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Ford do Brasil

Ford do Brasil is a subsidiary of American automaker Ford Motor Company, founded on April 24, 1919. The operation started out importing the Ford T-model cars and the Ford TT trucks in kit form from the US for assembly in Brazil. The Ford brand, however, had already been present in the Country since 1904 with both vehicles being sold in Brazil.

From assembling to manufacturing

Ford Motor do Brasil S.A., as it was its name in those days, inaugurated a full blown manufacturing operation on April 17, 1957 with the first Ford F-600 pick-up truck, very similar to the US-made F-100, leaving the production line featuring a 272 V8 engine, 40% of its parts being Brazilian made. The remaining items were still imported from the USA, but gradually, as the number of OEM parts suppliers in Brazil grew, this number decreased significantly.

Takeover with a French accent

On October 9, 1967 Ford took control of troubled Willys-Overland do Brasil S.A. as majority shareholder and integrated the factory in São Bernardo do Campo as well as the product mix of two mid range sedans, the Aero-Willys and the Willys Itamaraty, the utility vehicle Willys F-75, the pick-up truck F-75 and the ever popular off-roader Willys Jeep in to their Brazilian.

When Ford acquired Willys' Brazilian operation, they inherited a work-in-progress that evolved into the front-wheel drive Ford Corcel, that was widely based on the Renault 12, but had its very own design. The Corcel was one of the most popular cars in 1970, it sold well as a four-door sedan and the two-door coupe was launched for younger buyers. Of those the more prestigious was the Ford Corcel GT with more power, a black bonnet and aggressive looking racing stripes on the sides.

Streamlining the product mix

The mid-range sedan at the time was the ancient Ford Aero, in fact it was a modified version of the Aero-Eagle that Kaiser-Willys had started building in the USA way back in 1954 and had been on the market as Aero Willys. When Chevrolet launched the Opala in 1968, and it proved to be very popular in both the 2-door and 4-door models, Ford needed urgently competitive replacement for the outdated Aero.

Ford do Brasil also built the Ford Galaxie, one of the few V8 cars ever produced, initially equipped with 272cid or 292cid Y-blocks also used in the pick-up trucks,]], but only its four-door version. It was the status symbol at the time, the car of the rich and powerful. In 1974 Ford do Brasil inaugurated the factory in Taubaté, near São Paulo, to accommodate the production line of Ford Galaxie and its newly introduced 302 V8 engine.

The Maverick days

At the 1973 São Paulo Auto Show in May the Ford Maverick was launched as a 1974 model, although it was nearly identical to the 1970 American model with contoured bumpers. Three models were available: the base Ford Maverick Super, the more posh Ford Maverick Super Luxo, both with the Willys 6-cylinder, and the sporty Ford Maverick GT with the 302 V8 engine, which was optional in the Super Luxo. Bigger than the average Brazilian car it sold well in the first two years, after that only the 2-door Super Luxos was keeping up the numbers, the Ford Maverick was quietly discontinued in 1979.

The oil crisis

During the world oil shock of the 70's, Brazil began what is now a thriving industry of ethanol fuels extracted from sugar cane. "Movido à álcool" (powered by alcohol) quickly became a sales slogan for any car. Ford do Brasil was on the verge of launching the German Ford Escort and swiftly developed the higher compression rate engine for its latest model. The same happened for the small block V8 of Ford's upper class models Ford Galaxie and Ford Landau that were then discontinued in 1983.

Merger with Volkswagen

The difficult economic situation in South America in the eighties due to astronomic inflation rates forced manufacturers to look into options that would help to save money. The Brazilian and Argentine subsidiaries of Ford and Volkswagen decided to merge into a new holding, named Autolatina, in 1987. Volkswagen held 51% of the shares, and Ford the remaining 49%. Each brand maintained their own corporate image, the marketing and sales structures, as well as independent dealerships and service shops. All other departments were consolidated, allowing significant cost cutting, but also cutting the workforce almost in half.

The Autolatina years

The Ford Escort, introduced in both its 3- and 5-door version in 1983, and its convertible version (launched in 1985) was selling well. Yet, Ford decided to drop the 5-door version by 1986 and to concentrate on the younger car-buying market with its 3-door version. In 1989, Ford do Brasil exchanged the 1.6 CHT engine for the 1.8 version of the VW AP engine into the Ford Escort, mated to a gearbox from the German Volkswagen Golf, the performance rose to 90HP in the Ghia version and 99HP in the sporty XR3.

The joint car projects resulted in new models like the Ford Verona (aka Volkswagen Apollo) that was launched in 1989. These new cars, with identical platforms and VW engines--although a 1.6 version with Ford's the CHT engine was available, could be produced for a fraction of the cost, keeping both brands competitive against main rival Chevrolet.

In 1990, the Ford Versailles, a facelifted version of the Volkswagen Santana), was launched in an increasingly more positive political climate. The military government had left the scene and Brazil's economy regained strength, but the Country was still struggling to get to grips with regained democracy. Finally, the government of president Fernando Henrique Cardoso managed to move the economy into a more stable position and an economy open to bilateral foreign trade.

Regained independence

Ford and Volkswagen split amicably back to their individual divisions in 1994. Partly due to the 75th anniversary of Ford do Brasil and partly because the dwindling sales figures on Ford's end prompted the American carmaker to seek independence from Volkswagen, to regain total control over all operations and to apply the lean production methods that had improved competitiveness in their home market. Technically Ford would continue to rely on engines and drivetrains from their former partner though.

In 1996 the German Ford Fiesta was also introduced as Ford's new low end model into the market, replacing the 1.0 Ford Escort Hobby that had been launched in 1993 as a "carro popular" (the people's car), a government incentive to the manufactures to produce cheap and fuel efficient cars. As a matter of fact the entire, now restyled, production of the whole range of Ford Escort models was relocated to Argentina, including the first ever Brazilian Ford Escort Station Wagon.

Ford do Brasil in the 21st century

Today Ford do Brasil manufactures models with four-cylinder engines 1.0/1.6 Zetec-Rocam and the 2.0 liter Duratec on localized low-cost versions of the global platforms like the Ford Ka, Ford Fiesta and the Ford Ecosport, a XUV version of the European Ford Fusion mk1.

Ford do Brasil enjoys a stable market position, with an average market share of 12.5% it's ranked 4th in Brazilian sales.

However, part of the overall success of the Ford America Latina operations, currently the one that provides the highest profit within the Ford Motor Company's global operation, is the brand new factory in Camaçari in the northern State of Bahia in which Ford invested US$ 4 billion and created a unique environment that consolidates production line with their direct suppliers' own facilities. Here the Ford Ecosport mini SUV and the Ford Fiesta are made for the Brazilian market and exported to other in development countries as well.

While Ford do Brasil continues to offer European models like the Focus (imported from Argentina) the Ford F-250 pick-up truck and, since 2006, the four-cylinder version of the Mexican-built Ford Fusion as a lower-production-cost replacement for the Ford Mondeo, as fourth generation model would have been too expensive to be sold in Brazil. Ford Fusion has sold quite well in Brazil, often topping the charts as the best selling car in Brazil.

Ford do Brasil currently has 396 sales points and 233 dealerships.

Models (in chronological order)

References

  • "Ford Maverick of Brazil" (1996). by author Ernesto Franzen
  • ”Autolatina: O Fim de uma Aliança” (2002) by author : R. Arkader, A. da Rocha, Editora:Coppead, Rio de Janeiro - Brasil
  • "The Automobile in South America - The Origins (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay , Uruguay)" by author Álvaro Casal Tatlock, FBVA, Rio de Janeiro - Brasil

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