RoadTrip | Success and failure in Brazil after Ford invests heavily in South American country


• 20 years ago, Ford invested big in production in South America

• Ford EcoSport has been in production since 2003

• Local EcoSport range expanded earlier in 2020

Twenty years ago, Ford in Brazil, with some assistance from its parent company in the United States, initiated the Amazon Project for the development of three models by the Ford Development Centre in Brazil, including the first-generation EcoSport subcompact crossover SUV (programme code BV226) based on the European-spec Ford Fiesta and Fusion.

Built in the South American country since 2003 at the Camaçari plant, the Ecosport since then has become one of the top-selling models in the Ford range worldwide. South Africa received the second-generation model from 2013.

This model, developed under the global product development process of Ford in Brazil, was assembled in India, but in late-2018 the facelifted and improved Generation 2 Ecosport was released here and now sourced from Romania in Europe.

Ford EcoSport (QuickPic)

Auto for Ambiente

With rumours of a brand new Ecosport - set for international launch next year - circulating in Brazil, the local Ecosport range was recently bolstered with the introduction of a six-speed automatic gearbox on 1.5 Ambiente model - a first for the entry-level offerings in the compact SUV class.

Specification upgrades on the Trend have complemented the addition of an auto transmission for the most affordable petrol derivative These include a pre-collision assist feature that alerts the driver of a potential collision with the vehicle ahead, pre-charges the brakes and, if necessary, applies maximum braking pressure once the driver presses the brake pedal. On the Titanium models, Ford brought on a Collision Mitigation System.

READ: Ford bolsters local EcoSport range with new gearbox and host of features

Cruise control with an adaptive speed limiter has also been added to the Trend model, while the Titanium gained front parking sensors to complement the standard rear sensors. A new underbody protection shield on the Trend- and Titanium-models has also been added.

All Ambiente models feature six airbags (dual front, side, and curtain airbags), while the Trend and Titanium also incorporate a knee airbag on the driver side. A total of seven EcoSport derivatives are now available locally, starting with the 1.5 Ambiente that is equipped with either the five-speed manual or new six-speed automatic gearbox. Both models retail for R289 900 and R297 600, respectively.

Ford EcoSport

2020 Ford Ambiente auto (QuickPic)


In contrast to the Ecosport venture, the first Amazon project by Ford turned out an abject failure. Nevertheless it represents an interesting chapter in the history of the automotive giant. In the 1920s, the Ford Motor Company tried to find ways around the British monopoly on rubber supply, used for producing tyres and other car parts.

As alternatives, founder Henry Ford considered establishing a permanent place to establish a rubber-producing colony in Central America. However, a field trip by Ford managers to the Amazon convinced him of the viability of rubber cultivation in South America to secure supply for the United States manufacturing operations.

READ: Ford expands EcoSport SUV range: New entry-level 1.5 petrol Ambiente

In 1925 an agreement was signed with the Brazilian government, and Ford received a 14 268km2 tract of land around the city of Aveiro, in the Brazilian state of Pará, located on the East banks of the Tapajós river about 300km South of the city of Santarém.

In 1926 work began on the establishment of a prefabricated industrial town intended to be inhabited by 10 000 people. The town - modelled after an American Mid-West town, with typical American houses, a hospital, school, library, hotel, swimming pool, a playground, and a golf course - was found in 1928 under the name Fordlândia.

In the town, strict (Americanised) rules were imposed. Alcohol, women, tobacco, and even football were forbidden, even inside the workers' own homes, and the rules was rigorously enforced. To circumvent these prohibitions, inhabitants smuggled in contraband via riverboats and even established a settlement on the "Island of Innocence" with bars, nightclubs, and brothels.

Is there an interesting story in Ford's history that you know of? Email us!


Ford factory in Brazil (Supplied by RoadTrip Magazine)

Hampering production

Production was hampered by other factors as well, such as slow logistics, the hilly, rocky, infertile land, and rubber trees planted too close together, making it easy prey for tree blight and attacks by ants, bugs, spiders, and leaf caterpillars. Also, the plantation workers disliked unfamiliar food and the way they were treated. They often refused to work and in 1930 revolted (it became known as the Breaking Pans incident), chasing away the managers. The Brazilian Army had to be called in to establish order.

The numerous problems took its toll on the Ford rubber colony experiment. Fordlândia was abandoned in 1934, and the project was relocated to Belterra, 40km south of the city of Santarém. By 1945, however, synthetic rubber had been developed, and the area was eventually sold back to the Brazilian government.

For years, Fordlândia was mostly deserted, with only 90 people living in the city until the early 2000s, when it saw an increase of population, now being home to around 3 000 people. Most of the original buildings still stand, including the 50-meter-high typical American water tower, built in Michigan, now regarded as the symbol of Fordlândia.

The hospital was completely dismantled, but the sawmill and kiln still stand; as well as the three-story-high workshop (now used as a warehouse for artefacts from the Ford era). Five houses in the American Village, still with original furniture, silverware, and even clothes left behind when the town was deserted.

Interestingly, despite huge investments and numerous invitations, Henry Ford never visited the ill-fated town. Today, the derelict vestiges of Fordlândia still stand as testament to the failed experiment of the American industrialist in the jungles of the Amazon.

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