Why more and more Pinoys are going the SUV way
I’ve been driving for over 20 years, and have been involved in the motoring beat for 13 years and counting.
I have seen trends come and go, and cars go faster and have more power, and I have also witnessed the “evolution” of the scene, where the well-moneyed enthusiasts have graduated from the odd Porsche or Ferrari, to full-on, limited-edition, numbered special models.
It’s also been equally entertaining seeing home-built, purpose-modified econo-boxes take on and embarrass cars costing many times more.
Yes, the tuning, aftermarket, modified car-scene is where I am very happily involved in, even if some of the mods and personalization done are questionable, to say the least.
It’s been a great adventure, and despite many people from the “scene” having moved on to bigger, better or simply more serious things, many new faces have come in, and with it, a flurry of new trends.
Over the last four years, the biggest, most explosive trend in the entire automotive aftermarket lifestyle scene is the 4×4/SUV/off-road game.
More and more people are buying an SUV, pickup or 4×4, then proceeding to tune/modify/upgrade their trucks.
What used to be a question of how-low-can-you-go, has now been replaced by how-high can-you-lift-it.
Licorice-thin rubber has also been replaced with fat, chunky light-truck tires, and knobbies have replaced tread patterns resembling simple wavy lines on an r-compound track-tire.
While many of these enthusiasts will never go beyond grassy fields with their trucks, there are still some who will challenge the harsh terrain, cross waist-high rivers, and climb slopes while inching their way forward, literally an inch at a time.
Dobinson Suspension Philippines, importer of premium Dobinson Suspension 4×4 parts from Australia, cites the “Ondoy” tragedy and habagat rains of a decade ago as the turning point for many enthusiasts.
The company says that the enormous flooding, which affected millions of people, made many enthusiasts realize that while their passion for all things automotive still burns bright, they also need a vehicle that is more practical, more versatile and can cope with harsh road and weather conditions.
Alvin Sia of Auto Options Inc., a company that has specialized in off-road wheels and tires since 1989, says that the narrowing gap between a top-variant compact car and an entry-level seven-seat SUV is another crucial factor as to why more and more people are buying these SUVs over a traditional car.
Currently, the average price difference between a top-level variant sedan versus an entry-level seven-seat SUV is around P120,000 to P150,000, which in real life terms, can be spread over several months when paying by installment/financing.
SUVs are generally tougher and sturdier than a traditional sedan, a crucial factor in the Philippine setting where a typical Filipino family numbers from four to seven people, often including extended family members.
Another factor is the price of diesel, typically 20 percent cheaper than gasoline.
Some enthusiasts have also discovered the joy of the outdoors through their 4×4/SUVs. Some friends from the FJ Cruiser Club of the Philippines regularly go on humanitarian/charity runs to far-flung villages inaccessible by ordinary cars.
They bring relief goods or hold medical missions while at the same time enjoying the opportunity to unleash their FJ Cruisers’ full potential.
The best part? They can bring family and friends on their runs and off-road treks.
Try doing that in your stripped out race car with your girlfriend or wife, and you’ll probably be single at the end of the trip.
This trend on SUVs and 4x4s isn’t a local phenomenon either. If you include crossovers, even the luxury car segment is taking notice worldwide.
Audi has a range of crossover SUVs from the Q3, Q5, Q7, and the just recently unveiled Q8 concept crossover SUV, which is an all-electric design.
It will most likely enter production if rumors about the German car industry foregoing fossil fuels in the future are to be believed.
BMW has its X3, X4, X5, and X6 crossover sport activity vehicles, and brands like Land Rover are undergoing a massive renaissance, thanks to offering some of the very best and most capable luxury 4×4 vehicles.
Bentley has also just unveiled its Bentayga, and Rolls-Royce is rumored to be close to presenting its production crossover competitor very soon, codenamed Project Cullinan.
Lamborghini is also planning to unveil soon its SUV, codenamed Urus.
Locally, crossovers are equally popular. The Subaru Forester remains as Motor Image Pilipinas/Subaru’s volume seller, accounting for more than half its total sales in the Philippines, according to Motor Image Group chief executive Glenn Tan, speaking to Asean media at the recently concluded Singapore Motor Show.
PGA Cars Philippines’ executive director Roberto Coyiuto III has supporting data on this as well: the group handles Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Porsche.
Three of the four brands have an SUV in their lineup, and thus, SUVs account for over 70 percent of all the types of vehicles it sells.
The recently launched Bentayga SUV is sold out, a success considering the level it’s at.
Again, the reason for the boom in SUV sales is the same; bad roads and bad weather severely limits a sedan’s movements, whereas an SUV, even a luxury brand, offers so much more versatility, capacity and space.
I spoke to a number of well-heeled enthusiasts who all own sports cars. Almost all of them opt to use a luxury SUV during the week, precisely because of the reasons listed above.
But going back to the mass market, and the aftermarket scene in general, all isn’t necessarily good.
There is still a wealth of misinformation and a serious lack in know-how.
Many owners want to install the largest possible wheel-and-tire combination on their trucks, which necessitates a massive and expensive suspension lift kit and sub-frame drop-box kit to lower the drivetrain and raise the body further up to accommodate the massive wheels and tires.
These kits cost serious money, but since not everyone can afford it, they short-cut it, adding cheap suspension spacers that cause stress and premature wear on driveline, axle and suspension parts.
A few have experienced accidents due to this.
Larger wheels and tires cause accelerated wear even on properly modified vehicles, and aggressive mud-terrain tires wear out quickly when used on the highway, and offer poor grip on wet paved roads—which can also cause accidents.
And even properly lifted vehicles are often driven by newbie owners who do not understand and realize the care required for vehicles that have been raised far beyond what the manufacturer intended them to be used for—which can cause loss of control, and more accidents.
It’s the same as in the 1990s during the heyday of fast-road and illegal drag racing of sport compact cars when people would lower their cars by cutting the coil springs or heating them up.
Many agree that trucks, SUVs, 4x4s and pickups are here to stay.
Campi records show that almost half of all new car sales are LCVs (light commercial vehicles), where SUVs and pickups fall under.
Car guys being car guys, they will want to improve, modify, personalize or tune their trucks to make them better, stand out, and for true off-road enthusiasts, go further, harder.
In 2015, the Department of Public Works and Highways reported that there was a total of 32,633.37 kilometers in the nation’s total road network, with a small 11.38 percent being unpaved roads.
However, this does not reflect access points going to far-flung villages and localities inhabited mostly by indigenous people.
According to some 4×4 enthusiasts and former government officials, many of these places lack any form of road network and can only be accessed by specialized 4×4 vehicles.
Oftentimes, these places hold some of the most beautiful and picturesque sights in our beloved country. This makes owning a 4×4 vehicle even more compelling.
As for me? Whenever I see a truck, I already imagine what it would look like lifted, with big, gnarly wheels and tires, and steel bumpers all-around, in the same way whenever I see a sedan, I try to imagine it slammed to the ground, with large wheels and rubber-band thin tires, an aggressive bodykit with a tuned angry engine. Works both ways now for me!