Not just ‘porma’
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - March 2, 2015 - 12:00am

It’s a “Pick-up state of mind.”

The market shift of vehicle buyers from SUVs and crossing over to “pick-ups” is a sure sign of a maturing market as well as evidence of developing businesses particularly in agriculture, food production, retail or community based commerce and services. Among the growing number of “pick-up” buyers are the many individuals and families who have boldly gone into backyard agriculture, restaurants and tourism. We saw the same evolution in Thailand more than 30 years ago when their King and the government launched an all out campaign to promote and develop Thailand’s agricultural productivity. It was from there that Thailand, became the biggest market for “pick-up trucks” even today.

Outside of Metro Manila, pick-ups have proven their value for money and practicality as many companies opt for pick-ups as the workhorse of operations for different industries and businesses. But within Metro Manila, pick-ups have struggled to be the preferred choice in a “Porma” or “Looks” conscious market. This however has changed a lot and it is a good sign that the market is growing aggressively because our cars speak of our culture, mindset and intentions.

More and more people are beginning to buy pick-up trucks or utility vehicles as an apparent reflection of consumers becoming more informed of technology as well as a sign that there are a growing number of entrepreneurs and business people all over the country who require not just mobility but flexibility in the use of their preferred vehicle. Judging from the product offerings and sales forecasts of the country’s top car manufacturers and distributors, I learned that the pick-up utility segment will be a battle ground among car companies for 2015.

It’s a sign that little by little we are headed towards a business-minded direction that is practical and serious. Unlike the past decades where people were still status conscious in their vehicle choice and preference for SUVs, there is now a shift towards “Pick-ups” as a sensible crossover in many ways. Given the flood of information from motoring journalists as well as the Internet, buyers now know that SUVs and pick-ups share the same platform as in chassis, engines, brakes systems and suspensions that only differ in softness or rigidity of ride because of purpose.

With the introduction of “Dual Cabs” or four-door pick-ups from companies such as Mitsubishi Motors, buyers realize that they still have the SUV benefit with the added utility or practicality that an open or extra “bed” gives. Unlike SUVs that cost a hundred thousand pesos or more for the added creature comforts and “status symbol,” today’s pick-ups are less expensive and more utilitarian, and flood resistant befitting the Filipino way of life that demands a multi-purpose vehicle. But don’t be fooled because pick-ups are the veritable “wolf in sheep’s clothing” because they have the same speed, agility, safety and comfort as their cousins in the SUV segment.

Last year I attended a “by invitation only” event hosted by Mitsubishi Motors to test “a vehicle” at the Sodegaura 4x4 park and the Sodegaura Forest Race Way In Chiba prefecture, Japan. All I knew was that the vehicle was not in the market at the time and that the test drive we were about to do would have to be kept confidential and that an official embargo was in effect until after 6 months. While I have done “on track” and “off track” or 4x4 courses, I have never done both using one or the same model vehicle in one day.  The vehicle was a “pick-up”: the 2015 STRADA.

As best I could, I tested the vehicle based on what buyers would want to see. I intentionally filled the vehicle with passengers to maximize the full load capacity, then drove up to speeds done by Pinoy drivers as well as the way they take curves, do weaves etc. On both the standard race track and 4x4 off road course the 2015 STRADA performed up to expectations particularly in comfort and power and I thought that the couple of hours we spent on both tracks was good enough to show what the model had to give, until an elderly looking Japanese gentleman arrived at the track wearing a racing suit, got into one of the STRADA units and asked for volunteers to ride with him.

I’m old enough to know that if the guy is the revered Hiroshi Masuoka, a two-time Dakar Rally overall champion and a top 3 finisher in the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb 2014, you would be wise to decline the invitation if you want to keep your lunch inside your stomach and not all over the dash board or outside the window. This was the same guy I saw earlier in the day driving the electric car at speeds of 200 kilometers per hour.

Compared to the polite driving of the motoring Journalists, Masuoka went all out driving like he was in a car rally, “drifting” and doing semi-stunts with a few jumps and flys. He did not baby the vehicle, he slammed it, banged it, then he parked it. And his passengers were ecstatic not colored green and had no contusions or broken bones. He clearly wanted to show us what the new model STRADA pick-up can do and still be as comfortable and safe as SUVs. And if you happen to be one of those “Form” first before function, you can look up what the Russians did with their unit as they clipped on after market accessories while a local team showed me just how radical a pick up can look if you put on bright colors and a rally look into it.

So if you’re planning on buying a family car or something that can be multi-purpose, you might want to test and discover why more and more people are going for “pick-ups” instead of SUVs or 4-door sedans. At the end of the day, I’m glad to hear that the automakers have declared that the “Pick-up Wars” are ON because this means “Business,” as in Filipinos engaging in business with real business tools and not just “Porma.”

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E-mail: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

ALL I DAKAR RALLY DUAL CABS HIROSHI MASUOKA MARKET MITSUBISHI MOTORS PICK UPS VEHICLE
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