Life in the Philippines is never boring, especially on the road. But as the year draws to a close, we can’t help but feel that the past 12 months have been particularly colorful. With new cars, more traffic, and government shenanigans, there was a sense of things being the same and yet still different. To refresh your memory, here’s a look back at the top motoring stories of 2015.
1. The license-plate issue reaches its peak (hopefully). Call us cynics, but we’ve come to accept a level of ineptness from the government. But a few years ago, it seemed like this nation's stewards were cleaning up their act--driver’s licenses and vehicle plates were being released without fuss, even though the drug and emissions tests were still pretty much bull dubious. This year, however, the Land Transportation Office was back to being the most hated government agency in the land. It began rolling out new plates, but not only was this delayed indefinitely, LTO also tried to pull off a "no registration/no travel" policy as a way to pressure car dealers to presumably do their part in car registration. Thanks a lot, guys.
2. The pickup wars begin. Pickup trucks may constitute only roughly 10% of the market, but it’s a loyal and competitive segment. The category heated up this year with the biggest players getting all-new models or updates. But it was Nissan Philippines president Toti Zara who proudly challenged competitors with his awesome new Navara. It may not be the best-selling truck in the market, but Nissan’s pickup is arguably the most fun to drive.
3. Isuzu D-Max serves as Popemobile. The whole of Metro Manila shut down for almost a week as Pope Francis made his first official visit to our predominantly Roman Catholic country. For many of us who couldn't join the jam-packed mass celebrations, watching his motorcade pass by was the next best thing. While the Pope used a Volkswagen Touran from time to time during his stay here, it was the customized D-Max that caught our attention. The Isuzu vehicle has even made it to the Vatican.
4. Nissan Philippines launches GT Academy. Ever since the Sony PlayStation masterpiece Gran Turismo was released, it has posed this legitimate question: Can mastery of the game translate to real driving skills? Nissan believes so, and it began a racing program to prove this. Thus, Nissan GT Academy was born. And in summer of this year, the Philippines finally got the chance to be part of this exciting event. In our first year, 26-year-old Filipino driver Joward Policarpio won the Asian round held in Silverstone in the UK.
5. Jeremy Clarkson bids Top Gear farewell. Like BBC director-general Tony Hall beautifully said in his official statement, none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position. But as we all know, at the end of a long shoot, Clarkson punched a producer of the show, and it began a chain of events that led to the departure of all three longtime Top Gear hosts. We will miss Jezza, Captain Slow and the Hamster. Nonetheless, life goes on, and we wish the trio--as well new Top Gear host Chris Evans--the best of luck.
6. Stylish new wagons hit our market. We’ve always said the Philippines is a sedan country, with sadly little appreciation for hatchbacks or wagons. But that didn’t stop Mazda, Subaru and Peugeot from introducing hot new models with no proper trunk. We hope the 6 Wagon, the Levorg and the 308 Wagon finally convince customers how cool this vehicle type is.
7. British brands Aston Martin and Lotus mount an invasion. The list of car brands that our local market officially doesn’t have grew even shorter this year. We were treated to the launch of two fine marques from the UK: the track-oriented Lotus and the plush Aston Martin. Two carmakers with different approaches to motoring, but both oh-so-English.
8. The brilliant Mazda MX-5 returns. With Mazda’s reinvigorated presence in our market care of Berjaya Auto Philippines, the Japanese carmaker's products have repeatedly won our annual Car of the Year award, making us look like biased, overfed journalists. But the automobiles speak for themselves, and the arrival of the fourth-generation MX-5 spoke volumes about the joy of motoring the brand provides. This year, we crowned the MX-5 roadster with our COTY title again, a feat it duplicated in its home country of Japan.
9. The battle for midsize-SUV supremacy heats up. For the better part of the last decade, the golden motoring question in our market had been: Which one is better between the Toyota Fortuner and the Mitsubishi Montero Sport? There was never an easy answer, and for years these two dominated the market for midsize diesel SUVs, switching market leadership every so often. But Ford revealed a brawny new Everest this year, one with the character and spunk of its best-selling Ranger sibling. Suddenly, it looks like a three-way fight in this competitive segment. The competition will intensify next month, as the new models of the Montero Sport and the Fortuner officially hit the showroom.
10. Uber and its ilk take a rocky road to legalization. As far as public transport goes, Uber has been a godsend. It has been the technological solution to one of the worst taxi systems in the world. Those who tried Uber never looked back at old, smelly and dilapidated cabs with reckless drivers. But Uber’s path to regulation hasn’t been smooth. And as the year ended, a transport coalition even managed to get a TRO issued against new applications for Uber and GrabCar, supposedly due to an oversupply of these app-dependent vehicles on the road.
11. Volkswagen emissions scandal. In its drive to become the biggest carmaker in the world, Volkswagen apparently lost sight of certain ethics and rules, most notably legal diesel emissions. Even in an industry where regulations are fudged, the German carmaker’s transgressions were clear and proven. CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned in the fallout, and now only expensive options remain to VW. But the biggest price may be the loss of consumer trust.
12. Traffic turns from bad to atrocious. This year, Metro Manila officially earned the distinction of having the worst traffic in the world. In Waze’s first Global Driver Satisfaction Index, our metropolis beat Jakarta, Bogota and basically all the world’s cities to be proclaimed the urban setting with the most congested motor-vehicle traffic on the planet. It's like winning the Miss Universe contest of motoring gridlock, without the last-minute confusion.
13. Autonomous cars become fashionable. We have a dream, and that is that one day the LTO will implement a serious driving test that will weed out drivers who have no right to be on the road. But that’s like asking politicians to return money they stole. The answer to idiots who don’t even know what a yellow box is technology. This was the year when carmakers seriously began experimenting with self-driving cars. It may take some time before this feature is standardized and made available in our market, but it still gives us a glimmer of hope for safer motoring in the future.
14. The Mitsubishi Montero Sport gets plagued with a new round of SUA allegations. The fact that we all know what the acronym means is proof of the wide-ranging discussion this issue has provoked. We’re sure you’ve attended a holiday reunion or gathering where your relatives talked about this so-called "sudden unintended acceleration." All we can say to those tasked to deliver the news is this: Look at the facts and know the concept of journalism.
15. Car sales continue to surge to record levels. By all indications, it’s another banner year for the Philippine automotive industry sales-wise, with total sales expected to close the year at around 320,000 units. This means more cars sold and more vehicles on the road that contribute to traffic. Let’s hope that one of the big stories next year is how a new government administration successfully addresses the traffic situation.