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Pondering VW’s ‘junior’ Golf: Why the Polo is such a success in SA

2018-01-22 19:00

Lance Branquinho

Image: Supplied

'As South Africa welcomes the sixth-generation VW Polo, we contemplate why it’s been so successful here,' writes Lance Branquinho. 

Cape Town - If you are familiar with both games, you’ll know that between polo and golf, the former is a lot more expensive and exclusive to participate in than the latter. 

Despite this, in the VW orbit of products, Polo ranks below Golf. It’s smaller and more affordable. Not by much but the margins in size and cost are sufficient to warrant distinguishing. VW dominates the hatchback market in South Africa; cars for those sensible drivers who aren’t taken by the targeted duplicity of activity lifestyle crossover and compact SUV marketing. 

VW sales hero

When you trawl through the sales data, Polo outsells Golf by about two and a half to one in South Africa. An obvious answer to this question is price, but more thorough analysis is required. The two hatchback models have shared a symbiotic relationship within VW’s global sales strategy ever since their debut in the mid-1970s but South Africans did not have the option of choosing between them until the third-generation Polo arrived here in the mid-1990s.

Read: This is how much the new VW Polo is likely to cost in SA

Why do you think the VW Polo has been so successful in SA? What do you think of the new model? Email us

The legacy production of Golf1 in South Africa effectively created an ever-widening price and technology discrepancy within VW’s local offering: with each generation of Golf, it was getting bigger and more technologically advanced, whilst the Citi Golfs remained budget cars for students and families of humble means. 

History of the Polo

In the rest of the world it was much different. The original Polo was a rebadged Audi and the second-generation was a curious product, effectively a three-door Sportwagon-type vehicle. Over time the widening chasm between Citi- and the ‘proper’ Golf created a huge opportunity for Japanese brands to conquer VW Citi Golf customers who were looking to buy-up, but could not afford the premium attached to VW’s full-size hatchback. 

VW was not unaware of this issue and the introduction of Polo locally in the 1990s, and each evolution since, has effectively vanquished most of the Japanese hatchback market share in South Africa. Only Toyota remains as an effective full-size hatchback competitor capable of generating numbers which could be considered sufficient to qualify it as a rival to Polo’s dominance. 

Why is the Polo so popular?

It has been a very different but successful, timeline for the late entry Polo in South Africa, but what is its status in a market increasingly obsessed with crossovers and SUVs? Polo’s least at risk from this, a lot less than the more expensive Golf. Each generation of post-millennial Polo has added to its offering with technologies inherited from Golf and larger VWs. 

It offers a range of sophisticated engines. The brilliant DGS automatic transmissions – which are superior to any of its rivals. Exterior and cabin design that is trendy and uncanny levels of refinement. True long-distance driving refinement: a Polo never feels like an out of depth city car if you have embarked on a 1000km road trip, it doesn’t punish occupants with noise, vibration and harshness fatigue and from the helm, you feel a reaction of absolute mechanical competence with each input. 

The appeal

Although it remains a compact hatchback, the engineering resources that have been applied to Polo are more akin to what one would expect to encounter in a larger German luxury car. It truly is the junior Golf7 – hence the appeal and investment grade residual values. As Golf has evolved into a Mercedes (A-Class) rivalling luxury hatchback, its pricing inflation has removed the most famous of all VW’s cars from the decision-making shortlist of most moderately successfully South African buyers. 

As a result, Polo has comfortably ascended into the role of a true junior Golf7: all the refinement, technology, build quality and safety, and with a boot only 29-litres smaller than Golf7, new Polo hardly requires you to sacrifice on shopping volumes or the allowance of luggage for a weekend away.

For South Africans, perhaps missing out on those originals Polos wasn’t a terrible thing altogether. Since its debut here years ago, Polo has always been the thinking driver’s VW hatchback. Its appeal is unrelenting and image unshakeable. Not even those crazy multi-colour harlequin edition Polo Classics could upset the standing of VW’s junior Golf in South Africa.  

Passenger car sales: 


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