End of road for faithful Bantam

03 August 2011 - 23:21 By BOBBY CHEETHAM

There is going to be a huge gap in the half-ton bakkie market in South Africa at the end of the year.

Confirming months of industry speculation that the popular Ford Bantam bakkie had come to an end of its lifecycle, Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA) president and chief executive Jeff Nemeth said the last Pretoria-built Bantam would be sold towards the end of the year - and there was no immediately replacement for the bakkie.

The Bantam sold 838 units in June, according to Naamsa sales figures, and Ford will feel the lost sales.

The decision was taken because of the lack of available parts for the Bantam, which is based on an earlier Fiesta platform.

This hole in the market will leave the way open for the soon-to-be-launched replacement for the Chev Utility and the Nissan NP200.

There has been considerable speculation that Volkswagen is keen to expand its presence in the half-ton commercial segment.

Of the large VW line-up of vehicles, the Brazilian-made Saveiro half-ton bakkie will be the logical choice, but the stumbling block is that there is no right-hand drive version available at the moment.

Andile Dlamini, the VW product spokesperson, said there were no plans at this stage to launch the Brazilian bakkie.

However, Jaco Steenekamp, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles national sales manager, when asked at the launch of the single cab Amarok bakkie recently, said the Uitenhage company was "looking at this possibility".

The Saveiro is based on the Gol, Volkswagen's Brazilian small car.

It is available in single or double cab versions. The single cab is ideal for commercial use because of the extended cargo area, while the double cab is focused more on the leisure market and personal travel.

The single cab is the "Starline" and the double cab the "Highline" - and in both there is only room for two passengers, as the extra space of the extended cab is designed to carry more goods.

The Saverio is 4.493mm long, 1.708mm wide and 1,497m high, with a total weight of 1020kg.

The single cab would be the model ideally suited to South Africa.

In order to better cope with heavy loads, the suspension is independent front and rear, being reinforced at the back.

Power comes from a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, good for 75kW of power and mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.

With the Johannesburg International Motor Show coming up in October, there may be an announcement from one of the major players in the South African market regarding the half-ton bakkie segment.