I attended an automotive forum organized by Sunshine TV (producer of the motoring shows Motoring Today and Auto Focus) recently. The forum kicked off the 2009 Auto Focus People Choice Awards of which Top Gear Philippines is a partner. TGP issues from July to September include a ballot page where readers can vote for their choice of cars in the individual categories. The forum was a lively event because of the attendance of important players in the industry. The respective bosses of CATS Motors (Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler), Isuzu Philippines, Viking Cars (Volvo), Mitsubishi Motors, Lexus Manila, and Ford Group Philippines were present, as well as an undersecretary from the Department of Trade and Industry to represent the government. Sunshine TV producer and the night's host Butch Gamboa said representatives from the Chinese carmakers were invited but none of them came. The forum went well into overtime because the questions kept on coming. I distinctly recall one inquiry from columnist Cito Beltran. He asked Usec. Elmer Hernandez from the DTI a simple question: Out of all the money the car industry has poured into government coffers in the form of taxes, what has the government done to help the car industry in its time of need? In the US some are criticizing their government for the bailouts and loans extended to the reeling auto industry. What about in our country? What is our government doing apart from trying to change our constitution and investigating sex videos? Why can't they give the Toyota Prius a tax reprieve like other countries? What programs do they have in place to protect the people in the auto industry who are losing their jobs? Usec. Hernandez gave a reply, but I forgot what he specifically said because there was nothing specific in his statement. It was the usual generic government BS of "we're studying the situation" and "I can't give a concrete answer at this time." Beltran has a point. Our government earns a lot from the car industry because our tax system makes cars sold in our country more expensive than cars sold in the United States and Japan. I was in Tokyo in 2003 and I was browsing inside a combined BMW and Mini showroom. I did the math for the car prices--converting the prices from Yen to Pesos--and I was surprised that we pay a lot more for BMWs of the same models. And the Mini One cost as much as a Toyota Corolla Altis at that time, about P1 million. (To be concluded)

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