Volkswagen do Brasil has revealed first details of its 'Project 249' small car that will be sold in Brazil and also exported to other markets including Europe, writes Rogério Louro.

While VW showed the new car to journalists and explained some details, it would not allow photos to be taken nor did it reveal the new model's official name.

Project 249 is just now going into production in VW's São José dos Pinhais plant, Paraná state and Brazilian sales begin in October.

Next year, VW will begin building export versions in its São Bernardo do Campo plant, in São Paulo state and will supply the new car to both Latin American and European markets and probably also some Asian countries when shipments begin in 2005.

Some industry sources say that the Brazilian-made car will replace the slow-selling Lupo city car in Europe but VW has not officially confirmed this.

Project 249 is based on the platform of the current Polo which is built as both a hatchback and a unique sedan version in Brazil. The new compact developed in Brazil is a totally different design from the Polo, however.

Nose styling is based on the new top VW Phaeton model, with a V-shaped bonnet and unique headlights quite different from the circular Polo and Lupo lamps.

The new vehicle will initially be introduced in Brazil in three-door form with a five-door following at the start of 2004.

Compared with the Polo hatchback, the new car is 60mm shorter (3,840mm) but 80mm higher (1,560mm). The wheelbase is similar at 2,460mm. As a result of the extra height, Project 249 has a driving position 60mm higher than the Polo's. The rear seat can be moved in a 150mm range fore and aft as seen in a number of rival models.

The luggage area has a seats-up capacity of 260 litres, or 353 litres if the rear seat is slid forward. Folding the seat enlarges luggage capacity to 1,236 litres.

According to VW Brazil's designers, this project began in 1999 and they aimed for a car with modern design that was easy to build.

Inside, they have developed a concept called "design around the passenger" to maximise internal area for occupants.

For Brazil, VW will fit the new model with eight valve, one-litre and 1.6-litre flexible fuel engines that can run on petrol, alcohol or a mixture of the two. Flexfuel cars are a new gamble by Brazilian car makers and VW is the company that believes most in the new technology. Hedging its bets, it will also sell a version of the new car with a standard 1.6-litre eight-valve petrol engine.

Project 249 will be positioned between the Polo and the Brazil-unique Gol and VW will reduce the number of Gols on offer though Brazil's best-selling car will contine as an entry-level model.

VW will stop production of the one-litre Polo that was launched in 2002 but has achieved "insignificant" sales. Versions with 1.6- and two-litre engines will get equipment upgrades.

"With Project 249 we will again lead the Brazilian market and the model will greatly boost our exports", said VW do Brasil president Paul Fleming.

After four decades of supremacy, VW lost the top Brazilian sales slot to Fiat in 2001 and, in the first half of this year, was also overtaken by GM.

Third-placed VW is also confident about exports and expects to ship about 150,000 Project 249 units a year.