Top Gear Philippines

This month, I mark my 16th year as a motoring journalist. That's quite a long time any which way you look at it. Seven inches of waistline and 40 pounds ago, in 1995, I stumbled upon a job that would prove to be quite a roller-coaster ride--both in terms of excitement and the wild series of ups and downs. I had been an editorial assistant for a seminal car magazine (Automotion), a motoring writer for a widely read newspaper (Philippine Daily Inquirer), editor in chief for a game-changing automotive publication (Rev) and motoring editor for a modestly circulated broadsheet (The Manila Times) before I joined Top Gear Philippines. I have definitely been around.

If you've spent about a quarter of a lifetime doing the same thing, a mixed sense of accomplishment and wistfulness comes all over you. You pause and try to decide how best to commemorate the occasion: Do you call upon your friends to help you down a case of beer, or do you get your car and drive to your very first office, a concrete witness to your youthful passion and idealism? I'm pretty sure I'm just a few bottles away from my first bout of gout, so I'm forgoing the beer part. And I'm just as sure my old office is now a karaoke bar that caters to sleazy old men, so I'm also skipping the nostalgia crap. Besides, getting drunk or sentimental usually doesn't make for an interesting column. I mean, would you really want to know that I actually enjoyed being mistaken for Ely Buendia back then? Probably not.

So let me instead mark this personal milestone by at least offering you something informative. Like giving you a rundown of the Philippines' best-selling cars from 1995 to 2010. Why? I'm not really sure. It's just that car sales are infinitely more fascinating than the insipid affairs of a struggling automotive journalist.


Let's start trundling down memory lane then.


1995 Philippine car salesMy first year on the job, there were far fewer car brands in our market than there are today. I remember our stories revolved mostly around four Japanese brands: Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Honda. Back then, Toyota was already lording it over its rivals, owning the two best-selling vehicles in the country--the Corolla and the Tamaraw FX. Even so, it was a fierce two-way fight for overall market supremacy between Toyota and Mitsubishi, the latter filling the top 10 spots with three of its commercial vehicles. These were the times when the Sentra outsold both the Lancer and the Civic, and the Kia Pride boasted robust sales despite its shabby constitution.


1996 Philippine car salesMy second year in the business coincided with a very profitable period for the industry. Toyota was still leading the race, but this time Honda's Civic had leapfrogged the Tamaraw FX for the second spot, behind only the Corolla. The Corolla, by the way, achieved a record single-model sales tally of almost 18,000 units. As a result of the Civic's strong performance, Honda also supplanted Nissan as the country's No. 3 carmaker in terms of sales. Speaking of sales, business was so good that the entire industry moved more than 162,000 units--by far a record at that point. An interesting new addition to the top 10 list was the Mazda 323. Back then, Mazda was distributed in the Philippines by Columbian Autocar Corporation, which now sells Kia vehicles in our market.


1997 Philippine car salesThe previous year had been so fantastic for the auto industry that, in 1997, carmakers were sending journalists left and right to various overseas events. In fact, this year marked the first time I got invited to two such events: the launch of the Toyota "Love Life" Corolla in Hong Kong and the Tokyo Motor Show in Japan. However, the prosperous times were short-lived as Asia got struck by a crippling financial crisis in July. Because of this, total sales for the year dipped to 144,000 units in spite of a solid first half. Toyota continued to lead Mitsubishi in their annual sales race. Notable new entries on the bestsellers list were the Isuzu Hi-Lander and the Honda City.



1998 Philippine car salesHow the mighty had fallen. In the first full year after the Asian financial crisis, Philippine car sales plummeted to a woeful 80,000 units. The Corolla kept its increasingly tenuous hold on the No. 1 spot, but Mitsubishi finally overtook Toyota in overall sales, seizing 24 percent of the market. This was thanks largely to the newly launched Adventure AUV, Mitsubishi's answer to Toyota's Tamaraw FX and Isuzu's Hi-Lander. Keen eyes, however, will notice that occupying the ninth spot was the even newer Toyota Revo, which already managed to sell 3,000 units in spite of being introduced much later in the year. Another point of interest? The ascent of the Honda CR-V, which officially commenced our love affair with compact SUVs. The year 1998, by the way, also saw Ford Group Philippines formally entering our car market. They had set up shop much earlier, but it was only this year that they were firing on all cylinders.


1999 Philippine car salesAs I pointed out above, the Toyota Revo had been poised the previous year to dominate the local market. And it did, and how. The Revo easily outsold every other vehicle in the market, including its stablemate and perennial leader the Corolla. In fact, this was the year the Honda Civic finally beat the Corolla. Still, it hardly mattered to Toyota as it wrested back the overall lead from Mitsubishi, cornering a dominant 29-percent market share. As for the total industry haul, it sank to an even lower 74,000 units.


2000 Philippine car salesIn 2000, AUVs had completely taken control of the market, with the Toyota Revo and the Mitsubishi Adventure grabbing the top two spots on the bestsellers list. Another AUV, the Isuzu Hi-Lander, was the fifth bestseller, kept at bay by the Civic and the Corolla. Filipino car buyers began to shift their preference away from passenger cars, a trend that would continue for years. Industry sales showed some life as the number rebounded to nearly 84,000 units. It doesn't show on the table above, but the hottest story in the global car industry this year was the safety scandal involving the Ford Explorer and its standard Firestone tires. The American car company was so troubled by the PR crisis that it sent a group of journalists to Dearborn, Michigan, for a "deep-dive program."



2001 Philippine car salesIn 2001, there was no longer an iota of doubt that the new king of Philippine roads was the AUV. The Toyota Revo, the Mitsubishi Adventure and the Isuzu Hi-Lander occupied the top three spots on the sales charts. The Nissan Frontier became the first pickup in the top 10 since the Mitsubishi L200 in 1996. The market's preference shift to commercial vehicles was most evident in the fact that Isuzu overtook both Nissan and Honda to take the third overall spot. More troubling for Isuzu's rivals was the fact that the Crosswind had arrived to retire the aging Hi-Lander. Toyota, meanwhile, affixed the "Altis" moniker to the Corolla nameplate, perhaps realizing that the Corolla had already lost a lot of ground to the Honda Civic. Total industry sales this year again sagged a bit to less than 77,000 units.


2002 Philippine car sales

In 2002, the AUVs maintained their market rule, only this time, Isuzu's Crosswind played runner-up to Toyota's Revo. The Toyota Corolla Altis was again the best-selling passenger car, while Honda reclaimed the third overall spot on account of the Civic and the City both landing in the top 10. And can I just say: The Mitsubishi L300 Crew Cab's perpetual appearance on the bestsellers list probably proves that Filipinos truly have an entrepreneurial spirit. Total industry sales shot back up to more than 85,000 units. Still a long way to go from the 1996 record, but a welcome improvement nonetheless.


2003 Philippine car salesThis was the fifth straight year that the Toyota Revo was the No. 1 vehicle in the country. Its main rivals, the Isuzu Crosswind and the Mitsubishi Adventure were also among the top five, joining the Honda CR-V and the Toyota Corolla Altis. Total industry sales enjoyed an uptick for the second straight year, and Toyota widened its lead over Mitsubishi with a 30-percent market share. Notice the emergence of the Vios, Toyota's answer to Honda's City and most certainly a cause for concern among the competition.



2004 Philippine car salesToyota totally flexed its marketing muscle in 2004. Not only did it occupy the top three spots on the bestsellers list (Revo, Altis and Vios), it also increased its market share to a whopping 34 percent. The next four carmakers were bottled up next to each other, left to wonder how they could somehow neutralize the potency of Toyota's product portfolio. The industry couldn't sustain the modest growth of the past two years, its total sales again dropping to 88,000 units.


2005 Philippine car salesAfter six straight years as the Philippines' No. 1 vehicle, the Revo was finally retired by Toyota and replaced by the equally popular Innova, which topped the sales charts on its first year. The Vios also signaled the changing of the passenger-car guards, as this was the first time that the best-selling sedan was not a compact but a subcompact car. But perhaps the real doom for Toyota's rivals was the fact that the Innova didn't come alone--it brought with it its IMV brothers, the Fortuner and the Hilux, both of which wound up in the top 10. The result? Toyota's market share grew even more to a lopsided 37 percent.


2006 Philippine car sales

The Toyota juggernaut continued to trample over the competition, putting a mind-boggling five vehicles in the top 10 (Innova, Vios, Fortuner, Altis and Hilux). I doubt if this scale of supremacy could ever be duplicated. Toyota's market share this year--38.4 percent--remains a record for the Japanese carmaker. Noteworthy is the fact that Honda climbed up to the second overall spot, relegating Mitsubishi to third overall. Around this time, Honda had a strong passenger-car tandem in the Civic and the City, even as Mitsubishi was searching for answers. Nissan, meanwhile, continued to slide down with a measly six-percent share of the market. Total industry sales were almost flat.


2007 Philippine car salesThis was a generally positive year for the industry, with total sales increasing by an impressive 18,000 units. Toyota predictably led all brands with four models in the top 10, including the new Avanza compact MPV. While its market share was a tad lower than the previous year, Toyota actually improved its total sales to 45,000 units. Nissan completely disappeared from the bestsellers picture, ominously replaced by Korean carmaker Hyundai, whose Starex cracked the top 10 for the first time. I say "ominously" because this turned out to be a harbinger of the new order in the Philippine auto industry.



2008 Philippine car salesOkay. This was getting to be boring, at least to industry observers monitoring Philippine car sales. Toyota once again had five models in the top 10, and actually entrenched itself in the first four slots. The Vios ended the AUV's market dominance by outselling every other vehicle in the market. And if you ever needed unassailable proof that the Isuzu Crosswind is a Pinoy favorite, look no farther than this chart. The enduring AUV was, in fact, the best-selling non-Toyota vehicle in the country--subduing the likes of the Honda Civic and Toyota's own Altis. The good news for everyone was that for the fourth straight year, total industry sales were up. (And so were Hyundai's numbers, enabling the surging carmaker to capture the fourth overall spot.) This was even more amazing in the light of the global economic meltdown, causing various car markets around the world to take a nosedive.


2009 Philippine car sales

For the fifth year running, total industry sales soared, with the top five car brands maintaining the status quo. It was very frustrating for the rest of the field to see Toyota claiming six of the top 10 spots, but at least Mitsubishi was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the rise to prominence of the Montero Sport. A new trend was also fast shaping up, as two of the top three vehicles were subcompact sedans, thanks to the arrival of a gorgeous Honda City.


2010 Philippine car salesThis turned out to be the best year in the history of the Philippine auto industry, comfortably exceeding the previous record of 162,000 sold units. Those wishing that Toyota's sales performance would soon plateau were gravely disappointed. The carmaker sold nearly 57,000 units, although its market share dipped slightly to less than 34 percent. An important development this year was Hyundai pulling ahead of Honda for the third overall spot, proving that the Korean carmaker's rise in recent years was no fluke. I don't know what it says about us as car buyers, but four of the 10 best-selling cars this year were either an AUV or a utility vehicle.


This, in so many words and numbers, is how I choose to look back on my 16-year gig as a motoring writer. I expect more changes to the bestsellers list by the end of this year, most notably (I think) the entry of Ford in the top five overall by virtue of the Fiesta's strong sales. Anyway, I can only hope that I'll still be around when our market hits the half-million-unit mark. No, I'm not drunk on beer.

Vernon B. Sarne
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