcompact Gamma (Opel Corsa) platform.  There are two versions of the Montana, the Montana Conquest and the Montana Sport.  The Montana Conquest can be seen as the Brazilian cousin to the El Camino Conquista, but with the bland “Conquista” name replaced by the foreign and exotic-sounding “Conquest.”

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These very small car/pickups have not only succeeded in Brazil; they are one of the most popular classes of car.  They are well suited to the needs of average light truck buyers in Brazil, because they get the job done and do it at relatively low cost, both in terms of initial purchase price and in their low fuel consumption in a country with very high prices.  The stylishness of recent models is an added bonus.  American car enthusiasts often express amusement at car/pickup creations and give them “____-amino” nicknames, but in Brazil, they are simply a normal part of the automotive scene.