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Governments and industry seek solution for Troller, Brazil´s iconic off-road vehicle

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Efforts are being made to save the Brazilian brand producing the Troller T4, a four-wheel drive vehicle with a fleet of about 20,000 units in circulation, most of them in the hands of fans of the model, known as “troleiros”.

Considered one of the icons of the automobile industry in the country, and developed by Brazilians in the Northeast, a region that until the early 2000’s was not on the map of major automakers, the Troller was originally owned by two domestic companies and eventually ended up with Ford Motor Co., which in January announced its closure in Brazil.

The Government of Ceará state, the Federation of Industries, the Ministry of Finance, and the Horizonte City Hall, where the plant is located, are looking for parties interested in buying the company.

There are three groups that have expressed interest and three that, for now, have conducted market studies, according to the Ceará Secretary for Economic Development, Maia Junior. “Our role is simply to mediate negotiations, because they are conducted directly between Ford and interested parties,” he explains.

According to Maia, the state intends to extend the tax benefit, granted to all industries that settle in Ceará, to a potential buyer. It consists 36-month delays in payment of 75% of the ICMS (state VAT tax): normally VAT payments must be made every month.

Troller T4. (Photo internet reproduction)
Troller T4. (Photo internet reproduction)

The Secretary says that the three companies he has already referred to Ford are in the automotive sector and are only interested in the Troller, not in the two plants that Ford closed in January – Camaçari (BA), where it manufactured the Ka and EcoSport models, and the engine unit in Taubaté (SP).

“Ceará’s priority is to guarantee the production of this car, which is genuinely from Ceará since its development, and to guarantee today’s jobs (about 500). We don’t want anyone to build warehouses and we will only grant the benefit with these guarantees; otherwise there will be no talks,” says Maia.

Handmade

The plant began operations in 1995, thanks to the efforts of Ceará native Rogério Farias. With a degree in business administration, he never pursued this profession. He preferred to develop vehicles – speedboats, agricultural trailers, amphibious cars, four-wheel drive vehicles, and pickup trucks are on his resume. Before that he owned Fyber – along with his brother Bill – which produced over 7,000 dune buggies in 19 years.

The Troller was developed as an off-road vehicle to tackle sand dunes, hills, and roads on Ceará’s beaches and forests. Initially, production was manual, with parts from several brands purchased on the market. The first engine came from the Volkswagen Santana and then from the MWM. Two to three units a month were produced by a team of ten people.

The vehicle was gaining fans, especially among rally pilots, and the orders increased. Farias had no way to invest in an expansion of production, so in 1997 he associated with the businessman Mário Araripe, who took 75% of the shares and then the totality. The factory gained an assembly line for serial production, which increased to 100 units per month.

The fiberglass four-wheeler from Ceará gained worldwide popularity in 2000, when it came fourth in the Paris-Dakar offroad Rally. In the two following years it won the World Rally Championship and had at least one hundred units exported to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan.

In 2002, Farias left Troller and began to produce auto parts that he supplied to the assembler. Today, at the age of 70, he has a residential elevator company he developed. “If I had the money I would buy it again,” he says. “But I would do something different, like an electric vehicle, which is the future.” Araripe headed Troller until 2007, when he sold it to Ford.

Incentives

Ford bought Troller to be able to transfer benefits from the North and Northeast special automotive IPI (tax on industrialized products) exemption program to the Camaçari (BA) plant, inaugurated in 2001. At the time the program was applicable to companies already established in the regions, so the American automaker avoided the collection of some taxes.

Currently, Secretary Maia Junior fears that the strategy will hinder the purchase of Troller, because the Camaçari benefit is tied to the Ceará plant. “We have already asked the federal government to separate it, otherwise anyone who wants Troller would also have to buy the Bahia plant in order to have access to the incentive.”

In 13 years, Ford modernized Troller’s facilities, invested R$215 million in 2014 and last year launched the new generation of the T4, manufactured on the Ranger platform. The four-wheel drive vehicle was also upgraded with automatic transmission and costs from R$170,000. A total of 1,300 units were sold in 2020.

Source: O Estado de S. Paulo

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