The 4 most significant trends in PH motoring in the past 3 decades

By Tessa R. Salazar Philippine Daily Inquirer December 04,2019

As the Philippine Daily Inquirer broadsheet celebrates 34 years, our very own Motoring section passes its 33rd.

We started our own wheels rolling a month after the Edsa People Power Revolution (the first Motoring page with the official Motoring masthead was on March 21, 1986), and since then, Inquirer Motoring has been witness to the most significant happenings in both the local and international scene. Here’s a compilation of what we consider the four most significant trends in the past three decades.

1. The undying, evolving AUV

Those who are old enough can still recall how it was to ride (and even drive) the early versions of the Asian utility vehicle (AUV), which were also then called “basic transportation vehicles” (BTV) or “basic utility vehicles (BUV):” The Ford Fiera, Toyota Tamaraw and Mitsubishi Cimarron of the ’70s were three of the most popular. They bore the functional designs that perhaps only Filipinos could have thought of and loved. The “ugliness” only Filipinos could love. But come the ’90s, these “ugly ducklings” have become the swans of the motor pool.

The first AUVs cost just about P10,000 in 1972, and the styling was blatantly basic, characterized by sharp edges and corners, and the ride was hard. It was called the Fiera, made by American company Ford, which spent all of $3 million to develop the vehicle.

The Fiera provided a low-cost alternative for Filipino grassroots businessmen—those who peddled vegetables and fruits, or perhaps those who ferried people in-between towns. Despite the jarring rides, the Fiera was an instant hit. It was the Fiera that pioneered the creation of the AUV market. Within a year, it accounted for 69 percent of all light commercial vehicles (LCVs) sold in the country. At its peak, the Fiera, and its kin the Tamaraw and Cimarron, were the real threats to the existence of the ubiquitous passenger jeepney.

“Ford Fiera was put on top of a basic chassis, a chassis made from scratch. From then on, all the five members of the original Progressive Car Manufacturing Program developed AUVs,” recalled auto industry veteran Vicente Mills.

General Motors’ Harabas, Isuzu’s KC20, Carco-Mitsubishi’s Cimarron, Francisco Motors Corp’s traditional jeepney called the Pinoy, and Delta Motors’ Toyota Tamaraw were the AUVs that followed suit.

By 1979, AUVs were selling at an annual rate of 20,000 units. By this time, the Toyota Tamaraw had captured market leadership at 40 percent, with the Fiera accounting for 33 percent. In the Philippines, the Kijang was sold as the Tamaraw (named for one of the country’s national animals), produced in the 1970s, up to early 1980s. Introduced in December 1976, it started as a small 3/4 ton high-side pick-up (HSPU) with a 1.2-liter 3K engine generating 41 kW (55 hp; 56 PS), and was produced by the now-defunct Delta Motors, which assembled Toyota vehicles in the Philippines.

The Fiera suffered a decline in sales and profits as expensive European-sourced components were used in its production. In 1980, the auto industry suffered as the Opec (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) hiked oil prices. The AUV market suffered a double whammy with the freeze on new jeepney licenses. Phoenix, a new Fiera program, was born to regain market leadership. It attempted to “reduce the uniqueness and sourcing complexity” by using the TK Courier powertrain and chassis components, as revealed by automotive engineer Renato B. Jaurigue in a 2002 interview.

In October 1980, the Fiera III was born. Using a carryover driveline, Ford introduced some cab improvements: The stamped roof, fenders and headlamp cans. The Fiera III brought Ford to a 32-percent market share.

By 1981, 52,000 Fieras were sold from the time it was introduced.

In February 1982, the all-new Ford Fiera hit the road. It provided advancements in styling, fuel economy, performance, ride and handling, offering a then-trailblazing 5-speed diesel transmission, front disc brakes, a torsion guard chassis, a new grille design, and a new hood in its TK driveline. The XLT model sported a modern sedan-like appearance. It was described as having white spoke wheels, body side stripes, driver’s bucket seat and auxiliary gauges. A groovy machine, indeed.

Over nine years later, on October 8, 1991, the next-generation new-look AUV rolled off Toyota Motor Philippines’ assembly lines: The Toyota Tamaraw FX. The ubiquitous FX served as the next real threat to the jeepneys, and somewhat the bridge to the next significant trend in Philippine motoring.

2. From AUVs to MPVs: Basic becomes sophisticated

According to auto industry pundits, the most successful BUV would arguably be the Toyota Kijang, which entered production in Indonesia and the Philippines (as the Tamaraw) in 1977 and 1976. The Kijang/Tamaraw has, over five generations, morphed into a fairly luxurious compact MPV (multipurpose vehicle) called the Toyota Innova.

By definition, MPVs apply to tall, spacious versatile cars that can carry from five to 9 passengers or a combination of people and cargo. It combines the maneuverability and agility of a compact car, with the spaciousness of a family van.

“AUVs became sophisticated and became MPVs. Toyota went upmarket and made it more sophisticated. The first Innova looked good, a big difference from the first Tamaraw. The Innova’s curved stamping [was a long way] from the boxy Tamaraw. Boxy [designs] use cheaper tooling. [When the Innova came out], everybody else followed,” observed Mills.

Auto industry veteran Vince Socco told the Inquirer Motoring that the trend from AUVs to MPVs was “a natural consequence of the evolution of the genre. What started as a BUV for people and goods has evolved into a more premium design that reflects the growing affluence of users in the Philippines and Asia. From sheer durability, the MPV has captured the increasing need for comfort, safety and sophistication.”

Socco—who has had over three decades of experience with Toyota—was involved in the development of three models specifically designed for Asia and the Philippines: The Tamaraw FX, the original Vios (designated then as the Asian/affordable family car or AFC), and the IMV series (the Hilux pick-up, Innova MPV and Fortuner SUV).

“The Tamaraw FX went on to become an icon as a people mover and workhorse vehicle. It was created to meet the basic transport requirements of developing markets and was designated as a BUV or AUV, clearly identifying the market it was designed for. The Tamaraw FX was meant to meet the needs of people who needed basic transportation for goods and people; a vehicle that was affordable, durable and easy to maintain. Eventually, the Tamaraw FX would evolve into the Innova, and now reflects the more mature needs for a people mover—especially in the Asian region where families are clannish and tend to travel together—including the increased call for safety and comfort amenities,” explained Socco in a recent interview with the Inquirer Motoring.

In 2005, the Innova became Toyota Motor Philippines’ (TMP) second Innovative International Multipurpose Vehicle (IMV) after the 2005 Hilux pickup. In his opening remarks, then TMP president Nobuharau Tabata said the Innova was “the minivan version of the IMV” and “carries special significance as it is the worthy successor of our all-time bestseller, the Tamaraw Revo.”

Inquirer Motoring’s Aida Sevilla-Mendoza enthused at the time that the exit of the Revo left the AUV market wide open for the remaining players, the Mitsubishi Adventure and Isuzu Crosswind Sportivo. But since the Innova, with its advanced Global Quality technology, was offered at prices competitive with the Adventure and Crosswind, it could also mean the eventual demise of the AUV market in the Philippines. She added that “many Filipino families and commuters have formed a sentimental attachment to the durable Tamaraw Revo. “But I agree with TMP execs when they say that Filipinos are beginning to demand more up-to-date technology and value for money when they shop for cars. It is time to let go and move on,” she wrote.

Today, apart from the trailblazing Innova, other popular MPVs include the Toyota Avanza, Chevrolet Spin, Honda Mobilio, Mitsubishi Xpander, Suzuki Ertiga, Haima V70, and the BAIC M50S.

3. SUVs for the social status, active lifestyle

Among Toyota’s designs and developments in the IMV lines, Socco said that it was that of the sport utility vehicle (SUV) Fortuner that was “the most exciting of all.”

“The Fortuner created the full-sized SUV segment in Asia. Toyota saw the rising need in developing markets for an active lifestyle vehicle that offered a more premium body design, coupled with reliable engineering and toughness. It took into account the roads of Asia, including floods, rough roads and off-road conditions. Eventually, the Fortuner found favor in other global markets in the Middle East and South America. I would dare to say that the introduction of the Fortuner back in the early 2000s, presaged the rise in demand for SUVs in the broader market. We called it,” said Socco.

“My experience with the Tamaraw FX, Vios and Fortuner, were truly groundbreaking and pioneering. Best of all, it was responding specifically to the needs of the Asian region and of Filipinos,” he added.

The extreme popularity of the Fortuner encapsulates everything that’s going for the SUV in an increasingly specialized automobile market.

Mitsubishi Motor Philippines Corp. (MMPC) introduced the SUV to the Philippines in the late 1980s with the first-generation Pajero. The Pajero, Nissan Patrol and Toyota Land Cruiser became the status symbols of choice for politicians in the mid ’80s, through the ’90s.

This was confirmed by Mills, who said that the Land Cruiser, Pajero and Patrol had a sure and steady market: Politicians who wanted to be seen in expensive SUVs. These VIPs also had a practical reason to buy SUVs: Their power and size allowed for added protection such as bulletproofing.

Another industry veteran, Felix C. Mabilog said of the SUVs: “They have been globally accepted since the 1980s. They are now considered iconic vehicles, changing the outlook of consumers on vehicles.”

Mills added: “SUVs became popular because of the Land Cruiser, the Ford Expedition, Pajero, Patrol, and Isuzu Trooper. But these were expensive. Manufacturers realized SUVs were a little upmarket, that’s why they developed the Fortuner, Montero, Mu-X, Terra, and the like. These are more affordable, and at the same time, used common platforms. They brought down prices as they developed a whole new second line.”

He pointed out that even Honda, which first introduced one of its most important vehicle models—the CR-V—in the Philippines in 1996, even introduced a more compact BR-V later in 2016.

The popular American mid-sized SUV Ford Explorer was first unveiled in the Philippines in 1990. It was an SUV built on the underbody of the Ford Ranger pickup truck. In October of 2000, the 2001 Ford Explorer Sport Trac was launched as a P1.3-million CBU (completely built unit).

In May 2000, Sevilla-Mendoza reported a trend: Buyers who wanted the status of an SUV but never drove one off-road, had created a market for SUVs available in two-wheel-drive (2WD), as well as 4WD. Among these 2WD poseurs were the Lincoln Navigator (despite its $40,000 ++ price, 4WD was optional); Ford Explorer and Expedition; Dodge Durango; Nissan Pathfinder; Lexus RX300; Mitsubishi Montero Sport; Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee; Chevy Blazer, Tahoe and Suburban; Suzuki Grand Vitara and Sidekick; Toyota 4Runner; Toyota RAV4; Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage.

In 2003, the BMW X5 was introduced in the Philippines. “Before the BMW X5, SUVs were about crawling through rocks and wading through rivers. Instead, true to its performance roots, BMW made the X5 as good as its sedan siblings on the road. Now all luxury brands worth their hood ornaments have a performance SUV as part of their lineup,” wrote Inquirer Motoring’s Jason Ang.

In 2003, Sevilla-Mendoza reported that global sales of big SUVs continued to boom despite their spotty safety records and notorious thirst for fuel.

An SUV boom in the country in 2004 saw distributor Norkis Automotive Resources present the Dodge Durango 4×2, which was typical of a Chrysler SUV. Also in 2004, the Ford Everest was introduced. Then the 2005 Eddie Bauer model trims of the Explorer and Expedition premium models strengthened Ford’s lineup of SUVs in the Philippines.

The SUV, however, was far from stopping its evolution. As an answer to growing criticisms that SUVs were “too big” for Philippine roads, the car-based utility vehicle (CUV) or crossovers came to the fore. Because most CUVs were derived from front-wheel-drive cars, they could get better fuel mileage than SUVs, and then handle like cars as well. The crossover’s cabin and chassis are one unit, with frame rails integrated into the body shell, making it lighter and more agile than the SUV. Yet, a crossover is more versatile than a car because it is roomier. The first CUVs were the “cute utes” displayed at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show: Toyota’s Corona-based RAV4 and Honda’s Civic-based CR-V. Back then, they weren’t called crossovers.

“Not all cute utes are CUVs. The first Kia Sportage, for example, was a genuine, albeit small-body-on-frame 4×4 SUV with a transfer case. But with the growing demand for crossovers, the Sportage’s cabin and chassis have been redesigned for 2004 as a single unit and will share components with the new Kia Spectra sedan, a clone of the Hyundai Elantra sedan. The Honda Element, built on the CR-V platform and powered by the CR-V engine, is considered a crossover. So are the Toyota Matrix [not to be mixed up with Hyundai’s Matrix] and the Suzuki Aerio SX,” wrote Sevilla-Mendoza.

“This is not to say that all crossovers are small. Last April (2003), the Chrysler division of Daimler-Chrysler launched the Pacifica, a plush five-door, 3.5-liter V6 “sports tourer” with many SUV-like features. The Pacifica is large, with its unibody measuring only 1.7 inches shorter than the Town & Country, Chrysler’s biggest minivan,” she added.

To this day, SUVs, crossovers and MPVs have not diminished in demand and development.

Socco said: “The trend for SUVs is a fairly recent one that, to my mind, took root in the United States and Europe, then expanded to China and, eventually, Asia and the Philippines. To be sure, SUVs have been around for many years but its popularity grew significantly only in recent years.”

He added: “Frankly, I’m unsure why SUVs have gained such a following. Perhaps, it was an outcome of ‘sedan fatigue’, being that sedans have dominated the auto-scape since the first car was invented. Maybe it is because of a rise in active lifestyles that take people out of metropolitan areas more often than before. SUVs, though, reflect the need for a more versatile vehicle that adopts to both metropolitan and active lifestyles. Their rise came on the heels of the drop in oil prices, rationalizing the use of bigger, more fuel hungry vehicles at the expense of environmental concerns.”

Socco said that in the Philippines, SUVs were still mainly preferred for their size, “ruggedness” to match our road conditions, and flexibility of use for people or cargo.

4. The future is electric: Hybrids and EVs

Trend number 4 hasn’t reached the same effect on the local market, as that of Trend numbers 1 to 3, but the obvious impact it has made on global markets make it just a matter of time before hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles (EVs) and personal EVs eventually take over the transportation landscape.

Leading the charge in this aspect has been TMP, with its Toyota Prius being introduced in the Philippine market in 2009. This hybrid gasoline-electric car has been named as among the 50 cars in automotive history to have changed the world. The Prius, by itself, has been helping shift paradigms in the motoring consciousness. In 2013, the less expensive, smaller and funkier Prius C was introduced in the Philippines. In 2019, the hybrid variant of the Corolla Altis was introduced in the Philippines.

Other hybrid vehicles that have arrived on Philippines shores are the Lexus hybrids the Lexus CT 200h, Lexus GS 450h; Lexus RX 450h, and Lexus LS 600hL. In 2013, Inquirer Motoring got to drive the Mercedes-Benz S 400h, the Honda Insight, and the Honda CR-Z (which unfortunately has been pulled from the Philippine market).

EVs from China were also first felt here when BYD Philippines introduced its BYD Tang Plug-in hybrid EV crossover, BYD E6 2018 Crossover EV, and hybrid sports saloon Qin.

Hyundai Asia Resources Inc (Hari) introduced the Philippine market to the Hyundai Kona Electric, the first all-electric subcompact SUV and the Hyundai IONIQ Electric, all-electric compact sedan.

Despite the presence of a number of these EVs and hybrids in the country, they still have a long way to go to become top-of-mind among Filipino buyers. Mabilog said:

“Due to the growing concern on hydrocarbon vehicles incurring environmental damage through its emissions, and the high cost of fuel, hybrids and EVs became very popular, especially in advanced countries. However, in the Philippines, I personally do not think that hybrids and EVs have made any significant mark yet. The lack of government support and high cost of hybrids and EVs compared to their fossil-fueled counterparts make it highly uncompetitive in the Philippines. Furthermore, the Philippines has one of the most expensive cost per kilowatt amongst Asean neighbors, making EVs even more less attractive.”

Socco, however, reiterates that it would just be a matter of time before the Philippines embraces EVs and hybrids. “This is surely a global trend in response to calls for more sustainable mobility. The future of mobility is definitely electric. This, however, will happen at a differing pace globally since the shift to electric requires a lot of attendant enablers: Charging infrastructure, more efficient production costs, more affordable prices, and a prosustainability government regulatory framework.”

Socco added: “One thing that many people often overlook is the very reason for the shift to electrified vehicles. It is because we need to reduce dependence on fossil fuel and cut down harmful emissions that damage the environment. While EVs reduce tailpipe emissions on vehicles, this will be offset by the increased carbon emissions from mainly coal-fired plants that generate electricity. Therefore, there has to be a cohesive and coherent plan that actually reduces the total carbon footprint of automobiles—taking a “well to wheel” approach. Otherwise, the gains from the shift to EVs will be significantly set back by increased emissions from electricity generation.”

In terms of personal urban mobility, one cannot ignore electric-powered scooters. In this aspect, Socco also expects the rise of personal mobility transport such as e-bikes and e-scooters.

“These alternative mobility modalities are rising in popularity due to convenience and a growing sense of responsibility for the environment,” he said.

Socco also cited the growth of the two-wheelers: “I believe the reason is obvious: The lack of mass transport and the alarming road congestion.”

Honorable mentions

The list above in no way completes the total motoring picture for the Philippines. The automotive landscape is constantly changing and evolving, as the dynamics between humans and machines, the need for mobility and the desire for efficiency and speed in a fast-modernizing world are creating even more possibilities and realities. The following are the other significant factors playing their roles in making the Philippine automotive industry that much more interesting, far more complex, and ultimately so much more exciting.

A. The rise of the two wheelers and small cars

In 2012, this author wrote that all road conditions point to extremely happy times ahead for the motorcycle business. That has largely become true seven years later. Because motorcycles are so much cheaper, and consume much less fuel for a solo or dual (and even multiple) riders, and can weave in and out of traffic with ease, it’s really no surprise that the number of motorbike riders in the country has zoomed up tenfold.

In 2011, the number of registered motorcycles was 3,881,460, or 54.37 percent, of the total motor vehicles registered nationwide. In 2010, it was just over 3,482,149 million, or 52.48 percent. In 2017, the Motorcycle Development Program Participants Association (MDPPA) alone (which includes Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Kymco buyers) had sales of 1,319,084 units. In 2018, MDPPA members had a total of 1,580,926 units sold.

In an interview in 2012, Arnel Doria, founder of the Safe T Ryders, gave his own take on the reason for the increased number of motorbike riders: “Here’s how I look at the economics of motorcycles: If a person spends P100 a day for transport fare (on FX/jeepney/taxi/MRT), that would be P2,600 a month. Nowadays, motorbikes can be loaned at P2,000/month with downpayments as low as P5,000. So it’s cheaper to have your own bike. Owning a bike has other benefits: You control your own time and mobility, you have a transport on Sundays and holidays, and after having fully paid for it, you have property that you can sell to recover some of your payment.”

B. Small cars, big biz

Mills counts the emergence of the compact and subcompact cars as a significant trend. “Before, you’d think the Toyota Corolla would be the smallest. Then there came the Hyundai Eon, Suzuki Alto and Celerio, Toyota Wigo, Mitsubishi Mirage, and Honda Brio. There was also Corolla’s smaller version, the Vios. But they gave interior roominess. Honda had its Jazz. The market realized that cars could be affordable, too.” Mills added that smaller cars became acceptable, and affordable, and mobilization has reached many income levels.

Socco cited that the original Vios, which is designated then as the AFC, was custom-built with the Asian market in mind.

“With the rise of economic development and growth of the middle class, there was a need to cater to their rising need for a sedan. At the time, sedans were considered the hallmark of social status, of having ‘arrived.’ The sedan denoted prestige. As families then were young and only coming into their newfound affluence, a small and affordable sedan was determined to be the appropriate model to meet their needs. Over time, the AFC (first introduced as the Soluna in Thailand) evolved into the Vios, and is now the most popular sedan in the region. Toyota’s decision to register the Vios under the government’s CARS program is testament to its preeminence as the sedan of choice of Filipinos,” said Socco.

C. PUV modernization

The modernization program of the government would be another must-watch trend, said Mills.

In describing the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) launched in June 2017, the LTFRB envisions a “restructured, modern, well-managed and environmentally sustainable transport sector where drivers and operators have stable, sufficient and dignified livelihoods while commuters get to their destinations quickly, safely and comfortably.”

According to the LTFRB, 220,000 outdated PUVs nationwide need to be replaced by safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more convenient modernized PUVs.

“It’s not like hopia (a popular Filipino pastry) that you can produce overnight. Plus, you have to consider the absorption capacity of the market. It is not only about buying into it. We are forcing (operators and drivers) to change the system. The government is saying you must form the cooperative. The franchise is no longer with the operator who owns it. We no longer have individual cowboys that will own one unit. It will belong to the cooperative, which is required to get at least 15 units. That’s what’s hard to accept for the operators,” said Mills.

D. The Chinese invasion

For Mabilog, the emergence of the Chinese brands in the Philippines would be the trend to watch out for.

“The automotive industry is slowly being penetrated by Chinese auto manufacturers whose high-quality vehicles are now comparable, if not superior, to current car manufacturers and priced much lower than its Japanese, American, or Korean counterparts. This now makes the automotive industry realm more interesting and competitive. Consumers now have a wider choice of vehicles to choose from,” he said.

E. The ride-hailing apps, P2Ps and UV express

For Socco, the “explosion of shared riding/hailing, such as those of Grab, UV Express (vis FX of old), Angkas, P2P (vis Love Bus of old), are clearly emerging trends that are the outcomes of the lack of mass transport and the call for more convenience from the riding public. This was enabled by the increase in technology platforms.”

He added that the trends came about in the last decade and are indicative of the shift of transportation as we know it to a broader-based era of mobility.

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