Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Tito F. Hermoso | posted May 09, 2011 15:15
Following the formula for success
For those who have been driving family vans for ages, the Foton MPX today reminds of another van that became popular with families and fleets 16 years ago: the 1st grey market Hyundai Starex. But the market for vans have been rather peculiar. There's usually just one multi-passenger van that was a hit for all seasons or until the next "hit" van comes along.
In the 60s, it was the VW Kombi. But it couldn't take air conditioning so the Toyota Hi-Ace came along and it became the country's number one. Then the dollar crisis of the 80's meant several car makers had to exit the country. Ford didn't stay long enough to see how far the Mazda based twin rear tire Ford Econoline would have taken the market. Toyota had problems with its local distributor. Isuzu didn't even get a chance to introduce the Fargo. But a van is a must, the market, at least, had to have one "hit" van.
By 1987, the must have vehicle for families, companies and political dynasties was a van. It had a high roof, a trusty diesel engine, twin sliding doors, twin evaporator air conditioning and folding seats on the back 3 rows. Curiously, its popularity was established by its Ambulance version, hundreds of which were purchased by the PCSO [Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office]. This gave rise to numerous Mitsubishi L-300 PCSO ambulances all across the country becoming the municipal government must have vehicle "for official use also". Through time, the Nissan Vanette would appear to challenge and several sundry Toyota Hi-Aces, but L300 sales would prove bullet proof.
Two years ago, the PCSO again made news when it bought 375 Ambulance versions of the Foton View. The View looks similar to the Toyota Hi-Ace models of ten years ago, with a broad chrome grille similar to the refreshed Fortuner. In China, it is used as people shuttle, cargo van and ambulance for communities and hospitals.
Foton's line up
For the Foton LCV line up comprised of the Blizzard pick-up, the View and the new MPX van, Foton uses home grown components that are a product of earlier technology transfer JV's with mostly Japanese car and truck makers. But in order to become a globally competitive motor vehicle exporter, Foton tied up with foreign research institutions and companies such as AVL in Austria, the Bosch Group in Germany, Lotus in the UK, MIM Design in Japan, Cummins and Eaton of the US.
Shared power block
LCV vehicles, use the 8-valve 4JB1 94hp 2.8-liter 4 cylinder turbo diesel engine for the MPX, 91hp for the Blizzard 4x4, while the View uses a 70hp turbo 2.5 liter version. If the 4JB1 series nomenclature seems familiar, it is because it is from the tried and tested Isuzu family of diesel engines, enhanced to Euro III emissions standards with the latest CRDi technology.
Great value in engineering
Foton's MPX Van, introduced in 2009 at 999,000 Pesos [now 1,120,000], immediately bagged a best van award. In profile, it looks like the 10-year old JDM Toyota Granvia that one sees on the road with B-prefix Cagayan Valley registration plates from Port Irene. Frequently mistaken to be a modified Starex with Mercedes Viano style tail light pillars, the MPX has more substantial surfaces with sharper creases than the Toyota Granvia, a result of the MPX conforming to the latest EU standards on pedestrian safety. Foton pricing, like most China made products, is keen. Imagine a big 7-seat family van for the price of Japanese brand compact family sedan?
Familiar marketing recipe
Chinese brands adopted the recipe of the Japanese and Korean brands; load up with lots of the latest standard options and quality interior surfaces for that quality feel. Thus, the Foton MPX comes with driver's air bag, double sliding doors, MP3 compatible audio, 4-corner sonar with dash mounted clearance display, external-internal thermometer, power mirrors, air bags, keyless entry, glass mounted antenna, swivel mid seats and even ABS - EBD brakes.
The window switches feel like a Toyota's. The MPX dash even has frosted alloy and wood lashings for accent. The green lit instrument cluster is a familiar OEM set found in other Chinese brands, but the frosted alloy bezels give it class. Considering the size of the dash, the lidded parcel shelf is rather small. The interior, like the first generation Starex has generous illumination where it counts.
Nothing to be ashamed of
Highway consumption of 75-liters full tank with a 5-speed manual ranged from 9.54-10.54km/liter, topping out at 142km/h. 0-100 is a bit more than 21 seconds. The seats are firm for sustained back support for long distance drives. The driver's seat designer must have younger Filipino drivers in mind as it obliges their favorite steering wheel-on-your-lap-angle and seat back angle inspired by the film "The Fast and Furious". The strong spring clutch pedal feel, the metallic shift lever, the mushy brake pedal and the engine clatter are in tune with the era of the 4JB1 series engine, but Foton has adequately muffled the induction roar inherent in the old reliable Isuzu engine.
Foreign help to go global
NVH standards are up to 2000 standards as Autel of the USA rehashed the body to conform with the latest crash safety standards, while Lotus engineering revised the chassis with its X-TEC technology. The rear wheel drive MPX has double wishbone front suspension and independent semi-trailing arm rear suspension, like the Granvia and the Mercedes Benz Vito. It makes the ride in the back softer than the front, a rare quality among vans. It's also straight stable at highway speed.
Appreciate the engineering
Admittedly, enhancing the reputation for quality of Chinese brands in this country is, to be polite, an uphill battle. But it doesn't mean the MPX Van from Foton doesn't deserve serious consideration, especially if one thinks one knows how to appreciate the ride subtleties of a independent suspension in a segment where solid rear axles suspended on leaf springs is the norm.