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An SA-built best seller: Explaining Volkswagen's Polo Vivo victory

2018-02-09 10:07

Lance Branquinho

Image: Supplied

Cape Town - In a world where product cycles are narrowing from years, to months – and in some cases, mere weeks – the Polo Vivo is a heroic outlier.

South Africa’s most popular passenger car for the last seven years, the Vivo, despite its many cosmetic updates and incremental improvements in terms of infotainment, remains a fourth-generation (and soon to be fifth-generation) Polo underneath. 

Curious scenario: South Africa’s best-selling new car effectively went out of production globally in 2009. VW is well experienced in the enterprise of extending a vehicle’s marketability and production way beyond expectations. It did so with spectacular success producing the Golf1 decades after the original was discontinued, in the guise of an amazing array of Citi derivates.

Polo Vivo continues the legacy of Citi Golf, delivering German technology of yesterday, without pre-owned mileage and a full warrantee and support to price-sensitive new car buyers. In a similar relationship to that between Polo and Golf, Vivo is the solution for those South Africans who’d like a new Polo, but don’t have the means. 

Previous-gen Polo Vivo

Image: Motorpress

Rivals?

Toyota’s Etios is a newer design, but it’s a developing market car, whereas the Polo 4 platform used by Vivo might be a decade and a bit older, but was designed for the most testing of all markets: Europe. 

Price is the primary explanation for Vivo’s success, sure. The appeal of owning a German car, and the safety of investing your monthly instalment in a vehicle which will be better hedged against depreciation than most others, are fundamentals underpinning Vivo’s success. But perhaps we’re all obsessing too greatly about the numbers involved and ignoring the subconscious factors driving Vivo demand.
 
It’s a bizarre instance of retail theory and product theory, but people are always willing to pay more for a premium brand or superior product – used – than an inferior or less desirable brand product, new. An excellent example of this is the value of a high-mileage Hilux double-cab compared to a new Mahindra double-cab bakkie. VW’s been absolutely genius at leveraging this consumer behaviour. 

New Polo Vivo:


As mentioned, VW South Africa had remarkable success with Citi Golf and Polo Vivo’s repeating much of the same. The aspiration to ‘true’ Polo ownership comes at an R50 000 average premium over Vivo, and for buyers who feel R200 000 is their shopping ceiling, that’s a lot of money. 

There’s no denying that the Vivo platform is old, but its customers are hardly the kind of motorists who use their cars for weekend track days. Build quality, durability and residual values are a lot more important than the latest chassis technology and crumple zone performance. Ironically, the Vivo still uses hydraulically boosted power steering, unlike almost any other VW – so if you are a purist and want to your kids to experience what actual steering feedback feels like, let them drive the evergreen ‘Polo.’

VW knows that in-car phone and infotainment functionality is a crucial part of the customer’s decision-making process and to update those features aren’t particularly difficult as an engineering project. The slight upgrades in infotainment technology has kept Vivo feeling more contemporary than it is, to most customers. 

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