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Top Gear Philippines

The VicoVation Marcus 2 dashboard camera is simple and pretty reliable
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Nissan Motor Company

With Nissan's lowly status in our market these days, it's difficult to remember that this Japanese automaker was actually the No. 3 car brand in the Philippines back in the early '90s. In 1995, the last year it held the third spot behind Toyota and Mitsubishi, Nissan sold a total of 18,729 units. It actually sold more the following year (19,104) but also lost its podium ranking to Honda.

After the Asian financial crisis of 1997--a year when Nissan sales in our market dipped to 16,456 units--Nissan never truly regained its previous form, eventually pulling out of the Philippine market in 2000 and turning over the reins of Nissan Motor Philippines to Taiwan's Yulon Motor.

Of course, we know what happened next.

A steady decline ensued--unacceptable for the world's sixth largest car company (in terms of sales) that actually has two independent distributors in the Philippines (NMPI for passenger cars and Universal Motors Corporation for commercial vehicles). In 2007, Hyundai dislodged Nissan from the fifth slot in our market, officially confirming that the latter was in serious trouble.

Last year--a record year for our automotive industry as far as sales numbers are concerned--the combined sales tally of NMPI and UMC was a measly 6,404 units, with NMPI chalking up just 1,445. Even Kia comfortably outsold the two distributors by over a thousand cars. If this isn't a clear indication that Nissan in the Philippines is in a moribund state, we don't know what is.

Ah, but here's some really good news for fans of the brand: We just got word that Nissan Motor Company is returning to the Philippines and retaking control of Nissan operations in the country. According to two sources within the Nissan network, Nissan this time will be a unified undertaking involving majority shareholder Nissan Motor Company of Japan and partners Yulon and UMC.

One of our sources said that a team from Nissan Motor Asia Pacific (Nissan's regional office based in Bangkok) is arriving in August for the transition, and that the new company could be in place as early as October. The new Nissan team, apparently, will hold office in Makati, with the existing NMPI headquarters in Santa Rosa, Laguna, to carry on as the carmaker's assembly plant.

According to our sources, UMC employees were formally informed of the development early this week by no less than company president and CEO Dr. Wayne Lee. It looks like some of the workers of both UMC and NMPI will be absorbed by the new Nissan-owned merger, while others will be offered severance packages.

UMC is also reportedly in negotiations with Renault and Tata in hopes of distributing both (or at least one of the) brands in the country.

"This will happen very quickly," said one of our sources.

"It will have a major impact on the revival that we have been waiting for," added the other.

Nissan started business in our market in 1982 as Pilipinas Nissan Inc., a joint venture between Nissan Motor Company and Marubeni Corporation. The following year, it launched the first locally assembled Nissan car, the Stanza. In 1991, the corporate name of Nissan's local distributor was officially changed to Nissan Motor Philippines, which soldiers on to this day under the ownership of Yulon Motor.

The models sold by Nissan here through the years are the Stanza, the Pulsar, the Sentra, the Maxima, the California, the Sunny, the Cefiro, the Bluebird, the Vanette, the Patrol, the Altima, the Cedric, the Eagle, the AD Resort, the Terrano, the Urvan, the Frontier, the 200SX, the Verita, the Serena, the X-Trail, the 350Z, the Murano, the Teana, the Grand Livina, the Navara, and the Almera.

The last decade, however, has seen a dearth of attractive model choices from Nissan, bewildering customers who can't seem to comprehend NMPI's (and UMC's) inability to bring in cars that people would actually want to buy and drive.

Cars like the GT-R, for instance. Thankfully, there is now reason to hope they will soon arrive at local Nissan showrooms. Count on it.

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Vernon B. Sarne
The editor-in-chief has been a motoring journalist for more than two decades. He only looks young (or so he thinks) because his job is literally a fountain of youth.
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