Continuing this month’s Ka-fest at DTW, we turn our thoughts to a South American curiosity. While Ford of Europe outsourced the difficult second Ka iteration to Fiat Automobiles S.p.A, Ford do Brasil did things rather differently.
The Brazilian Novo Ka went on sale in January 2008, nine months before the European replacement for the 12 year old original. The European car is not really a Ford at all, while the Brazilian car placed an ingeniously re-worked superstructure on its predecessor’s B platform, which originated with the 1989 Fiesta.
From disappointing beginnings, the B platform had been ameliorated under Richard Parry-Jones’ tutelage into an effective and fecund component set, also underpinning Fiestas, Pumas, and the Courier and Bantam LCVs.
The cleverness of the Brazilian design is undeniable. While retaining the doors and inner structure and leaving the generous 2450mm wheelbase unaltered, 214mm has been added to the body length, mainly at the rear, turning a two-plus-two into a marginal five seater, with a rear bench wide enough to warrant a central seat belt. The styling is pretty effective too, notwithstanding some wilful deviation from the ‘New Edge’ rulebook.
The design has a ‘shoestring’ character to it, but works well. Ford could have invested more but chose not to, which is surprising given that in the final years of the last decade Brazil was vying with Germany as the fourth largest light vehicle market in the world.
The engine line-up is of some interest. The previous Brazilian Ka adopted the new RoCam engine (also called Zetec RoCam) in 2000, replacing a pushrod unit which had evolved from the first Fiesta’s Valencia engine. The RoCam is sometimes erroneously described as a simplified Sigma (or Zetec SE). It isn’t.
It is more closely related to the Kent and Valencia series, and uses some of the tooling for these engines. The block is cast iron, with an alloy cylinder head, and a chain driven camshaft operating two valves per cylinder through finger rockers with roller cam followers – hence the RoCam name.
The European Ka got its RoCam in 2003, an oversquare (82.1mm x 75.5mm) 1.6 litre used in the StreetKa and SportKa At the same time, with scarcely a mention, the 1.3’s pushrod engine was replaced by a 1299cc RoCam with the same 74mm x 75.5mm dimensions as its Endura –E predecessor.
Both capacities were sourced from Ford’s Port Elizabeth, South Africa factory, and named Duratec 8V for European consumption.
(I know that it is illegal to hate anything these days, but I hope an exception can be made for Ford’s engine naming ‘system’, which bewilders in order to deceive.)
The Brazil-built RoCam range did not include a 1.3, but started off with a tax-friendly 999cc capacity with unfashionably oversquare (68.6mm x 67.4mm) proportions, with the 1.6 as the only other option. Most Novo Kas were sold with the smaller engine and, following a facelift in 2012, the 1.6 was reserved for the Ka Sport 1.6, which featured Mustang-inspired retro livery in five colour combinations: white with black stripes, red with white stripes, silver with black stripes, black with white stripes and orange with black stripes.
This flamboyant addition to the range lasted only one model year. The humbler versions continued until the arrival of the third generation ‘One Ford’ Ka+ in August 2014. A bewildering range of personalisation packages was offered; Fly , Somma , Prestige , Neo , Class , Performer , Pulse.
This marketing vigour reflected the competitiveness of the Brazilian market, as the established players, GM, VW, Fiat and Ford faced Japanese and Korean newcomers. The darker side was cost-cutting and de-contenting to remain competitive and profitable. Novo Ka quality suffered and two major recalls blighted its reputation.
The first two generations of the Brazil-built Ka were not considered a sales success in the Latin American territories where they were offered. Production from to 1997 to 2014 was around 900,000, but this has to be seen in the context of the scale of the market. In 2013, at its absolute peak, the Brazilian motor industry produced 3,712,380 passenger cars and LCVs.
Nevertheless, the Novo Ka more than paid its way in the Mercosur territories, most of which had an insatiable appetite for small, inexpensive cars, but could it have worked in Europe in place of the Fiat-built pretender? It’s an appealing hypothesis, lightly adapting the Ford do Brasil design to meet European rules and expectations, and making it in Almussafes or perhaps Craiova.
The first counter-argument is that the more capacious Novo Ka would have been too close in size to the Fiesta. The Ka was always useful showroom-bait to attract customers who could be easily persuaded into a roomier, more practical, and more profitable Fiesta.
The second challenge is that Latin America’s emissions and safety rules were widely at variance with those of Europe, and compliance with upcoming standards would have required a major rework of the Brazilian design. The simple and worthy eight valve RoCam engine would be difficult to adapt to comply effectively with ever more stringent emissions standards, although the extraordinary, and similarly constituted Fiat FIRE manages remarkably well.
Although the Brazilian Ka would have struggled to thrive in Europe, we should regret that the joint venture with Fiat produced a Ka which was neither a satisfactory replacement for its well-liked predecessor, nor a commercial success.
European production of the first generation Ka from 1997 to 2008 was just short of 1.4 million. According to carsalesbase.com, the Tychy Ka production numbers are 507,887 from late 2008 to 2017, or around 60,000 per year, which translated to a promising 108,342 in the first full year, declining to 48,368 in 2015 and 21,333 in 2016, by which time Ford, Fiat, and the broad mass of the buying public had well and truly lost interest.
For the third Ka generation, the axis has shifted. The design of the 2014 car was led by none other than Ford do Brasil, who created a textbook “developing world” product range. It looks to be a thoroughly competent rival for the Dacia/Renault Sandero/Logan and Hyundai i20, and its home market seems to agree, as it is currently Brazil’s second best seller, albeit well behind the Chevrolet Onix.
What the new car is not is a real Ford Ka, in the spirit of the toy-like, dynamically entertaining, little car which beguiled us in the mid-nineties, when Ford reigned as Europe’s most interesting, and most driver-focused mass-market car manufacturer.
The world has changed, and I suspect that reviving the spirit of the original Ka is nowhere on Ford’s global to-do list.