The phrase world car is used to describe an automobile designed for, or achieving, worldwide sales using the same platform and components, often with variety of body styles. Examples include the Ford Mondeo and Focus and modern no-frills cars such as the Fiat Palio, Dacia Logan and VW Fox.
History of the world car
In the pioneering days of the automotive industry, automobiles were primarily designed for the local market that the manufacturer was based in, such as the Ford Model T, which was engineered to cope with the rural lifestyle and rugged terrain that most automobile buyers in the United States had to contend with in the early days of the automobile. However, the Model T was arguably the first world car, with knock-down kits being assembled in locations such as Canada, England and Argentina.
In particular, Ford Motor Company and its American compatriot, General Motors were focused on expanding globally, with General Motors either acquiring or partnering with local automobile manufacturers, such as Opel of Germany, Vauxhall of England and Holden of Australia, while Ford created overseas subsidiaries that would later develop their own line of bespoke automobiles independently of their American parent, such as Ford of Germany, Ford of Britain and Ford Australia.
In 1933, Ford introduced their first car designed for European tastes that was not sold in the United States, the Ford Model Y, developed by Ford of Britain, and also manufactured by Ford of Germany as the Ford Köln. General Motors would counter with the Opel 1.2 litre, developed by General Motors in the United States but exclusively built in Europe and sold in the European market. This marked the beginning of Opel and Ford's European subsidiaries developing vehicles to match European tastes and regulations, which would differ greatly from the automobiles designed by their parent companies for the American market. In Australia, the Coupé utility was beginning to catch on in popularity, as “a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays.”
During the 1930's, vehicles in the United States were getting larger and faster, benefiting from an infrastructure of paved roads, relatively cheap gasoline and the lack of displacement tax and horsepower taxes that many countries in Europe had.
The Volkswagen Beetle, managed to become a success worldwide, thanks to its affordability and economy, and would be one of the first mainstream vehicles after the Model T to achieve international success. To a lesser extent, its European contemporaries found a willing market worldwide for such cars as the original Mini and Citroën 2CV.
Thanks to the 1970s energy crisis, along with American manufacturers sticking to large cars with increasing quality issues popping up during this time, Japanese and European manufacturers were making inroads worldwide, especially in the United States.
In the 1980's, compacts such as the Beetle evolved into the C-segment, featuring vehicles such as the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Escort, along with the supermini class such as the Opel Corsa and Fiat Panda, which would prove to be the leading segment in the European car market until the present day.
Japanese domestic market vehicles were increasingly focused on either performance or luxury, featuring exclusive vehicles or variants of existing cars unique to Japan, such as the Nissan Laurel and Toyota Soarer.
Buoyed by their success importing vehicles, Volkswagen would open their first plant in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania in 1978, the first plant from a mainstream foreign automobile manufacturer in the United States. Honda, Nissan, Toyota along with an Isuzu-Subaru joint venture would also open plants in the United States during the 1980's, while their Japanese compatriots Mazda, Suzuki and Mitsubishi Motors would partner with their American affiliates, Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, respectively, to create joint ventures in the lucrative North American market.
The Volkswagen Rabbit, the North American name for the first-generation Volkswagen Golf, started production in 1978 at the new Pennsylvania plant, and was one of the first foreign vehicles to be assembled domestically for the American market. Plant manager James McLernon, formerly of General Motors, softened the suspension and specified cheaper trim materials in an attempt that proved unsuccessful to appeal to American Volkswagen buyers, who bought the cars specifically because they wanted a European driving experience.
The Honda Accord was the first vehicle from a foreign brand that became the top selling car in the United States in 1989. From then on, Japanese manufacturers designed their midsize sedans to primarily appeal to the lucrative family sedan sector in the United States, with their sales in Japan and other markets an afterthought. Toyota launched the first Camry that exceeded Japanese width restrictions in 1991, a successful attempt that saw them surpass the Accord and Ford Taurus for best-selling passenger car in the United States, and Honda would launch a bespoke Accord for the North American market in 1997 that was not sold in Japan or Europe.
By the end of the 1980's and going into the 1990's, the Sport utility vehicle became very popular in North America, thanks to relatively low gas prices, appealing design and space to buyers, along with the high profitability to automakers.
Modern attempts at a world car
Models in the C-segment have usually shared a platform worldwide, with minimal styling changes for each market they are sold in.
The Ford Mondeo was the first modern attempt by an automaker to make a mainstream D-segment car that specifically designed to successful in the United States and Europe and was billed as a "world car", succeeding the Ford Sierra in Europe and the Ford Tempo in North America.
Market needs worldwide
Despite being a global design initially, world cars have to have specific changes made per national laws/regulations, or cultural differences / market tastes where these are divergent (e.g. in Brazil where ethanol/flexifuel vehicles are popular) or in the United States where petrol is inexpensive and larger engines are popular.
One vehicle that is an example of this is the Volkswagen Golf (currently sold in the Mk VI version), offered only with a 2.5-litre 5-cylinder petrol in the United States and Canada, but in Europe, it has 1.4, 1.4 TSI turbo, 1.6, 2.0, 2.0 turbo 4-cylinder and 3.2 V6 petrol and 1.9 SDI diesel and 2.0 TDI turbodiesel engines. The differences between market needs are not just reflected per equipment levels (in Europe the Golf offers multiple trim levels, compared to North America where it is only available in two versions, and sold as a premium hatchback rather than a workaday family car as in Europe.
- Marvellous Mondeo, The Daily Telegraph, April 27th, 2007
- The View From China: Despite the Auto Industry’s Pedal-to-the-Metal Growth, a Safety Play May Offer the Safest Play Money Morning, April 30th, 2008