SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Brazil's peculiar automobile market has bred a new type of vehicle so successful that carmakers are already selling it in other developing countries and considering exporting it to Europe.
Call it the sport-utility vehicle on a diet, or the anorexic Hummer. The Palio Weekend Adventure, the EcoSport and the CrossFox all were born in a style-conscious country that demands good design at inexpensive prices.
What makes them ready for a run down dirt roads of the country's vast interior or splashes along beaches are elevated suspensions, tough-looking accessories and all-terrain tires.
Small sizes and their transmissions, which mainly come in two-wheel drive -- instead of the costlier four-wheel drives marketed in the United States -- models keep them cheap. They sell for about $13,000, a third or half as much as a typical four-wheel-drive SUV available in Brazil.
Three of the major carmakers here have created affordable off-road vehicles. They are not designed for heavy-duty bushwhacking but instead fun trips down bumpy gravel roads.
Fiat Auto added rough-and-ready styling to its small Palio Weekend wagon several years ago and quickly created a sales bonanza with the muscled up Adventure version, which accounts for half of the wagon's sales in Brazil.
Ford Motor Co. then launched its EcoSport, which looks like a slimmed down version of a typical SUV, and was designed from the ground up in Brazil. The vast majority of the EcoSports it sells are two-wheel drive, a company official said.
In January, Volkswagen will introduce the CrossFox, a tougher version of the Fox model. That new subcompact is being prepared for export to Latin America and Europe.
"We have been selling the Palio Adventure in Mexico since the middle of this year and we are studying selling it in other markets, including our home market," Cledorvino Bellini, Fiat's head for Latin America, said at Sao Paulo's biennial carshow, which started this week.
Exports of simple cars such as the Volkswagen Gol have risen sharply in recent years, selling to places like China. But now Brazilian automakers are adding value to small cars.
The innovative designs have generated additional cash from exports as Brazil exports higher-value goods. In the first nine months of this year, vehicle exports rose 23.9 percent, while the value of exports jumped 49.5 percent, according to Brazil's association of vehicle manufacturers.
For consumers in developing nations and Europe alike, it means cheaper cars, a feeling of safety and security that some people perceive in SUVs without all of the risks, and better gas mileage because the vehicles are light. They also make driving through pot-holed cities in poor countries or over bumpy cobblestones in Europe easier.
Still, some automakers are not yet fully convinced the slimmed down SUV models will sell in Europe and other core markets.
A Ford official said the company has no plans to market the EcoSport in Europe or the United States, where it has designed other models targeting wealthier buyers, but said the car is selling briskly in Latin America as it "combines innovative design with the realities of purchasing power in countries like Brazil."
For now, VW says it is only planning to sell the normal, street version of the Fox in Europe despite rumors in the automotive press it will roll out the CrossFox there after launching it in Brazil in January.