A Caddy's Tale: 40-year passage from humble bakkie to versatile all-rounder


It started life as the load-carrying version of the Golf; hence its eventual name. But from humble beginnings four decades ago as an unassuming half-ton workhorse, the Volkswagen Caddy, now in its fifth incarnation, has progressed to become one of the most versatile models within VW's Commercial Vehicles range.

Volkswagen says for the past 40 years, the Caddy has been the perfect companion for families and businesses – big and small – all over the world, and in South Africa, the first-gen Caddy bakkie has by now become a niche cult vehicle. More than three million models have sold across the four previous generations, moving from pick-up and panel van to MPV, camper, and crossover.

The story now continues with the latest generation Caddy unveiled to the world media in February, featuring advanced technology, more safety systems than ever, and dimensions perfect for deliveries, and set to be introduced locally sometime next year. 

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Volkswagen Caddy

The first four generations of the Caddy. Image: Volkswagen Media

Twists and turns

From modest, unpretentious pick-up to one of the shining knights in the VW Commercial vehicle line-up, the Caddy Tale has many unexpected twists and turns. I mean, one would have expected it to originate from a developing market such as Brazil, but no, it was initially designed for the US market and originally produced there.

Yep, the pick-up based on the Golf Mk1 and known as the Rabbit at first was targeted at the northern states. It was launched in 1978 and produced at the Volkswagen Westmoreland Assembly Plant near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It proved successful, and VW decided to offer it in Europe, albeit slightly modified.

Unlike the US Rabbit version based on the two-door Golf Mk1, the European model used a four-door model as a base model to make it more comfortable and loadable, and VW revised the headlights to new, round ones. This adjusted version – now called Caddy – was built by TAS in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and production started in 1982.

It had a loading bay of 1.83m, and customers could opt for a cargo bed hardtop made of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), turning the pick-up into a small urban delivery van. Also already being offered in the 1980s were caravan-style add-on units that turned the Caddy into a compact camper. European production of the first Caddy ended in 1992.

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Volkswagen Caddy Rabbit Pick-up

Volkswagen Caddy Rabbit. Image: Volkswagen Media

From the US, to Africa

In the US, production of the Rabbit Pick-up was already halted by 1984, and Volkswagen needed a new premise to build the Caddy. It was decided to produce it alongside the CitiGolf, as Golf Mk1 continuation in South Africa, and much of the Westmoreland production line was moved to Uitenhage.

The South African produced model – like the Euro version based on the four-door Golf Mk1 – received further changes, including a new engine, a modified front end, and it was only available as a right-hand drive model. 

It proved successful locally and was built until 2007, two years before production of the CitiGolf was stopped, and since then, no half-ton Volkswagen bakkie has been locally available. Worldwide more than 207 000 of the first-generation Caddy were produced.

Volkswagen Caddy

Volkswagen Caddy Pick-up. Image: Volkswagen Media

Caddy 2: 1995-2003

The second incarnation of Caddy debuted in 1995 and was based on the Seat Ibiza and Volkswagen Polo. Interestingly, locally VWSA produced the saloon (Polo Classic) and hatchback (Polo Playa) version of this Ibiza model but sadly not the Caddy (called the Inca by Seat), so we never saw this Caddy version. 

Twinned with the Inca, it was built on the same line at the Martorell plant near Barcelona in Spain. The Caddy 2 was also made as a panel van and high-roofed estate, making it ideal for everyone from couriers to manual trades and service providers. With the 'Vantasy' concept vehicle of 1995, Volkswagen unveiled a first conceptual taste of subsequent Caddy campers. 

The Caddy pick-up was also marketed as the Škoda Felicia and produced in the Czech Republic, and in 1997, the Caddy Family, a forerunner of the later compact MPV models, followed. By the end of production in 2003, over 520 000 Caddy's, Incas, and Felicias were sold.

Volkswagen Caddy 3

2011 Volkswagen Caddy (pictured). Image: QuickPic

Caddy 3: 2003-2014

The third generation Caddy was a completely new model, based on the Mk5 Golf and original Touran. Production moved to Poznan in Poland, and it developed from a panel van and estate into a compact MPV with a flexible seven-seat configuration ideal for young families. 

This Caddy, now part of Volkswagen's imported range, was made available in South Africa. No bakkie version was developed, as the industrialisation of a pick-up was left to Volkswagen Brasil, eventually spawning the Saveiro. 

The Tramper – the first compact camper – was made available from 2005, and the Caddy Maxi arrived in 2007, but these derivatives were not available here. Caddy 3 sales soared, and between 2003 and 2010, over 856 000 were sold.

With this success came a significant model update featuring a new design and technology. All versions now came fitted with ESC, and optional 4Motion all-wheel-drive was a first in its class. In 2013, the Cross Caddy, was launched as a compact MPV/SUV crossover with robust exterior panels and all-wheel drive.

Volkswagen Caddy 4

Volkswagen Cross Caddy. Image: QuickPic

Caddy 4: 2015-2020

The fourth-generation Caddy was launched internationally in 2015 with panel van, estates and compact MPV options, and a range of two, five, and seven-seat configurations. The all-wheel-drive Caddy Alltrack – the successor to the Cross Caddy - followed soon after.

This model was a big step forward for comfort and safety-enhancing driver assistance systems, and by March 2018, more than two million Caddy 3 and 4 models were produced in Poland. Up to the end of last year, around 722 000 of them were accounted for by the Caddy 4.

Volkswagen Caddy 4

Volkswagen Caddy 4. Image: QuickPic

New Caddy 5

According to Volkswagen, the new Caddy 5, unveiled in February, features a significant upgrade in technology, connectivity, and safety. It is built on an all-new Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) platform in Caddy, Cargo, and Maxi form, with load space that ranges from 3.3m3 to 4.0m3.

The wholly redesigned body now has more dynamic-looking proportions and is more aerodynamic – with the Cd value reduced from 0.33 to 0.30. New features include optional electric sliding doors and tailgate, a panoramic sunroof, up to 18-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights and LED rear lights.

The new Caddy will again be available as the Cargo (panel van with enclosed superstructure), an estate (with passenger compartment windows), and in various passenger car variants (MPVs).  The base passenger model will, in the future, be the 'Caddy,' followed by 'Life' specification and premium 'Style' line. 

The extended version – the Caddy Maxi – now provides room for up to two Euro pallets, and inside the indicator and control elements have been completely redesigned with a new Digital Cockpit (optionally fully digital instruments) and radio and infotainment systems (between 6.5 and 10 inches in size).

The fusion of Digital Cockpit and top 10-inch navigation system creates a new 'Innovision Cockpit' with online connectivity unit and infotainment systems with integrated eSIM and digital buttons for light, sight, audio, and menu functions.

The Caddy's new four-cylinder TDI engines fulfill the 2021 Euro 6 emissions standards and are all fitted with particulate filters. The engines, with power outputs between 55kW and 90kW, also have a new twin dosing system, significantly reducing nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission levels.

A turbo-petrol engine (TSI) delivering 84kW and a supercharged natural gas engine (TGI) will also be available. European sales are expected to begin later this year, and its South African introduction is slated for 2021. 

Local specifications will only be released closer to that time.

Volkswagen Caddy 5

Volkswagen Caddy 5. Image: Volkswagen Media

Compiled by: Ferdi de Vos

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