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OPINION | Are those VW Polo driver stigmas justified?

22 February 2021 - 08:40 By brenwin naidu
A Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT.
A Volkswagen Polo Vivo GT.
Image: Supplied

Volkswagen Polo drivers. The reputation of said group has probably trumped that of minibus taxi operators for dubious behaviour on (and sometimes off) our roads.

Even if your interest in South African car culture is basic at best, you will have noticed the model has become the subject of multiple memes and other jokes filed to the motoring drawer.

Before you lynch me, my observations are made as the custodian of a sixth-generation Polo GTI for the past 10 months and 13,800km.

The Polo driver and the penchant for mishap joins an elite league of motoring comedy stereotypes.

Think along the lines of tropes such as that Land Rover Discovery 3 with a lopsided pneumatic suspension, an old Toyota Corolla sporting brown-beaded seat covers, or the “stock standard” Ford Fiesta ST with a Monster Energy Drink sticker on its tailgate. Just some examples – we could spend a few hours on good-natured vehicular typecasting.

On any given day in the realm of social media, your feed is bound to be graced by the image of a Polo in a compromising position. On its roof. Or in a hedge. Being attacked by an elephant. Wearing overly flamboyant modifications. Carrying interesting cargo (like hookah-pipe apparatus, lit coal optional).

The Polo remains one of the best-selling passenger car nameplates in SA.
The Polo remains one of the best-selling passenger car nameplates in SA.
Image: Supplied

Or – and this is the most disturbing one for me – sitting parked with headlights gouged out, the helpless victim of crime.

My plan is to discuss the stigmas a little further in a bid to understand the perceived cursedness of the Polo, frequently seen as bringing discord wherever its hatchback shape treads. Sorry, scratch that. They are produced in sedan format too.

If it seems Polo drivers are often the ones responsible for hapless antics on our highways and byways, the reason is really simple. The car sells in droves. It is among the best-selling passenger car nameplates in the land, in both regular and budget-focussed Vivo guises.

Go to the website for the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa) and pull up past sales figures, when they included breakdown by model. Let us take February 2020 ,for example, right before Covid-19 derailed all aspects of society and the economy.

Volkswagen reported 2,120 units of the normal Polo and 2,417 units of the Polo Vivo, while 540 copies of the Polo sedan were recorded. A reminder that the Polo and Polo Vivo are manufactured here in the Eastern Cape, at the brand’s long-established Uitenhage facility. Let us add that: 5,077 copies of the nameplate. 

For reference, Volkswagen stated it sold 7,269 passenger cars that month, while the industry total for passenger cars was 29,665. Of that total, 17% in all were of the Volkswagen Polo variety.

Polo drivers are often the ones responsible for hapless antics on our highways and byways.
Polo drivers are often the ones responsible for hapless antics on our highways and byways.
Image: Supplied

I guess a person does not need a qualification in statistics to understand it is a numbers game. They are high on thieves’ lists and account for frequent sightings simply because it is a high-volume car.

Case closed, full stop, end of story right? A pretty underwhelming wrap-up. But we are not going to park this here. How come other high-volume sellers are not regarded in the same curious manner as the Polo fraternity?

Toyota Etios drivers, for example, are not seen as pedal-happy menaces or harbingers of danger?

Allow me to suggest that traits of Polo driver overzealousness and above-average assertiveness could be blamed on the advertising campaigns Volkswagen itself created over the years.

Take the tagline attached to the current Polo generation, for instance. “Beware the confidence” is the kicker. Cheeky! Or we could go even further back, to the fourth-generation version. “You’ll think you can” was the promise Volkswagen made in its commercials.

Who remembers the one where the free-falling man chooses to jump into the facelifted  three-door Polo instead of grabbing the parachute alongside it? All while the very upbeat Volare by Gipsy Kings played in the background, cheerfully accompanying his impending doom.

“Small but tough” was another mantra the marketers applied to the fourth-generation Polo. Take a look at this controversial advertisement, featuring a bomber whose attempts at terrorism were thwarted by the sturdy cabin of the Volkswagen.

As you can see, the justifications for those Polo driver stigmas are not completely unfounded. Will it ever change? Well, Polo people, that is up to you (and me, until our long-term GTI goes back). Go on, prove them all wrong – be pedantic in your adherence to the rules of operating a motor vehicle on SA roads. Stay out of trouble. That will show them.