“In any sound design there are almost unlimited possibilities.
I see no sense in starting anew every few years with the same teething troubles, making obsolete all of the past”.
This statement by Heinz Nordhoff, the head of Volkswagenwerk in 1948, is very fitting to introduce genesis of the iconic, venerable, the best-ever selling hatchback in South Africa, the Volkswagen Citi Golf. However, in this instance Nordhoff was referring to the Volkswagen Beetle, which lasted for over six decades and with the sales of nearly 22 million units worldwide.
After nearly 25 years in existence and over 377 000 units produced at the Volkswagen of South Africa production plant in Uitenhage, Citi Golf’s sound, iconic and pragmatic design has stood the test of time and surpassed all expectations.
A sense of cautious optimism about the success of Citi was summed up in the 1984 edition of “The VW Times” which on the release of the Citi stated, “The Citi Golf is a bright new city car for the young at heart. And the good news is that it will still be around after the new Golf 2 is launched”. Nobody in 1984 could have imagined that it would outlast five generations of subsequent Golf models and become an icon in its own right.
Golf 1 became an immediate success when it was launched in South Africa in 1978 (four years after it was launched in Germany). The much anticipated launch of Golf 1 in South Africa was greeted by a banner headline in one of the national publications which read, “The Biggest Motoring News in 30 years, a new small car from Volkswagen”.
As the Citi takes its final bow and the curtains being drawn, the statement could be re-written to state: “The Biggest Motoring News in 25 years: Volkswagen Citi finally bows out of the market”.
The Managing Director of Volkswagen of South Africa at that time, Peter Searle, commented that, “The success of the Golf has been so great and the public reaction to the car has been so positive that the Beetle has taken a back seat”. At that time, sales of the Beetle were on the decline and the arrival of Golf 1 was a welcome booster for Volkswagen of South Africa’s sales.
After 10 years since its world premier in June 1974, Golf 1 was replaced in 1983 by Golf 2 in Europe and in 1984 in South Africa. Bigger and more sophisticated, the new Golf was more expensive than its predecessor. The imminent introduction of Golf 2 put VWSA in a quandary of finding a vehicle that will offer consumers a fun, affordable and cheap-to-run car.
VWSA was about to vacate its traditional entry level segment, which was a stepping stone for first time Volkswagen buyers to move up the ladder. The need for a car to replace Golf 1 in that segment of the market became a priority.
The planning to find the replacement of Golf started in earnest as early as in 1982.A number of scenarios were put forward amongst them was the possible introduction of Polo which was introduced in Europe in 1975. At that time it was VW’s smallest car and it was available in two engine sizes, 895cc and 1093cc.
However, this proposal was turned down.The proposal that seemed to have more weight and support revolved around the retention of Golf 1 in another form. The proposition made more financial sense as there would be no major investment required for a new production line or tooling as these were already in place. The idea of retaining Golf 1 went through a number of processes, not the least of which was in what form the car would be marketed.
Eventually, it was decided that Golf 1 will be retained and be marketed as the Econo Golf. A comprehensive study was prepared by the finance, marketing, production, project engineering and design departments over a period of time and the design department under Hans Greger was eventually tasked with putting the Econo Golf concept together with regard to the form the car was expected to take. From Econo Golf to Citi Golf A two-door body shell from the original 1978 Golf LS 1100 was also considered as a cost saving measure.
After numerous considerations, the four-door bodyshell won the day as it appeared that South African consumers had been spoiled after the demise of the Beetle and now preferred four-door cars.
By late 1982 a concept car had been assembled to test reaction. Key VWSA executives from various departments and personnel from the advertising agency, RS-TM were invited to attend a presentation in VW’s design studio at which the car was to be displayed. This was to allow everyone a chance to be acquainted with it and put ideas forward as to how they envisaged the project would move forward and what sort of advertising campaign would be needed to present the car to its target market. It was agreed that the target market for the Econo Golf would be first-time buyers and parents buying an economical, reliable car for their children at university.
Students and other first-time buyers in the 18 to 24 age group would want a car that stood out in a crowd, a car that they would be proud to own and say something about their personality. Econo Golf was exactly the opposite, dull, lifeless and unimaginative.It just did not have the appeal the younger market was looking for, rather like a “no name” toilet roll with nothing that said “buy me” except possibly price. Even the “Econo” name conjured up images of cheapness.After the presentation and comments, it was generally agreed that there had to be another way of tackling the problem and that perhaps after all, Econo Golf was not the way to go. When the agency representatives returned to Cape Town there was a feeling of tremendous excitement in that here they were being given a great opportunity to not only style a car but to create a brand.
RS-TM had at its disposal a young, vibrant team which included fashion designer, Jenni Button; copywriter, John Cooke; art directors, Brian Plimsoll and Mel Miller; illustrator, “Zippie” Zimmet. This team was set to create an icon, one which would shake convention and achieve something that had rarely been achieved before in the motor industry, not just in South Africa but possibly in the world.Taking an already ten year-old design, changing it into something that would be acceptable to a whole new, very critical audience who needed to make a statement was not going to be simple. The brief required the car to break away from its previous visual exterior design parameters and to give it a completely new character and look which would set it apart from its predecessor even though the body shell would remain the same.
Most agreed that the Econo Golf concept would not set it apart from Golf 1 and would not create a new image for the car.RS-TM’s team set about the task with enthusiasm and many long hours were spent trying to meet the brief but as is so often the case in situations like this, part of the answer lay in previous experiences. Some red, yellow and blue light bulbs flashed in Mel Miller’s head! He suggested that the idea of using bright colours should be carried over to the re-incarnated Golf, still nameless at that time. So some renderings were done, but these still did not set the car apart despite using the bright red, yellow and blue colours. Someone then came up with the idea to use bold white panels and striping along the bottom of the front and rear doors as well as the “bobtail” on the rear tailgate.
As an added twist it was suggested that the wheelrims as well as the front and rear bumpers be painted white. This was an inspired suggestion and would spill over into the motor industry as a whole as painted and colour-coded bumpers would eventually almost become the norm. The rear passenger lower door panel striping incorporated the word “Citi Golf” the origin of which has been lost in the mists of time. Theo Wiggill, VWSA’s then marketing manager, remembers taking the name used by another motor manufacturer for their “City” car and modifying it to “Citi Golf” for the Golf. Another scenario involves Brian Plimsoll who is reputed to have penned the phrase “Get the freedom of the Citi” as part of the proposed ad campaign which led to the RS-TM team coming up with the slightly changed spelling “Citi Golf” being suggested as the name for the car. Whatever the facts, suddenly with the adoption of the “Citi Golf” name, the whole concept came to life and the iconic “Citi Golf” name was born. In an atmosphere of immense excitement, because everyone felt that they were onto something great, the revised renderings were sent off to Uitenhage for comment.
With the renderings in their possession it was now up to VWSA’s design studio under Hans Greger to take the design further and make it a reality. Some slight modifications were made to the renderings mostly involving the “Citi Golf” logo on the rear doors. The difficult part of the project was still to come, the building of a number of prototypes for evaluation. The decals for the white panels, seat and interior door panel material, paint in the new colours and many other smaller but no less important items, had to be ordered in order to complete the one-off’s. Prototypes, sometimes in singles or very low numbers, are usually a problem for manufacturers as these have to be virtually hand-built and the Citi Golf prototypes were no exception.
It was a great moment when the many hours of pondering over the design by the RS-TM team had finally come to fruition, for here in the flesh were examples of what the finished product would look like and the cars looked great. All that was needed now was the go-ahead from the Volkswagen executives. If the reaction of Tony Kirton and the late Anthony Denham, key players in the sales and marketing team was anything to go by, it appeared that the go-ahead might be a foregone conclusion. Surprisingly there were still some advocates of the Econo Golf who felt that price was going to be the deciding factor and that the extra cost of the additional detailing and features incorporated in the Citi Golf would blow the project out of the water. However, the other group countered the argument by suggesting that the extra cost of the Citi Golf would be justified, believing that the market would bear the relatively minimal cost increase in favour of the more individually styled and much more exciting Citi Golf.
There was really only one way to answer the question and that was to get the target market, first time car buyers, university students and others, to judge for themselves, so a research study was commissioned to settle the matter once and for all.The red Citi Golf prototype and the Econo Golf were displayed with a number of competitors current models, all with a ceiling price of around R7000 and the target group was asked to name the car of their choice. The Econo Golf hardly got a second glance even though it was the cheapest of the group.
Overwhelmingly, 89% chose the red Citi Golf outright. The target groups were then asked which car they would choose if the Citi Golf was R300 more expensive than the most expensive of the competitors’ cars. Undeterred more than 70% overwhelmingly voted the Citi Golf as their choice. While R300 may not sound like much in today’s terms bear in mind that in 1982 or 1983, that amount would have bought you almost 500 litres of petrol against around 40 litres at today’s price! The outcome of the survey confirmed that pricing in the entry-level segment of the market was not as important an issue as originally thought and so the die was cast, the Econo Golf concept finally and thankfully being put to rest.With the Citi Golf finally being given the green light, Managing Director of VWSA, Peter Searle instructed the various head of departments to get their teams working on every aspect of the proposed project and report back as soon as possible so that he could prepare his presentation to the Volkswagen AG Board of Management.
The reports would include all the financial implications, the product planning and engineering aspects, sales and marketing as well as the proposed advertising campaign by RS-TM. The three prototype Citi Golfs were shipped under great secrecy to RS-TM in Cape Town for photographic purposes. On arrival they were parked in garages at their premises where they could be hidden from public view but of course they had to be moved around for the photo sessions. On one such occasion, Jenni Button looked down from her office onto the parking lot where the cars were being readied for a photo shoot and seeing the red, yellow and blue cars parked side by side and with the large painted areas of their roofs and bonnets visible from above, suddenly brought back influences from her art school days. Because Jenni’s mind is a styling mind she was able to put colours and concepts together and she immediately went to Mel Miller and said, “there are a lot of things about the red, yellow and blue cars that remind me of * Mondrean. Mel, imbibed with a similar mindset, instantaneously caught on to what Jenni was proposing and he told her to get to it.Using the Mondrean theme, Jenni proposed to turn Citi Golf into an exciting and colourful fashion item, not just another car.
She “got to it” and within hours had designed all the props to be used in the ad campaign, beach umbrellas, custom swimwear, deckchairs and the rest which all featured the Mondrean graphics. All the models to be used in the shoots were hand-picked and exuded style so it is no wonder that the fresh, spunky adverts made such an impact, a style that was almost unheard of in the motor industry, shades of Doyle, Dane, Bernbach.With the ad campaign progressing well and the financial and other reports at hand, Peter Searle started putting together the presentation which everyone hoped would swing Germany to vote favourably on the Citi Golf project.
Much of VWSA’s future rested on the decision to go ahead.It was perhaps fortunate that the presentation had to be made to Carl Hahn and the Board of Management in Germany. Carl Hahn became Chairman of the Volkswagenwerk AG Board of Management on 1 January 1982 after having overseen Volkswagen’s Sales and Marketing in the United States in the 50’s and 60’s at a time when the Beetle was king. He was then transferred to Wolfsburg in mid-60’s to direct worldwide sales. Coming from a background of sales and marketing, Carl Hahn had more than just an accounting vision of a project. Fortunately, Mr Hahn also had great respect for Peter Searle and would play a vital part in persuading the board to accept the Citi Golf proposal.
It was not a smooth ride however as many of the VWAG board members had already made up their minds that the project would never work and might in the end affect VWSA’s image. But the professional way the presentation was handled and the enthusiasm shown for the Citi Golf by Peter Searle and his team won the day and to almost everyone’s surprise it was given the green light. It is doubtful that the German board realised how the project would evolve and what a huge success story it would turn out to be. Most of them probably shared the opinion expressed by some VWSA personnel that Citi Golf was going to be a flash in the pan or a fad that would probably die within 3 to 5 years. This was not be, as the Citi Golf’s lifespan stretched to 25 years, thanks to the engineering ingenuity of the Product Engineering team in Uitenhage and world class advertising and marketing by RS-TM, now Ogilvy SA.* Piet Mondrean (1872 – 1944) was a Dutch abstract artist who took abstraction to its furthest limits in simplicity of form, line and tone. The predominant colours he used where red, yellow and blue as can be seen in the example of one of his works shown.
The main challenge for the Citi Golf in its 25 years of existence was to keep it fresh and appealing in a fast changing and enormously competitive entry market segment.
Golf 1 generated excitement and set the trend for compact hatchbacks when it was introduced in 1974. Its squared-off appearance, lively engine and front-wheel drive made the Golf the benchmark in small-car handling, performance and fuel economy.The major challenge facing VWSA’s product development engineers was to add meaningful features without driving up the cost of the new Citi Golf.
This was achieved by continuous ingenious under-the-skin improvements - building on the sound foundation laid by the popular original Golf 1.
Certain design aspects were accepted as a given, such as the metal pressings for the bodywork and the way in which they fit together. Still, the real difficulty was dealing with high quality expectations of car buyers who were fast gaining access to the best available automotive technology in new offerings from the competition.
The seemingly endless list of Citi Golf development milestones mirrors the history of the Beetle - a car that remained a favourite throughout its illustrious life by providing affordable people’s transport and by simply innovating all the time.That in itself reinforced the market’s perception that the Citi Golf was a car in its own right and an institution destined to be around for a long time. Although not always prominently promoted, the Citi Golf’s unbelievably low cost of ownership made it a firm favourite with individual customers and fleet buyers alike.
Apart from its legendary frugality at the pump, the Citi Golf required little maintenance and it frequently scored highly in the overall replacement parts cost surveys. Arguably the most important upgrades in the Citi Golf’s history were the remodeling of the dashboard as well as the recent fitment of a driver airbag. The entire front panel had to be retooled for injection moulding in South Africa, while various up-to-date components were selected from new Volkswagen models for fitment.The new dashboard replaced the boxy version that Citi Golf owners became accustomed to through the years. By fitting a sculpted front panel with neatly integrated controls and instruments, a remarkable change in the interior ambience was achieved.
The introduction of a driver airbag early in 2009 was a response to customer demands. The airbag was mounted in the steering wheel and had crash sensors.
Mechanically, one of the earliest improvements was an increase in the fuel tank capacity from 37 to 49 litres. Long distances between refuelling require more petrol in the tank - equally useful in town driving.
A 52kW carburetor-fed 1349 cc engine was introduced in 1998 followed by the1,4 and 1,6 litre variants with fuel injection late in 1999. With the increased performance, a compact and more powerful brake booster was fitted with larger calipers and a torsion brake bar for better effort and feel, while the clutch action benefited from different cable routing.
In 2002, a 1423 cc carburetor engine joined the range, delivering 54kW.Although the engines remained mainly unchanged, complex Pierburg carburetors were replaced by Solex and Keihin variants that proved to be problem-free. Later, the new-generation fuel-injected engines switched from the K-Jetronic system to multi-point fuel injection as used in Golf 3 and Polo models.
Increased compression ratios and hydraulic tappets were introduced, while a custom-designed immobiliser system and Matsushita airconditioner were developed and approved specifically for the Citi Golf.
Similarly, radio/tape and CD player systems were made available for fitment.Cooling was improved by fitting a more robust spherical coolant bottle and a full-length water box cover followed. A one-piece exhaust system with optimised hangers became part of the package in 1999, with an exhaust flex joint replacing the ball joint for noise reduction and improved engine performance.
One of the original Golf’s most endearing features has not been lost with the passage of time: road holding remained excellent thanks to the independent MacPherson struts and coil springs used in front and semi-independent torsion beam axle and coil spring set-up at the back.
Refinements through the years ensured that a soft and compliant ride with a degree of body roll, but these underpinnings refuse to be put off line by ruts and ridges. Bigger wheels placed at the corners and short overhangs ensure impeccable road manners, which are entertaining as well as predictable and forgiving.
Styling changes introduced in 1989 comprised new fenders - with side indicators - and a redesigned grille, while a repositioned gear lever in 1996 was heralded as a major ergonomical improvement.
Wheel window regulators were replaced by a cable-operated system for ease of operation.In 1997 tinted glass all round became standard, the interior rear view mirror was moved from its roof mounting to the windshield, and the VIN number was mounted on the dash.
Meanwhile, the spare wheel securing mechanism was improved and a gear lock fitted for additional security. A one-key system for the doors and fuel cap was also developed and a central locking and alarm system became available in 2002.By constantly improving and with engineers searching for innovative solutions, the Citi Golf grew in stature and is now regarded as better than the original in all aspects. Safety issues were never compromised, just as the quality of materials remained of the best available
Uitenhage produced 377 484 Citi Golfs, a figure which surpassed Beetle’s record of 288 384 units produced over 28 years at the same plant.This is an overview of the key events in the history and evolution of the iconic Citi Golf in South Africa:
1984: Red, Yellow, Blue Citi Golf range is launched at a premier event in Johannesburg.
1985: VWSA partners with the National Road Safety Council and Caltex Africa on School Driver Education Programme. 26 Citi Golfs are donated to the programme.New colour is added into the Citi Golf range, black with white accents.First special edition, Citi Golf Sport is introduced.The 1.6 litre 63kW sportier Citi Golf comes with sports seats, close-ratio 5-speed, rev counter and digital clock.
1987: Citi Golf logo on the rear door is changed.4-speed automatic transmission is added into the range.
1988: Citi Golf Sport with a 70kW 1.8 litre engine is introduced and it comes with a 5-speed manual transmission.
1989: Air conditioner and immobiliser system are added to the Citi Golf range and are offered as an option.1990: Citi Golf CTi is launched to reincarnate the spirit of the Golf GTi 1. It is powered by high-torque fuel injected 82kW engine with a top speed of 180km/h. It sprints from 0-80km/h in just over 6 seconds.
1991: Model range comprises of 1.3 litre economy version, 1.6 litre with manual and automatic transmissions, 1.8 litre carburetor fed Citi Golf Sport and range topper, 1.8 fuel injected CTi.Citi Golf special edition package, Designa with 7-spoke alloy wheels, colour coded bumpers, sports seats is introduced for 1.6 litre models and Sport. It is offered in five colours – Black Magic, Artic White, Diamond Silver, Monza Red and Sapphire Blue.
1992: Citi Golf Shuttle, the cheapest model in the range is introduced. It is only offered in two colours – Red and White.
1994: To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Citi Golf, a limited edition 1.6 litre Citi Golf Ritz is introduced.15 000km service interval; 3-year unlimited mileage and anti-rust warranty is introduced to the Citi Golf range.
1995: 1.3 litre Citi Golf Chico at R33 950 is introduced. It retails at 10% cheaper than most affordable cars in the market.26 759 units are sold, the best sales figure in the 11-year history of the Citi Golf.Special edition, Citi Golf Blues is introduced and it comes standard with radio/tape, new trim and roof mounted aerial.
1996: The colourful Citi Golf Deco special edition is launched. It is offered in three colours with matching leather trim, Apple Green, Jazz Blue and Monza RedChico range gets 5-speed manual transmission as well as an upmarket derivative, 1.6 Chico Lux with quad headlights and alloy wheels.
1997: Citi Golf Sonic with 1.4 and 1.6 engines is introduced. Citi Golf Sonic added a touch of retro styling to the range with silver instrument dials, roof mounted aerial, high level brake light.
1998: Special Edition, Bafana Bafana is introduced to pay tribute to the success of the soccer national team.52kW carburetor fed engine replaces the 48kW engine in the Chico range.
1999: Fuel injected engines, 1.4i (62kW) and 1.6i (74kW) are introduced. They are accompanied by upgraded brakes, new exhaust system and externally mounted fuel pump. Chico models retain the carburetor fed engine as an option.Citi Golf Life 1.6i is introduced and it comes standard with CD/radio and 4-speakers.
2000: Citi Golf.com with a 1.4i engine is launched and it comes with a warning buzzer for lights, fuel and oil.
2001: CAR magazine survey revealed that Citi Golf had the lowest cost of ownership (based on the sample basket of parts for service items, mechanical parts and repairs for accidental damage) in comparison to other cars in its segment.
2003: Major Facelift - Front windows become one piece and dashboard is updated.2004: Chico 1.4 is voted the Best Budget Car by CAR magazine in its Top 12 Best Buys.
2005: 1.4i and 1.6i Citi Golf Velociti with silver golf knob gear, twin exhaust pipe, smoked taillights is introduced.Citi Golf Rhythm 1.4i with alloy wheels, radio/CD/MP3 player as standard is introduced.
2006: The fastest ever production Citi Golf, 1.8i R-Line is unveiled at the Auto Africa Motorshow.
The 90kW R-Line had a top speed of 193km/h and it took 8.6 seconds to achieve 100km/h.
A record 28 550 units are sold – the best-ever sales figure in the history of Citi Golf.
2007: A milestone in the history of A1 (Golf 1 and Citi Golf) was reached as 500 000th unit was produced at the Uitenhage Plant. 364 813 of these units were Citi Golf.
2008: Chico 1.4 carburetor fed engine is replaced with fuel injected engine due emission laws and Chico is renamed TenaCiti.CitiSport and CitiRox models are fitted with sport suspension, CD/MP3, central locking and alarm system as standard.Citi Plus short term insurance for Citi owners is introduced in partnership with Alexander Forbes.
1.4i Citi Wolf is unveiled at the Johannesburg Motorshow. The 62kW Citi Wolf came standard with features such as sports suspension, sporty grille, gun-metal alloy wheels and tinted glass.
2009: 1.4i Citi Xcite is added into the Citi range for the sound aficionados. The sound package is developed jointly with Lightning Audio, a subsidiary of Rockford Fosgate. It consisted of 2-way door mounted speakers, an amplifier and sub-woofer. Greatest technology advancement is achieved with the Citi as the driver airbag is fitted as standard across the range.Limited edition Citi Billabong, a co-branding initiative with the watersport apparel company, Billabong is introduced.
As a tribute to the original Golf 1 range, a retro-styled GTS limited edition is introduced. Citi GTS came standard with lowered sport suspension, 15-inch alloy wheels coated in gunmetal grey, classic GTS side decals, red surrounds on the grille and double headlights.
Citi Mk 1, a limited edition of 1000 Citi’s is produced to mark the end of production of the Citi.
Interesting facts about Citi
• Over 120 employees currently working at VWSA production plants in Uitenhage have only worked on the A1 line (Golf 1 and Citi) production. Collectively, they have 2700 years of experience on the Citi.
• In 1984, only 300 Citi Golf units were sold per month. 25 years later, over 1600 units are sold in a single month.
• In 2006, an average of 130 units were produced per day and 28 550 units were sold.
• In 1984, the retail price of the Citi Golf started at R 7 630 and in 2009 the retail price starts at R84 700.
• Citi has outlasted five generations of the Golf range.
Long live the CITI