Is Volkswagen planning to build a compact bakkie in South Africa?

Johannesburg – The Polo is Volkswagen South Africa’s export hero, but with the hatchback model facing an uncertain future in Europe, the local division is looking at other options to lessen reliance on it.

Late last year Volkswagen Passenger Cars global CEO Thomas Schäfer said the company was considering adding a third model to the VWSA production line in Kariega in the Eastern Cape.

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He added that this model would have an SUV-like body style, and that it would be underpinned by the same MQB-AO platform that forms the basis of the current Polo, but of course with unique body panels.

However, now it appears that a half-tonne bakkie could be in the running too, with both Engineering News and The Auto Page quoting VWSA’s new CEO Martina Biena as saying that a small commercial model was under consideration.

Engineering News said both single cab and double cab bakkie body styles could be launched as derivatives of the aforementioned ‘third model’, which makes perfect sense as design-wise an SUV body style would lend itself well to a bakkie spin-off as it would look more rugged than, say, a bakkie based on the polo body as some have speculated about.

Engineering News also reported that VWSA’s ‘third model’ would be developed in conjunction with VW’s Brazilian arm, and here’s where we really see the puzzle coming together because the South American markets desperately need a replacement for the Saviero half-tonner, which is long in the tooth and likely to be discontinued soon as its hatchback sibling the Gol is currently being phased out.

Such a model would likely take its inspiration from the Brazilian-designed Volkswagen Tarok Concept that was revealed in 2018.

So, then, the smart money is on VWSA producing a compact SUV with bakkie derivatives, all based on the current Polo’s platform to save on development costs, but with unique body panels. However, this project could be pushed beyond 2025, depending on what international decisions are made regarding the Polo’s future in Europe.

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Late last year Schäfer told Autocar that the company was questioning the viability of its small ICE car range beyond 2025 as upcoming EU7 pollution laws, which have yet to be finalised, could make compact models unviable due to the cost of keeping them compliant.

If the Polo were to be discontinued in Europe, it would serve a big blow to VWSA’s production numbers, which is why the aforementioned third model is being considered.

Ford Bantam reboot on the cards?

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But there’s another potential twist to this story, as The Auto Page speculates, and it involves a potential Ford version of Kariega’s new product.

With Ford currently producing the new Volkswagen Amarok alongside its own Ranger in South Africa, would it not make perfect sense for VWSA to produce a new Bantam for its Blue Oval partner?

We do know that Ford is at least considering such a product.

In 2021 Ford’s chief product platform officer Hau Thai-Tang told Muscle Cars & Trucks that there might be an opportunity for a pick-up truck smaller than the Maverick for markets such as Southern Africa and South America.

And there you have it … South Africa’s severely neglected half-ton segment, which is currently served only by the aging Nissan NP200, could be set for a revival in the not-too-distant future.

IOL motoring

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