Volkswagen Brazil launched its new Gol with a huge party in an indoor arena for 10,000 people - suppliers, dealers, employees and journalists from all over South America.

This is the fifth generation of a model that has led the Brazilian market for the last 21 consecutive years, an achievement second only to to the Beetle which dominated sales here for 24 straight years, from 1959 to 1982.

But while the Beetle reached total production of 3.3m units, the Gol has broken the 5m mark, with 800,000 of those exported to over 50 countries. It's the fifth most-produced VW model after the Golf, Passat, Polo and Jetta.

VW Brazil president Thomas Schmall told just-auto that the group hasn't ruled out manufacturing the car in other countries.

"Russia and India are markets with profiles similar to Brazil's, where the Gol would be a success also. In China the preference in the compact segment is for small notchbacks (sedans)."

The latest Gol hatchback will soon be joined by a notchback version, probably making its debut at the São Paulo motor show opening on 30 October.

The biggest change is under the new Gol's conservatively styled body: the former, longitudinal engine layout has been replaced by the transverse Polo/Fox arrangement. The four-bolt pattern wheels and the Gol's rear suspension, albeit modified, are carried over but the front suspension and steering column are from the next generation European Polo and already used in the recently launched redesigned Seat Ibiza.

Wheelbase is the same as the current Polo's 2.46m (96.8 inches) but there is more passenger room, especially in the rear seats. The car is 3cm/1.18in shorter and boot volume is unchanged (285 litres/10 cu ft). The new Gol has the largest fuel tank in the segment at 55 litres. The interior has been redesigned with a new instrument cluster.

The Gol family will eventually include a three-door hatchback, a wagon and pickup and was designed by VW's engineering centre in São Bernardo do Campo.

Staff includes over 1,000 engineers and a new virtual reality centre was inaugurated recently.

Schmall's goal for 2008 is to build 800,000 vehicles and export 200,000. For 2009, he expects production to rise to 900,000 units on the way to the goal of 1m yearly.

Fernando Calmon