Another year done and dusted, and indeed it has been a busy one for the Philippine automotive industry.
By December 31, we will know full well how greatly the industry did this year, as the projections we and the industry made is right on track: cumulative figures for brand new auto sales are set to breach the 270,000 unit mark. A great milestone indeed.
For now, we are about to set the numbers aside and choose the different aspects of the Philippine auto industry that we thought made the greatest strides in 2014.
From new car models, best buys, destination drives, events and an overall best car of 2014, we pick them all and explain why they made it to top of their respective lists in the 2014 AutoIndustriya.com Editors' Choice.
AutoIndustriya 2014 Editors' Choice – Best Buy
2014 ISUZU MU-X 4x2 LS 5-MT
After almost 10 years in showrooms, Isuzu Philippines Corporation finally replaced the ever faithful Alterra with this: the 2014 Isuzu MU-X. The MU-X was launched in mid-2014 with much fanfare from Isuzu; the company only has 3 models that are geared towards private buyers, while the rest of the models in their line-up are meant for business and haulers.
What was surprising about the MU-X was the base variant; at PhP 1.188 million, the MU-X is priced to make people shopping in the crossover category, and the top-of-the-line tiers in the compact and AUV/MPV segments think twice about their choice.
Picking the base variant of the 2014 Isuzu Alter -err- MU-X as the car that represents the best value was actually tougher than it looks simply because many models were launched in the past 12 months that presented such great deals from the showroom floor. Models such as the 2014 Toyota Wigo and the 2014 Ford EcoSport were good contenders, but the MU-X just seemed to make more sense overall.
It's not perfect as the MU-X 4x2 LS only has a 5-speed manual gearbox and is rather lacking in terms of safety (i.e. no ABS) but at the end of the day, the ability to carry a family of seven aboard an SUV at the price of a top spec compact car edged the Isuzu forward.
AutoIndustriya 2014 Editors' Choice – Motoring Event
2014 TOYOTA VIOS CUP SEASON
If there was one event that did more for Philippine motor sports than any other, it's the 2014 Toyota Vios Cup Season.
That's not to detract from the many other organized racing events and championships before, but the Vios Cup established new milestones in spectator attendance, promotions, competitiveness and drivers in one officially-sanctioned Philippine motor sport. Really, the best takeaway is the image of 30-35 cars all on one grid, all making a mad dash for the first corner.
Granted, the inaugural 2014 Toyota Vios Cup Season was not without hiccups, rivalries, controversy, spectacular crashes and all kinds of drama, but those are normal with any truly competitive motor sport.
Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation, Toyota Racing Development and TMP president Michinobu Sugata took a big gamble with establishing the Toyota Vios Cup. A manufacturer-established motor sport event is all about brand building, and that in itself incurs a big commitment and a huge expense for the sake of putting on a great show for the spectators. And they did it 4 times this year (January, May, July and October) plus one postponed event in 2013. We estimate that even if Toyota managed to sell 100 Vios Cup cars, they still wouldn't have made any money with the Vios Cup itself.
Already Toyota is planning the 2015 season and eyeing various other provincial legs for next year, and for sure they will be exhilarating to watch for the fans and attendees.
AutoIndustriya 2014 Editors' Choice – Drive
2014 FORD MUSTANG – CALIFORNIA
2014 saw plenty of events and drives in various countries and locations, but there is no question that the next-generation Ford Mustang global media drive in Los Angeles has to take the cake. It's not because they flew us halfway around the world for a taste of what Ford's latest steed has to offer but the drive program itself.
The well-planned drive route took us up to Newbomb's Ranch in La Cañada Flintridge and down to Hummingbird Nest Ranch in Santa Susana where we got to meet some Mustang owners who shared very interesting stories about their cars. We finished off our drive in Malibu Beach where we cruised along the coastal highway and enjoyed the sea breeze capping off a full day of driving.
Of course the route would not have made sense without the proper car, as the new-generation Mustang proved to be a great driving machine. This is the first time that Ford's pony car's departed from its traditional rear solid axle set up and adopted a fully independent rear suspension. Along with the improved front suspension, we can now associate 'carving corners' as an attribute of the Mustang as it took on the canyon roads impeccably.
We got to drive both the 2.3-liter Ecoboost powered Mustang and the 5.0-liter V8 naturally aspirated brute. Purists may say that a four-banger has no business in one of America's proudest machines, but the turbocharged Ford engine impressed us considerably.
AutoIndustriya 2014 Editors' Choice – Auto Brand
HONDA CARS PHILIPPINES
When Toshio Kuwahara, Honda Cars Philippines's new president and general manager, said that HCPI would keep the press busy this 2014, we thought he was joking. After 12 months, how true his words were.
After years of being unable to halt the competitions' rise with new models, Honda Cars Philippines unloaded salvo after salvo of new cars in 2014. Typically a manufacturer or a distributor launches 2-4 models in a year, but Honda launched 7 models out of their 10 model line-up in 2014 alone either as all new or as facelifted/updated units.
Accord, Jazz, City, Brio, Brio Amaze, the updated Civic and the facelifted CR-V were all released in 2014. It's already a challenge to launch one new model given the logistics, marketing, communications, sale and after sales training tails that have to be sorted out for each, but Honda appears to be executing it well, and the sales charts are beginning to improve for HCPI.
AutoIndustriya 2013 Editors' Choice – Automobile
2014 MAZDA 3
Let us dispel any doubt now: the 2014 Mazda 3 is our top pick as the best car of 2014.
There we said it. Need we explain?
When we first got behind the wheel of the 2014 Mazda 3 this past summer, we already knew that any other model would have to pull out something special to change our mind about our favorite of 2014.
In 2013, we felt the Lexus IS350 F Sport edged out Mazda's flagship (the 6) by a nose, but this Mazda 3 takes the lead by a mile. Just for the sake of argument, another favorite of ours for 2014 that could have supplanted the Mazda 3 was the Subaru WRX, but we felt that it wasn't as significant to the general car buying public as the contender made in Japan.
Our decision boiled down to impact and expectations as the 2014 Mazda3 has moved the goalposts with regards to what the average Juan can expect from a compact family car.
The 'Kodo' styling language is exemplary, and the Soul Red color is just marvelous to look at. The precision and feel of Japanese material quality and build consistency is the best in the class. The technology package offered in the powertrain (thank you, SkyActiv) and the human/machine multimedia interface is unheard of in this category and price range, bringing the tech normally found in far more expensive German saloons to the mass market compact category. The list of standard kit for the entry level 1.5V and the 2.0R are both quite long.
If those reasons were not enough, any new Mazda comes with free preventive maintenance for three years; all you have to do is follow the maintenance schedule and menu. You don't pay for labor or parts; just sign and keep on driving.
Don't just take out word for it. Go and test Mazda 3 and see how it turns your input to on-road output on a nice stretch of winding tarmac.