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2009-11-02 15:34
Johannesburg - After 25 years of production, Volkswagen South Africa (VWSA) is retiring its iconic budget hatchback Citi Golf.

The Citi is a South Africa-only model and over its lifetime more than 377 000 units found owners. Together with sales of the first Golf model (the A1) on which the Citi is based, more than 517 000 vehicles have been produced on the same platform in Uitenhage since 1978.

The Citi will be replaced by an as yet unnamed entry-level product in the first quarter of 2010 However, VWSA MD David Powels said given the German manufacturer's global model line-up, the new vehicle would inevitably be priced higher than the R87 000 the Citi is retailing at. The original Citi cost R6 700 at launch.

VW Brazil produces two cheap vehicles, the Gol and the Fox (VWSA briefly produced a CitiGolf with a boot called the Fox), which could be destined for these shores. The last Citi rolled off assembly line on August 21 and, with 90% local content, was a true SA original.

VWSA is busy with a major retooling of its Uitenhage plant to cater for two model line-ups. Powels said the decision to halt production was not due to a lack of consumer demand. However, a lack of economies of scale and rising costs meant the CitiGolf was becoming commercially unviable.

Consumer expectations with regard to vehicle sophistication also played a role - the Golf A1 platform was unable to adapt fully to latest safety features, emissions standards and design.

No instant success

The CitiGolf wasn't an instant success. When the more expensive Golf II replaced the A1 in 1984, VWSA had to come up with a way of continuing its presence in the entry-level segment.

It initially came up with an Econo Golf, a cheap model based on the A1. VWSA execs at the time realised at the time that Econo was drab (especially dressed up in Kalahari Beige), unimaginative and wouldn't sell.

It was up to a group of young advertisers and designers to come up with something fresh and new that would appeal to a younger set of buyers.

The new Citi concept was presented to the VW board at headquarters by the then-VWSA chief Peter Searle. What came as a surprise to local executives, the radical project was given the nod by the conservative German car maker.

In 1984 the Dutch painter Piet Mondrean was the inspiration for red, blue and yellow models to hit showrooms. They proved to be a great success - despite management's predictions of a maximum 300 units per month and a projected lifespan of three years.

One of those working on the first Citigolf was designer clothing retailer Jenni Button, who also designed the clothes used in the ad campaigns for the first model.

VWSA said a limited edition of 1 000 units called the Mk1 will go on sale at R113 000 to mark the exit of the brand. One of these will be displayed permanently at Volkswagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.


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