More expensive and worse: the evil of being a less demanding customer

Yesterday, Chevrolet has revealed the restyling of its only Brazilian-made SUV, the TrailBlazer. It costs the equivalent to US$ 45,700 in its cheaper version, the V6, and to US$ 54,300 in the more expensive one, powered by  a turbodiesel engine. A little after I have written the article about it, I finally managed to have time to read the text “Brasil, o país do bom o suficiente”, from Ana Victória. It is only in Portuguese, unfortunately, but it has become a major hit on Facebook. The title reads “Brazil, the country of good enough”. Some friends, discussing the text, remembered that the first cars tested by Latin NCAP in Brazil were considered unsafe, with a different structure than the one they presented in Europe, for example. Less weld points and an unstable structure in crash tests. It may not seem, but all these facts are intimately connected. And they may relate to more customers, and more countries, than Ana Victória could have initially aimed. It relates to the less demanding customer, a problem that has to be faced in many markets.


I have already mentioned that Brazilian and Indian cars are less safe than the ones sold in Europe or in the USA in the article “Safety, money and standards: what leads to second class lives”. But that second class treatment does not relate only to safety. It relates to the flavour, as in the mayonnaise that Ana complains about in her article. Or to the driving feel and the trim of similar cars. It relates to the quality, offering a worse product. It relates to the price, charging more for a product than it is worth. It relates to the happy acceptance of whatever is offered as if it was a favour. Well, it is not.


Brazil has seen many attempts to treat customers as suckers. Broadband internet connection will probably be limited to monthly amounts of data usage. Not only as a way to profit more, charging extra for higher data usage plans, but also to restrict services like NetFlix so that cable TV does not lose more clients. Some factories have reduced the quantity of products in a package and preserved prices. It was, according to them, a means not to increase prices due to inflation. And many products have presented these changes: toilet paper, chocolate bars, cookies. And even cars. The VW Golf, for example, has lost its independent rear suspension and some electronic aids when it started being produced in Brazil. The excuse was that it would have much higher costs and that “the customer would not notice”. Cars that have Isofix, such as the Peugeot 208, suppress it when produced in Brazil to save some pennies. Does the same happen in your country? Think about it…

The second generation Chevrolet Cruze will have an estimated starting price of R$ 80,000, or US$ 22,800, in Brazil. This is almost the same price charged for a Cruze Premier Automatic in the USA. The entry-level version, with manual gearbox, costs US$ 17,495 in that market. The top version, in Brazil, will go over R$ 100,000, or US$ 28,600. More than GM is charging for a Malibu in the USA. And the Cruze, in Brazil, would be comparable to what a Malibu is for the American customer. Why not give the Cruze in South America the same engine GM puts in the Malibu, a 1.5 petrol turbocharged engine? GM has chosen to give the South American customers the same it offers in the USA. For a higher price. And we say it is the same before any crash test performed by Latin NCAP. We hope it is as safe as the American model, but we will have to wait to confirm that.

The Toyota Etios was destined to Brazil and India, according to its chief-engineer, Akio Nishimura, because the clients in both are “less demanding” than the Chinese, for example. Check the car. Have a really good look at it and tell us: would you pay US$ 12,400 for the hatchback version? Would you have one of these instead of a Nissan Versa for example? Only for the reliability of Toyota? This is probably the best automotive example of what you get for taking anything.


Let’s take the Takata airbag scandal as one more example. It is widely known that this is a world matter. Takata has supplied cars in many markets with defective airbags. And these recall are also affecting Brazilian-made or Brazilian-sold cars. It seems not to have affected Takata’s sales. There has been no research from consumers or from the media to know which cars produced in the country use these airbags. There has been very little interest in the biggest recall in history, as if it did not happen in Brazil. It did. And it still does, but the country has such an obscene death rate in traffic (around 60,000 every year, with a population and a fleet of cars that are much smaller than the ones in the USA). It is always easier to blame the drivers for the deaths and accidents. How are customers behaving about this in your country?


It is not different in what relates to the Dieselgate. While VW faces a major image problem in Europe and in the USA, one that will also have financial costs, there is no sign of image damage to the car manufacturer in Brazil. Even if it also sell a diesel vehicle with the defective engine, the EA288, in the country. It is the Amarok, produced in Argentina. The engine is imported from Germany. If there are new EA288 engines left in Europe, we do not doubt they will be supplied to the Argentinian factory and sold in South American markets. We are not even sure the 3.0 V6 TDI will be under the hood of the Latin America version of the pick-up. While in the USA there are calculations of how many deaths the excess of NOx may have caused, emerging markets will probably not give a damn.


The biggest problem in this strategy of playing consumers for fools is that it works. The Brazilian consumers still buy the same package of cookies with less cookies inside for the same price. They still eager to drive the cars that come with less equipment and that cost more than a comparable vehicle. Or that look much worse. They pay taxes and get no services from the government, such as sanitation, health, education, public safety and even roads that are decent enough not to destroy regular cars. Instead of demanding better pavements, the Brazilians prefer to buy taller cars. Instead of demanding a better health care, they pay for private health plans. For private security. For private schools.


Instead of buying used cars, for a reasonable price, many prefer to buy new cars that cost much more than they should. That are much more dangerous than they should be allowed to be. And if they are safe, such as the VW up!, this is a reason to charge more for the vehicle because of its “excellence in engineering”. If you are among those that accept less for more, wherever you live, please help change things. Lives do not matter less depending on the country. Your money and your power to demand better and cheaper should also be taken into consideration. Wherever you live, make sure everyone understands that. Do not accept the “good enough”. Demand excellence, but for the right price. Demand what you want and accept nothing less. You may. You can. You must.


Gustavo Henrique Ruffo

I have been an automotive journalist since 1998 and have worked for many important Brazilian newspapers and magazines, such as the local edition of Car and Driver and Quatro Rodas, Brazilian's biggest car magazine. I have also worked for foreign websites, such as World Car Fans and won a few journalism prizes, among them three SAE Journalism Awards and the 2017 IAM RoadSmart Safety Award. I am the author of "The Traffic Cholesterol", a book about bad drivers that you can buy at Hotmart, Google Play, Amazon and Kobo.

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