1990s – More Features and More Choices for Everyone

The 1990s marked the trickling down of previously high-end automotive features to mass-market economy cars. The 1991 Nissan Sentra was the first compact car launched in the Philippines that offered electronic fuel injection, power amenities (steering, door locks, and windows), 4-wheel disc brakes, and ABS. Other brands followed suit, as the 1996 facelift of the Toyota Corolla was the first compact sedan that came with a driver-side airbag, while the 1996 Honda Civic was the first sedan with variable valve timing (VTEC), which would prove to be its ticket to success. By the end of the decade, these econo-boxes would be so well-kitted that no one would want to be caught dead driving a car with “pawis-steering” and manual wind-up windows anymore.

Nissan Skyline GT-R R34

The decade would also see Japan flexing its muscles, going beyond small, practical cars and offering sportier alternatives like the classic Miata and the flurry of high-powered sports cars such as the Nissan Skyline, Toyota Supra, and Honda NSX. These cars would later on create a subculture of “import tuners”, serving as an antithesis to more expensive European sports cars. They would also fuel the dreams of the PlayStation generation, kids who grew up in the 90s idolizing these cars that were popularized by racing games.

Honda CR-V RD1

In the Philippines though, one of the biggest game changers would be the introduction of the crossover – as the name suggests, it was a mix between the conventional sedan and the larger utility vehicle. While some argue that the Daihatsu Feroza and Suzuki Vitara were the first crossovers, it was the 1997 Honda CR-V that took the country by storm. The CR-V featured a higher driving position, a larger cabin and cargo area, and a more commanding presence while retaining the comfort of a regular sedan. It was a commercial success, and other brands followed suit with their own crossovers.

Second Generation Toyota Prius

2000s – New Millenium, New Breed of Cars

The new millennium ushered in a completely new breed of efficient cars – the hybrid, so-called because it featured both a conventional petrol engine and an electric motor. Using two kinds of engines allowed hybrids to achieve significantly better fuel economy and lower emissions compared to their ordinary gas-fed contemporaries. The first and easily the most iconic hybrid is the Toyota Prius, first released in 1997 but only became available worldwide in 2000. The fuel crisis in the middle of the decade propelled hybrids up the global sales charts, and suddenly people frowned upon big, thirsty SUVs and sports cars with large displacement engines. Unfortunately, with no tax breaks and high customs duties, hybrids remain an expensive option in the Philippines.

First generation Toyota Fortuner

While the hybrid may not have caught on in our local auto scene, a different class of vehicles has risen to the top of the sales charts over the past decade – the PPV, or pickup passenger vehicle. Based on a typical pickup truck, PPVs replaced the pickup’s bed with a wagon-type SUV body that allowed seating for seven. The rugged chassis and versatile seating/cargo layout made it the perfect all-rounder for the typical Filipino family, while its diesel engine meant that it was still a practical choice amidst rising fuel prices. The first modern PPV in the Philippines was the Ford Everest, launched in 2003 but it could be said that it was the Toyota Fortuner launched in 2005 that cemented the PPV’s status in the country. The recently launched second generation of PPVs brought in more refinement, better ride comfort, and more upscale styling to the segment, ensuring its position as a Filipino best-seller.

Mitsubishi Mirage

Another trend that has developed in recent years is the increasingly rapid pace that electronic convenience features are evolving in cars. Today, even affordable small cars like the Mitsubishi Mirage and Ford Fiesta have push-button ignition, touch screen head units with backup cameras, and even voice control. These features were unheard of in the 1990s, even in high-end luxury cars. With technology developing so quickly, it won’t come as a surprise if the cars of the next decade would have features that we couldn’t possibly think of today. 

As we wrap up this journey through time, it’s clear that the evolution of the modern car has been nothing short of incredible. The cars that we drive today are monumentally more advanced than those during our parents’ time, and more so our grandparents’. Looking back in the past gives us a glimpse of how promising the future of the automobile can be. One can look forward excitedly to the innovations, trends, and developments that are yet to come.