Ford’s announcement in January that it will leave Brazil caused a stir among jeepers. Ford also owns Troller, a national brand purchased in 2007 by the automaker and which produces the T4 jeep at the Horizonte plant, in the metropolitan region of Fortaleza.
The model will stop being produced in the last quarter of 2021 if no one takes over the operation. The governments of Ceará and federal, together with Fiec (Federation of Industries of the State of Ceará), try to find a buyer. Ford says it “will continue to facilitate possible and reasonable alternatives for interested parties”.
The project of a jeep to face the sand on the beaches of the Northeast, which became a fever among rally participants, was born in 1994. Rogério Farias, 70, left the company with his brother, whose main product was the Fyber bugs, to manufacture by hand o Troler (with one L only).
Farias is an administrator, but specializes in mechanics and industrial design. He even elaborated speedboats and agricultural carts. At the request of friends who wanted a reliable 4×4 for the dunes of Ceará, Farias set up a small factory in Horizonte, which made three to four jeeps a month.
Part of the parts was removed from existing cars, such as rear-view mirrors and seats, which earned the jeep the nickname “Frankenstein”. The first engine was a Volkswagen Santana.
“You can’t make, for example, a specific rear-view mirror, it would be very expensive. Other parts we did in Horizonte, mainly, the suspension,” said Farias.
The idea was to have a 4×4 vehicle with a high-strength tubular chassis that could withstand the salinity of the beaches and be able to overcome obstacles on the off road. “We produced a jeep and I sent it to a friend to test it. It was very handmade,” said Farias .
The car was also tested in rally events, but there were problems. The first versions had a defect in the brake and steering, in addition to an overheating that was resolved with a larger radiator – even when the cars started to have industrial production, there were problems, such as chassis cracked in the Pantanal pickup.
“We thought that a part for the brake was ideal, we tested it and it didn’t work well. Then we changed it until we got it right. When we took the car to the [rali] Paris-Dacar [em 2000], the radiator was from a tractor. “
Farias ceased to have a shareholding in Troler in 2006, shortly before Ford bought it in January 2007. He sold his share to partner, businessman and engineer Mario Araripe (who had been a majority shareholder since the 1990s, when Farias needed an injection of resources). There Troller was born, now with two Ls, and production started to be on an industrial scale. Farias remained at the company, participating in the manufacturing process of the jeep.
In 2007, the entire operation, which was in deficit, was negotiated with Ford, which took advantage of a federal law passed shortly before to gain tax exemptions when obtaining the factory in the Northeast.
“I had no participation in this agreement with Ford, nor did I receive any money,” said Farias.
He continued to produce only a few parts for the car, mainly the suspension parts, and selling them to the American automaker.
The businessman had already obtained tax exemption from Ceará when installing the factory in Horizonte instead of Fortaleza. During the Lula government (2003 to 2010), the company achieved a reduction in the IPI (Tax on Industrialized Products).
“I did not participate in any conversation about this tax issue, my role was already just the production part, but of course they helped [as isenções]”said Farias, who today declares himself a voter for Jair Bolsonaro (without a party) who does not like the PT.
“If the election were today, I would vote for Bolsonaro again, despite not agreeing with everything he does.”
A year after taking over the factory in Horizonte, Ford decided to end production of the Pantanal pickup truck, produced together with the T4 jeep, shortly after the first units were sold.
At the time, the possibility of cracks in the chassis was verified, which would compromise the safety and durability of the truck. Owners of the nearly 70 units sold were asked to return the vehicles for damages – in other words, sell the car back to the automaker. Those who refused signed terms of responsibility. The delivered vehicles were destroyed.
“There was a factory office in São Paulo and they did the project there [em 2003]. The T4 chassis was picked up and increased by 1.20 m. Cars were a problem. Did not work.”
Today, Ford has an annual production of 1,300 T4 jeeps, which start at R $ 167,000. Manufacturing will remain normal until at least the end of 2021.
“I don’t think the Troller brand will disappear. I believe that some company will take over the factory, any major automaker will put in its mechanics and the car will be running the other day,” he says.
He currently runs a home elevator factory and has no Troller model in his garage.
“Today it is another car that is produced. A lot of people buy to ride in the city and complain that it is not soft. In the beginning the car had nothing electronic, if you ride in a jeep without any wires to start, it is totally different.”