Saturday, March 15, 2014

Car Features - We Rate the Vehicle Introductions During Fidel Ramos's Term (Part 1)

The administration of Fidel Ramos had car sales reaching the six digit mark until the Asian Financial Crisis spoiled the fun. Although his 86th birthday is on the 18th of March, we decided to have it earlier since weekends are reserved for special features.

So let us revisit the vehicle launches during his term especially that the Philippine economy is booming with many a car flying off dealer floors.

We would rate the vehicle launches between June 30, 1992 to June 30, 1998 by their success and significance in their market. Some vehicles paved way to future trends in the market while some were regarded as future classics and collectibles.

This will be divided to two parts; and for the first part we will feature launches from Alfa Romeo to Mazda from the said period.

Shown below are the vehicles, date of introduction (those after June 1998 are excluded), short introduction, and significance rating (out of five) with some commentary.

To view the second part of the series, click here

Vehicle: Alfa Romeo 155, GTV, and Spider
Introduction date: 1996
Apart from the Protons, Proton Pilipinas distributed Alfa Romeos in their dealerships and provided a breath of fresh air from the Germans. It was an interesting alternative but no one (except the car enthusiast) cared for their vehicles. Hunting for one in the classifieds is difficult (majority of them are classic 60s models) and if you want to see a GTV coupe, head to Boardwalk along C5 Quezon City near Blue Ridge or in an abandoned building (with a security guard, of course) near Ayala Center in Cebu.
Significance rating (out of five): 1/5. Did anyone care?  

Vehicle: Audi A4 and A6
Introduction date: 1998
Auto Prominence, known previously as Proton Pilipinas Inc., ventured to distributing Audi sedans after their failed attempt peddling Proton sedans. This also meant an alternative to the ubiquitous Benz, BMW, and Volvo luxury sedans back then. The A4 and A6 sedans had their strengths but prices are on the high side and the marque isn't that much known.
Significance rating: 3/5. AP's attempt had great intentions but later messed up.

Vehicle: BMW 3/5/7 Series and Z3
Introduction date: 1994 for 3 Series. 1995 for 7 Series. 1996 for 5 Series and Z3
We imagine the big bosses at Asian Carmakers Corporation (which includes Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez, whose family business is distributing these cars) saying: "Commercial Motors, were ready to compete with you!" The first BMW to be released is the E36 3 Series which is available in both 1.6 4-cylinder paired with MT and 2.0 6-cylinder with AT to much success. The 5 and 7 Series appeased the top honchos while the Z3 made battle with the SLK Class of Benz. Bet you didn't know the 3 is locally assembled with the 5 commencing local production in 1998. Even parallel importers brought in fully laden versions which gave buyers more options.
Significance rating: 5/5. BMW's found love in a third world place.

Vehicle: Chrysler Neon, Stratus, and Voyager
Introduction date: Early 1998
Transfarm and Company realized that they can rake in profits in the luxury car class. Complementing Daewoos are the various Chrysler Neons, Stratus and Voyagers which have stratospheric prices and poor Philippine specifications. One worse case: the Neon had a three speed automatic for a million bucks! For sure, the turn of the millennium had the sedans axed of while the Voyager was rechristened as the Caravan.
Significance rating: 1/5. None of them received the love the distributor wants and even the rich wouldn't even want them.

Vehicle: GM Suburban and Savana
Introduction date: 1996 for Suburban. 1998 for Savana
Before Ford came along, the local distributor (whom we didn't know) flooded us with their Suburbans and Savanas. Also a grey market favorite, these two didn't sell well for one very obvious reason: their impracticality. Wrong cars for the wrong market.
Significance rating: 1/5. They didn't find any success during the 90s.

Vehicle: Daewoo Cielo, Espero, Prince/Super Salon, and Racer
Introduction date: 1993 for Racer. June 1995 for Espero. September 1996 for Prince/Super Salon and Cielo
Cebu based businessman Norberto Quisumbing took assembly rights for Daewoo sedans and incorporated the Transfarm and Company for them. The vehicles have varying success: Racers sold well while the Prince is a rare sight.
Significance rating: 3/5. These Daewoos lived on as Chevrolets later on.

Vehicle: Honda Accord CD
Introduction date: February 1994
Complimenting the Civic back then is the expensive Accord which became a favorite among the wealthy. Kidnappings during the term of Ramos was rampant, rich families bought them in droves since it was low key and at the same time luxurious.
Significance rating: 5/5. Honda had its first attempt to the premium car market in a welcoming note.

Vehicle: Honda Accord CF
Introduction date: March 1998
Unlike the best selling predecessor, the CF Accord lost some appeal to the A32 Cefiro. The bland exterior had a hidden talent: excellent driving prowess. Executives who wanted to be different lined up for this.
Significance rating: 3/5. Still popular but nothing significant.

Vehicle: Honda City SX8
Introduction date: October 1996
When it comes to price and position, the City slots below the flagship Civic. While this one sold moderately, the Civic is every college student's dream car and it was designed during a bad day. But hey, this has no carburetor engine in the house.
Significance rating: 3/5. Right car which was introduced in the wrong time.

Vehicle: Honda Civic EG Sedan
Introduction date: March 1993
After a year, it was time for the trunked version of the Civic to hatch out. Unlike the hatchback, this one can be ordered with either 1.5 carb or 1.6 EFi (non-VTEC) power plants. The most influential aspect of the EG Civic is its immense popularity among the tuner market; many a part can be ordered and installed.
Significance rating: 5/5. Old models are sought after in the market, thanks to the unlimited possibilities they offer.

Vehicle: Honda Civic EK
Introduction date: November 1995
This generation saw the demise of the hatchback configuration but leaped for one thing: the VTEC powered engine. Two years later saw the launch of the SiR version that was the fastest thing in the compact car planet. It was still a modifiers dream but you will encounter EK Civics carrying families and college barkadas.
Significance rating: 5/5. More advancements and room while staying true to its roots.

Vehicle: Honda CR-V
Introduction date: October 1997
The Suzuki and Daihatsu rivals are very off-road focused while the Kia and Toyota are forgotten. Introduced during the Asian Financial Crisis, the CR-V experienced sales success despite the new name. This is similar to Loren Legarda's landslide victory during the 1998 Philippine elections.
Significance rating: 5/5. The trendsetter of all compact SUV's in the Philippines.

Vehicle: Honda Legend
Introduction date: 1994
Competing with the Toyota Crown and Nissan Cedric as well as the various European luxury sedans is the Honda Legend. Sure, it had a creamy V6 engine but fell flat in nearly all aspects. Besides, this sedan wasn't legendary at all due to the badge.
Significance rating: 1/5. This should be a part of an Alanis Morisette song. Isn't it ironic?

Vehicle: Honda Odyssey
Introduction date: April 1997
What does the Mazda MPV and this have in common? Regular hinged doors. Yes, the Odyssey didn't look like a minivan but offers the space of it. Locally introduced models were priced prohibitively but the influx of Japan surplus models later on flooded the streets.
Significance rating: 2/5. The idea was a hit, if the price is right.

Vehicle: Hyundai Elantra
Introduction date: July 1996
Italcar Pilipinas expanded the Hyundai line-up by bringing in the sub-compact Elantra in either sedan or wagon flavors. The wagon was something of an interesting choice while the sedan slugged out in the races inside the Subic International Raceway. It hanged on up to the beginning of the millennium and the nameplate was resurrected in 2007.
Significance rating: 2/5. Even the motorsport appearance didn't make the Elantra an appealing choice.

Vehicle: Hyundai Excel
Introduction date: 1995
The first Hyundai badged vehicle locally and the daddy of the Accent. Competing with the Daewoo Racer and the Kia Pride as well with the base model Japanese sub-compacts, the Excel didn't excel (pun not intended) that much in the market.
Significance rating: 2/5. Price does not mean everything and its compatriots did well in the market.

Vehicle: Hyundai Coupe
Introduction date: July 1996
During its time, no other Hyundai came as desirable as the Coupe. Reliability issues didn't matter especially the curvaceous lines and the requisite pogi points comes standard.
Significance rating: 3/5. More coupes geared for the single and ready to mingle market arrived one by one.

Vehicle: Hyundai Sonata
Introduction date: July 1996
Hoping to get the share of the pie dominated by Honda, Nissan, and Mitsubishi is the first generation Sonata. Did we see one back then? One in a million moment. Honestly speaking, the Korean brand wasn't ready to play the premium sedan game until 2010.
Significance rating: 1/5. Not even the rich ones would consider this.

Vehicle: Hyundai Grace/H100
Introduction date: 1996
When the other Korean brand launched their van, it was the same moment for Italcar to do so. These vans weren't hits back then, but they became popular among the surplus dealers later on. We give you one trivia: this is based on the L300 van that is more refined.
Significance rating: 3/5. A very late decision by Hyundai. Too late.

Vehicle: Hyundai Starex
Introduction date: 1997
Started as a grey market favorite, Columbian Motors Corporation peddled them first before Hyundai Asia Resources Incorporated handled distribution rights. While the Mitsubishi Spacegear it was based on received lukewarm reception, the Starex became a superstar despite the badge. The families who own L300s replaced theirs with this.
Significance rating: 5/5. Korean domination was done the right way.

Vehicle: Infiniti Q45
Introduction date: 1997
Universal Motors Corporation brought in the Q45 alongside the various Nissan commercial vehicles back then. It competed with the top European sedans but failed, especially the badge which didn't attract buyers.
Significance rating: 1/5. Luxury sedans from Japan aren't ready to play.

Vehicle: Isuzu Pick-up/Fuego
Introduction date: 1993
A choice among pick-up trucks back then is the Isuzu Pick-Up (or LS)/Fuego during the Ramos era. With constructions around the corner, contractors made their choice along with contemporaries from Nissan and Mitsubishi.
Significance rating: 3/5. A best seller and no more.

Vehicle: Isuzu Hilander
Introduction date: March 1997
Contestant number one for the Tamaraw FX replacement hunt is the Hilander. It offered the competition one vital item: power windows. While the body is very similar to the Tamaraw, a 1999 update added some sports cues and given the XTRM name.
Significance rating: 4/5. Power conveniences became standard to all AUV's later on.

Vehicle: Isuzu Trooper
Introduction date: 1996
One of the underrated vehicles during the 90s, the Isuzu Trooper offered a sunroof and VCD systems which rivals did later on. It also had one Isuzu distinction: the only one in the brand to carry a gasoline engine.
Significance rating: 3/5. Pajeros and Patrols are more popular, but the Trooper had a special spot.

Vehicle: Jaguar XJ/XK and S Type
Introduction date: 1997 for XJ and XK. 1998 for S Type
Wellington Soong brought in the Jaguar brand in 1997 that targeted the upper echelons of the society. So exclusive that sales figures aren't available and prices can be gathered by request.
Significance rating: 3/5. Millionaires have new toys to play with, crisis notwithstanding.

Vehicle: Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee
Introduction date: Early 1998
Now, this is where Transfarm did it right. The Jeep SUVs launched sold well, unlike the Chrysler cousins that remained glued to showroom floors. These were alternatives to motorists tired of the common Japanese SUV's.
Significance rating: 3/5. A popular choice until the Ford SUV's came along.

Vehicle: Kia Besta
Introduction date: 1994 for CBU version. 1995 for basic.
L300 Versa Van challenger number one: the Kia Besta from Korea. PCSO had tons of them as their ambulances and local governments use them which further propelled at the top of the van sales.
Significance rating: 4/5. The Nissan Urvan's and the Chinese vans must thank this one.

Vehicle: Kia Pregio
Introduction date: 1996
The Pregio is positioned above the Besta back in the 90s but base models that targeted businesses were made available later on. Affluent families have these vans in their garages, especially for those who are tired waiting for their MB100 vans.
Significance rating: 3/5. Popular at first but lost its mojo later on.

Vehicle: Kia Sportage
Introduction date: 1996
Daewoo focused on sedans, same goes with Hyundai. Columbian Autocar Corporation expanded the Kia line-up by adding the first Korean badged SUV. Unlike other competitors, this one can be ordered with a diesel engine. Reliability, of course, was shoddy.
Significance rating: 2/5. This type of Sportage never caught off with consumers.

Vehicle: Land Rover Defender
Introduction date: 1996
This is one Rover that can conquer roads that never exist. Call it bare but it possess a simplistic interior which can be hosed down for cleaning. Enthusiasts from off-road excursionists to Kim Atienza have them in their garages.
Significance rating: 3/5. High prices mean a future classic.

Vehicle: Land Rover Discovery
Introduction date: 1996
BMW previously had a stake with Land Rover, so it is logical for Asian Carmakers Corporation to bring in the SUV brand locally and among them is the Discovery. This was the first European SUV made available, long before rivals from BMW and Benz arrived.
Significance rating: 2/5. Not that significant but rather an option.

Vehicle: Land Rover Range Rover
Introduction date: 1996
Long before ACC distributed 'em, top honchos from top companies bought them from grey market dealers in droves. Apart from the Land Cruiser, the Range Rover is something you would want to flaunt you wealth with and show the world you are rich.
Significance rating: 3/5. Other luxury SUV's should praise this one for the market segment expansion.

Vehicle: Mazda 323
Introduction date: 1993
Bet you didn't know: Columbian Autocar Corporation assembles and distributes Mazda passenger cars and a minivan. The first to be sold is the Mazda 323 which competes with the Corolla, Sentra, and Lancer. It was a popular choice among private buyers but later on to taxi companies.
Significance rating: 3/5. Salable but nothing spectacular.

Vehicle: Mazda 323 Familia
Introduction date: 1996
The updated 323 gave a curvaceous styling, more amenities, and powerful engines. It brought in a dual glove box for first models dubbed as the GLXi (which the Innova imitated), disc changer, and ABS brakes (the Corolla and Sentra had them later on). However, consumers bought the compacts from the big four Japanese brands.
Significance rating: 3/5. First to bring in these features which rivals possessed later on.

Vehicle: Mazda 323F Astina
Introduction date: 1994
From the 323 family comes the Astina hatchback. This vehicle is noted for its pop-up lamps that mimicked Porsches of the early 90s. It was wise idea to sell this one which brightened up the stale lines of the Mazda 323s and Kia Prides inside dealerships.
Significance rating: 2/5. Novelty does wear off and the regular 323 sells more than this.

Vehicle: Mazda 323F Lantis
Introduction date: 1996
Together with the Miata and the MPV, the more sleeker and modern (the Astina wears a carburetor engine) Lantis was introduced. No lights that pop out but curvaceous lines and a practical body comes standard.
Significance rating: 2/5. Those who are single and rich appreciated this concept, but still a breath of fresh air.

Vehicle: Mazda Miata
Introduction date: 1996
If other convertibles wearing high performance engines command a PG rating, the Miata gets a G. The Miata proved that driving fun need not be intimidating. With a 1.6 engine on board and an unadulterated driving experience should made this a winner. Filipinos are very practical, which meant the concept never caught on.
Significance rating: 3/5. Basic is everything. Too bad, convertibles is a rich kid plaything.

Vehicle: Mazda MPV
Introduction date: 1996
Before the Odyssey's arrival, CAC sneaked in the creatively named MPV to Philippine shores. The concept never caught on with buyers especially that brand new prices are on the high side (it costs P1.4M).
Significance rating: 2/5. Vans like these aren't ready to play, yet.

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