Why SUVs, pickups now dominate our car shows

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manila-auto-salon0720161108There was a time not too long ago when car shows in the Philip-pines featured mostly, er, cars. As in passenger cars, as opposed to light commercial vehicles (SUVs and pickups). In other words, sedans, hatchbacks, coupes and roadsters reigned supreme in the hearts of automotive enthusiasts who liked modifying their rides.

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Today? Not so much.

A visit to the Manila Auto Salon last week at SMX Convention Center in Pasay City—held in conjunction with the longer-running Sport Truck Show—confirmed a trend that had been taking shape the past few years: utility vehicles are now more popular than regular automobiles among Filipino car lovers.

“The mix now of vehicles on display is about 60-40 to as much as 70-30 in favor of SUVs and pickups,” show organizer Sophie de los Santos told Fast Times.

Can you imagine that? People now are more interested in dressing up a pickup truck than a sports car. What happened?

“The shift started after Typhoon Ondoy in 2009,” shared de los Santos.

manila-auto-salon0820161108As you know, hundreds of cars perished in the National Capital Region due to the metro-wide flooding caused by the catastrophic storm. Poor, helpless sedans drowned in neck-deep water, leaving their owners at the mercy of insurance companies who refused to pay for vehicles damaged by “acts of God.”

That one incident single-handedly boosted the sales of much taller vehicles that offered a higher ground clearance and a better wading depth.

“The vehicles on display are usually directly proportional to the current sales trend in the local market,” de los Santos observed. “In the past couple of years, the most preferred vehicle was the Toyota FJ Cruiser. This year, it’s the Ford Ranger, followed by the Toyota Hilux.”

Indeed, the exhibition hall was a sea of modded trucks with gigantic wheels and in various degrees of suspension lift. The not-so-subtle message to visitors was clear: “With these badass vehicles, you can go anywhere—not even a deluge can stop you.”

And it’s not only the OEM carmakers building these SUVs and pickups that are benefitting. The 4×4 aftermarket business is booming as well. Off-road tires, snorkels, winch systems, fog lights and outdoor equipment are now selling like hotcakes.

manila-auto-salon1820161108Sam Liuson, managing partner at Wheel Gallery, revealed that sales of their Black Rhino wheels had already overtaken Concept One’s. The former is a well-known SUV and pickup wheel brand, while the latter is the company’s bread-and-butter wheel line for passenger cars.

And thanks to Wheel Gallery’s regular 4×4 driving activities, Black Rhino has named some of its products after off-road locations in the Philippines. “That one is called Pinatubo,” Liuson said, pointing to a mean-looking wheel on display. “Last year, they had one named Tanay.”

So Metro Manila residents are turning to trucks not merely out of necessity—they have made off-road driving a lifestyle pursuit. Where one used to spend Sundays going to a racetrack for hot laps in a pocket rocket, now the thing is to drive a truck to a destination where passenger cars fear to tread.

Expect this trend to continue until government fixes our flooding problems and starts paving quality roads. Screw maneuverability and riding comfort; these days, approach and departure angles may already be more important than superlative weight distribution. When the going gets tough (and the water gets high), nobody wants to sit helplessly inside a compact sedan.

Your next car might just be in one of these photos.

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