The first small Nissan rebadged for Chrysler has made its global debut as the Dodge Trazo at the the 25th international São Paulo auto show in Brazil.

The car is a Nissan Versa (Tiida sedan) with a new front grille and will go on sale in Latin America markets from mid-2009.

A 12% sales slump in the three first weeks of October, compared to the same period in September, divided opinions among auto industry executives during the show's two press days. The show, open to the public from today (30 October) to 9 November features 420 models from 36 brands and is expected to attract over 600,000 visitors.

The four 'elder statesmen' automakers in Brazil - Fiat, Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen - were less pessimistic about the effects of the world credit crisis hitting the Brazilian car market in 2008. They are counting on partially compensating for a shortage of credit through their in-house banks.

Yet some newcomers - Peugeot, Citroën, Renault - feel that 2008 sales may end 200,000 units short of trade group Anfavea's 3.05m forecast. Honda and Toyota forecasts are somewhere in between.

Few were willing to predict 2009 sales, though. GM president Jaime Ardila reckons 5% growth is feasible next year.

Nevertheless, all brands producing cars in Brazil expect to expand production and launch many new models in the next four/five years. They believe that the present uncertainties will have faded away by mid-2009 and the Brazilian market will be back on track.

Among the motor show highlights were three concept cars developed here in Brazil.

The Renault Sand'Up is based on the recently launched, Logan-based Sandero hatchback and is a mix of pick-up truck and convertible with two seats mounted in the cargo bed.

The Chevrolet GPix crossover is based on the Viva project's architecture, a locally-designed successor to the Corsa. It seems Ford's EcoSport will soon no longer be the sole compact SUV available here.

An electric drive dune buggy is a Fiat Design Centre proposal. The FCC II is aggressively styled and features natural-fibre body panels.

Honda's redesigned (and locally-assembled) Fit (Jazz) made its Brazilian debut. All engines are now flexible-fuel (81.7 and 91.3 cu. in), including those with both manual and automatic transmissions (no longer CVT).

Mercedes-Benz surprised with the price at which it will sell the Smart Fortwo from next year - between R$55,000 and R$60,000 (US$25,710-$28,000) - or almost half what independent importers have been asking.

Daimler was inspired to launch the car in response to BMW plans to import the Mini next year, another model so far only obtainable by private import.

Fernando Calmon