The right-hand drive version of the Brazilian-built Volkswagen Fox, a city car that replaces Volkswagen's Lupo, has finally reached the UK market a full year after it first reached European shores. The entry-level Fox will retail at GBP6,590 (on the road), undercutting the entry-level price-point on the outgoing Lupo by a whopping GBP1,290.

The Brussels-built Lupo received heavy criticism for lack of interior space and for being overpriced. Volkswagen addressed these concerns by deciding to source the replacement in low-cost Brazil (where, like other makers, it also had overcapacity following the investment wave of the 1990s and subsequent slump) and by making sure that the design incorporated generous interior space.

The original concept for the Fox was designed for the South American market but following substantial modifications for Europe, the Fox went on sale in Germany on 29 April 2005. 

Volkswagen UK says that it expects to sell around 9,000 Fox models in a full year and its chief competitors in the city car market are expected to be models such as the Toyota Aygo, Peugeot 107, Citroën C1, Vauxhall Agila and Ford Ka. In the UK in 2005, this class accounted for some 140,823 units, or just over 5% of total UK sales.

The Fox is offered with three doors, a choice of two petrol engines - a three-cylinder 1.2-litre 55 PS and a four-cylinder 1.4-litre 75 PS - and in two trim levels.  The entry level Fox benefits from power steering, a CD player, ABS and twin airbags. Volkswagen says the 1.2-litre engine helps get the car the lowest possible insurance rating - 1E.  The higher specification Urban Fox gains extra equipment and trim.

Of the two engines offered, the 1.2-litre Fox is expected to be the top-seller in Britain. There are no plans for a diesel-engined Fox, something which will help to protect sales of the Polo range, where diesel options are available. 

At 3.83 metres, the Fox is longer than a Lupo but shorter than a Polo. And at 1.54 metres in height, it is taller than either the Lupo or Polo; VW says that the car can accommodate four large adults, or two occupants plus one cubic metre of luggage with the rear seats folded.

To keep development and manufacturing costs as low as possible, the car is based on the previous Polo platform and parts sharing with other models in VW's range is extensive. VW claims that procurement savings have meant that VW had more resource to spend on quality items specific to the Fox such as the body shell and trim components.

The Fox is built in Volkswagen's São José dos Pinhais plant in Curitiba, Brazil, around 220 miles from São Paulo.

The Golf and Saveiro models for the South American market are already produced at Curitiba by the 2,500-strong workforce.  However, considerable expansion of the factory facilities has taken place with the arrival of the Fox, VW says.  For example, 145 robots have been added to the existing 130 on an expanded production line.  The assembly area has expanded 20% to 2,000 square metres, while the press shop now covers 4,000 sq m.

One interesting minor detail that marks the Fox out: it's a pineapple head. Or, to be more accurate, the headlining fabric includes pineapple.

In addition to coconut fibres, fibres from the curauá plant - a member of the pineapple family and a crop traditionally grown by the Indians and indigenous peoples of South America - are mixed with a recyclable synthetic material called polypropylene. VW claims that curauá is an ideal base material for the roof lining and parcel shelf.

The company says it purchases around 100 tonnes of curauá each month. The crop is planted on around 1,500 hectares of farmland and this project has created around 10,000 jobs and allowed social facilities such as schools and health centres to be established, Volkswagen says.


Dave Leggett