Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Economist's Notebook: Random Thoughts from Brazil

Some random thoughts I never had a chance or the will to turn in to full posts:

1. GM has a HUGE presence in Brazil, all under the Chevy brand, though almost all the cars they sell are European designed Opels (the German car company which is owned by GM). Unlike most of the crap sold as Chevys here (and mostly fleet sales and to rental car agencies it seems), these cars are relatively stylish and well engineered. One wonders why US auto makers are so content to make great cars for Europe but bound and determined that US consumers won't like them and instead sell their crap to us. GM has awoken to this and has now transformed Saturn into basically Opel USA to widespread acclaim in the auto press. It is time for these companies to consolidate and start leveraging their European designs. But the Latin American presence of Chevy is a very good thing for the future of GM (if there is to be one). Time to jettison all of the other brands in the US and just be Chevy.

2. VW has the biggest presence in Brazil dating back to the days of the Bug and the Combi (which is still made and very common in Brazil - making me wistful for my old bus). Fiat is relatively new, I'm told but now huge as well and the french companies are pretty big. But Japanese and Korean cars are not - they are just now trying to break in. This is curious given the fact that the largest Japanese ethnic community outside of Japan is in Brazil.

3. Brazil is a huge and amazingly diverse country and the three places I have spent time, Salvador, Sao Paulo and Rio are as diverse as California, New York City and Florida (in that order). You just can;t generalize too much about the county from a visit to any one place, and there is still the huge interior agricultural and ranching regions and the Amazon - it is a truly wonderful and wonderfully diverse country.

4. I was told by residents of Rio that though one often takes the admonitions to tourists to be careful in Rio lightly (must be an overabundance of caution one is apt to think), on the contrary, Rio is VERY dangerous and you have to be VERY careful. Hard to imagine living that way and one wonders why it is so hard to fix. A big clue lies in the fact that Brazil is a fairly rich country but one of the most unequal on earth.

5. Sao Paulo has got to be on par with NYC, Paris and London as world class dining spots. Yes, I said London - been there recently?

6. What do you do when land is enormously expensive but labor is relatively cheap? Well in one trendy Sao Paulo neighborhood, a new supermarket decided not to build a parking lot, but offer free delivery to your home.

7. A draft beer is called a "Chopp" and good luck finding anything but pilsners. I did try a Brazilian wine, but Brazil has a long way to go to catch up to the Argentinians and, especially, the Chileans.

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