General Motors do Brasil has launched an Opel Corsa-based minivan called the Chevrolet Meriva at its São José dos Campos plant, São Paulo state, writes Rogério Louro.

The Meriva will also be built in GM#;s Spanish Zaragoza plant, from January 2003, with Opel, Vauxhall and possibly Holden badges. Brazilian sales begin in August and South America exports will be under way by the end of the year.

The new car was developed jointly by GM in Brazil and Opel and is based on the Concept M model revealed last March at the Geneva show.

“We are convinced this new model will be a success both in Brazil and in the rest of the world”, said General Motors do Brasil vice-president José Carlos Pinheiro Neto.

The compact minivan, only four metres long, has a lengthy 2630mm wheelbase making it 130 mm shorter overall than a three-door Astra but with a wheelbase 200mm longer. We accordingly expect a smooth-riding car.

The Meriva is 220 mm longer than the new Brazilian Chevrolet Corsa (which has a different nose than its European siblings) and its wheelbase is 140mm longer, too.

That long wheelbase allows the Meriva to have five individual passenger seats. GM#;s clever FlexSpace system, first introduced with the seven-seat Zafira, folds the three rear seats down to leave a flat floor, maximising luggage space.

The Brazilian Meriva comes with a choice of two 1.8-litre engines: a 101bhp eight-valve unit and or a 122bhp 16-valve.

General Motors of Brasil is coy about investment costs to build the Meriva locally - and production volume - but has confirmed the new model shares its plant with the Corsa and Zafira.

The GM outpost has also announced a second generation Corsa-based pick-up which, like the sedan, is locally developed and made.