Notes on Brazil:

Brazilians don’t seem to express much of their personality through their automobiles. A photograph of one of Sao Paulo’s monstrous traffic jams could easily be mistaken for black and white film. Ninety-five percent of cars are monochrome… black, white, grey, silver. Of the remaining few, most are red, and those are mostly newer sporty models. (Keep in mind that “sporty” is a relative term. Nothing like the sports cars or custom jobs you’d see on any American road.) I think I saw two yellow cars in two weeks; green, blue, gold, or any other colors are scarcely more frequent. And the windows are mostly tinted black… far darker than would be legal in the U.S. People don’t want to call attention to themselves because of street crime and carjacking. Sad.

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Even with the tropical climate, I saw precisely one convertible in all of our travels (including our earlier trip to Rio de Janeiro, which should be heaven on Earth for convertibles). Too flashy and too dangerous. Again, sad.

Most recent-model cars are “flex fuel,” meaning they run on anything from straight gasoline to straight ethanol, and anything in between. All filling station have both of those. Actually, the number of variations in mind-boggling. theoretically, I counted eight different types of fuel available: three grades of gasoline (all unleaded). two grades of ethanol, two grades of diesel (I have no idea what the difference is), and compressed natural gas. I spotted one station carrying at least six different fuels, and four or five were common. And there are different prices depending on whether you pay for your purchase all at once, or spread over multiple payments. (Yeah. Payments for a tank of gas. But at $70/tank in a country with lots of poverty, I can see why that’d be a useful option to offer.)

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The market is reasonably rational: Ethanol has about 67% of the energy content by volume as gasoline, and it’s priced about 60% as much per liter. (I suspect the difference is taxation.) And Brazilians with flex-fuel cars make the tradeoff calculations in their head every day: “Today, I’m staying in the city, so I’ll fill up with ethanol, because it’s more cost-effective.” Or, “Today, I’m driving to Rio, so I’ll fill up with gasoline, since I’ll get more mileage on a tank.” Aren’t markets wonderful?

No bumper stickers except for political candidates (there is an election next month). Again, I think people don’t want to call attention to themselves.

And if you removed everything from the road except Fiats, VWs, and Chevrolets, the traffic would still be horrible. Those three makes account for the vast majority of the cars on the road. Mostly subcompact models that we don’t have in the states (although I think the Chevy Meriva and the Fiat Doblo would both sell well if imported here). A few small Fords, and, bizarrely, a couple of Chrysler PT Cruisers.

The French are well represented, with Renault, Peugeot, and Citroen. The Koreans seem to be pushing Hyundais and Kias successfully. The Japanese, not so much: Hondas aren’t uncommon, but only a few Toyotas, and no Nissans or Mazdas. A few Mitsubishi light trucks. And, in the mountains near Pirenópolis, a single lonely Subaru Forester! I wonder how it got there, anyhow he gets it serviced?

The superrich in Sao Paulo, of course, can drive whatever they want. There are dealerships for Bentley, Ferrari, you name it. I saw one Porsche and a small handful of Audis on the road. God only knows what they cost. I saw a billboard advertising a Kia Soul for BRL$58,900, which translates to over US$34,000… over 2.5X what it’s worth here.

View: The Brazil Posts