A private transportation utility bought in retail time units. Thank God, we didn't have to ask some long winded economist to find a word to define a taxi as an economic unit of transport. The beauty of the car as taxi is that it becomes a bellwether for a model and brand that can stand up to daily abuse. Mercedes' and Toyota's reputation for durability would be greatly dented if these were never sold as taxis. Especially in this less developed nation where the lack of skill and care of many drivers would lead to daily traffic jams due to stalled taxis.
Trust in the name
When choosing a model, trust in the brand, reliability and thrift are the primary considerations of both the taxi driver and taxi franchise operator. Without a doubt, the number one selling taxi happens to be the best selling 4-wheeled motor vehicle of the country: the Toyota Vios. Up until the early 21st century, the favorite was the Toyota Altis. And even if Toyota's foray in the local taxi market began with the 1966 Toyota Corona, it wasn't until 1981 that the Corona yielded to the Corolla as the taxi model of Delta Motors Corp.
From big to small
But there are other brands, with unique attributes that are worth considering too. In the 50s, the Philippine taxi market was served by Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet. By the late 50s, diesel powered Mercedes Benz, Peugeot and Austin models joined the fleet. Then by the mid sixties, the Japanese brands began to dominate. The only serious threat to Toyota's stranglehold on the taxi fleet was in the 80s when Isuzu launched its compact Gemini diesel.
Its a Vios world out there
Today, the taxi market has alternatives to the Vios. There's the Nissan Sentra Classic- the previous gen Sentra whose DNA traces back to the 2002 Exalta. A few do buy current model or previous 2002-2007 model Altis, which should prove encouraging to Chinese car maker BYD, better known for hybrid versions of a model that looked like the old Altis. Of course by virtue of diesel consumption of 38.7km/liter, the Hyundai Accent crdi is popular. In fact, there are still some unfulfilled orders of the old look short wheelbase diesel Accent, as HARI introduced the latest stylish longer wheel base petrol-only Accent.
The Korean connection
HARI has supply issues with the Hyundai-Kia factory's production rate of crdi engines which is hamstrung by the burgeoning diesel demand in the EU countries. For a while factory fit LPG conversions worked on the Chery Cowin, which looked like the SEAT Toledo used in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It would be interesting to see how Honda's Jazz or City would fare in the taxi market if only Honda did not heed fans' request to ban the sale of any Honda model to the taxi market. This is not withstanding Honda Accords as taxis in Germany and Switzerland. Or Honda Odysseys as NYC - New York City - Cabs.
No discount motoring?
The fourth favorite taxi model in the market today is the Kia Rio. The Rio, due for the stretched wheelbase treatment like the Accent's, is glaringly more visible in the Visayas, particularly Cebu. As a taxi model, you rolled your own window, locked each door individually, manually adjusted the mirrors and looked out for the wheel covers. But the Rio has a heated rear window, power steering and rudimentary audio.
Rio as in Carnaval?
But whether shopping mom or grizzled taxi driver with a million miles under his belt, the Rio can be driven with the brio fitting the Carnaval of Rio de Janeiro. The steering is alert and light. The upright glass is easy to see out of. The 16-valve 1400cc gas engine with Kia's own wide angle valve train feels as peppy as a pre Euro2 16-valve engine, meeting the latest emissions controls without feeling strangled. Same light and quick shifter with the same pro-economy ratios as the low rpm torque characteristics of the turbo diesel used in the superseded Accent crdi.
In the Kia petrol version, the free breathing engine optimizes performance, yielding above average top speeds and good acceleration [but still no match for the turbo diesel Accent]. The Kia can easily top 190km/h on long downhill stretches on an empty STAR tollway. Yet, one can expect a reasonable 10.0kms/liter on bio-ethanol unleaded if one chooses to comfortably cruise the Skyway Stage 1 and 2, between 100-120km/h. You'll have to make the engine scream to do the standstill to 100km/h test in 13 seconds. Cornering, though able is in safe understeer mode. Typical of Korea's understanding of our rough roads, we are already used to the Rio's and old Accent's excitable tail and the stiff-dense hard foam seats.
No claim warranty
Gone are the days when Korean branded cars, like Kia and Hyundai, are expected to sell at a discount vs. the established Japanese brands. What prompted this change is that the extended warranties of the Korean brands bred confidence, and the lack of warranty complaints over time, earned them the reliability and durability respect previously and exclusively accorded to Japanese car brands. Still when it comes to trust and reliability, most taxi fleets do not compromise and are not willing to try some new brands, other than the dominant Toyota Vios. As a value for money proposition, the engineering is par for the category; noise-vibration-harshness index is up there with the popular European market sub-compacts as Kia's door seals and metal stampings do their best to cancel unwanted frequencies.
The Corolla legacy
The Kia Rio is an apt reminder of how Toyota Corollas were in the mid seventies; spacious, comfortable, sensible without being too big for the typically narrow streets of the Qurino era housing projects or the space maximized townhouse. At least the Taxi companies in Cebu know a good Toyota Vios substitute when they see one. The Rio, just like the 1st Corolla of the 70's, will just have to tough out entrenched lame prejudices before they can start being more common on our urban roadscape.