December is the time when we usually come up with a retrospective for the year that was.
Looking at our past articles, features, news, and videos, there are a lot of talking points about 2020. So far most are negative, some are positive, but even fewer are noble.
As we were checking how to do a retrospective of our favorite automobiles of 2020, we decided to take a detour. We decided to look at all the vehicles that we've reviewed over the last 2 decades of AutoIndustriya. Yes, we're 20 now but couldn't celebrate because, you know, pandemic.
What we were looking for were vehicles that we felt were good when we were behind the wheel at the time but -for one reason or another- failed to make a significant impact on the market.
Yes, this is our list of automobiles that were launched in the Philippines for sale to the general public but didn't connect. Many of these vehicles had potential either by the value proposition, the positioning, the design, the technical engineering, so on and so forth but somehow didn't succeed.
What we want to find out is where the problem areas were that resulted in slow sales. Sometimes it ended in the cessation of local sales. Sometimes the model had to stop production. Sometimes -in one extreme case- it resulted in the shutting down of an entire factory.
The goal isn't to denigrate the vehicles. We're not here to poke fun at these cars because we think there are some really good ones on our list. Engineers, designers, and just about everyone in an auto company pour their blood, sweat, and tears into every model. But maybe by looking at what caused these vehicles to fall short of expectations we can find a lesson or two.
Many have said that you learn more in a failure than you do in a win.
1. Mitsubishi Fuzion
In 2006, Mitsubishi first let us know that they were looking at a 7-seater that was supposed to be the successor of the Adventure line. As you know, the Adventure was already an aging model at that time, an AUV that was effectively competing against the far more modern first-generation Toyota Innova.
Mitsubishi did have the Grandis with the 2.4L MIVEC, but the pricing was much higher than an Innova, and the ground clearance wasn't that high. So instead, they came up with the Fuzion, but it wasn't the final name yet; actually, it was called the Zinger. Yes, like the KFC sandwich.
The first time we saw it, we thought it had potential. The design, while not outstanding, was straightforward and clean. The way it stood above the road was like an AUV (it did have a chassis derived from the first-gen Montero Sport) but had a modern design like an Innova. At the time, we thought the interior was nicely executed with its rather curvy dashboard, instrument cluster, and switchgear that were obvious hat tips to the Strada. The forward-facing third row was also a good touch, especially in a market that likes the versatility of a three-row MPV or SUV.
There were, however, some matters that were hard to overlook with the Zinger -err- Fusion. The primary one was its origin: it was a Taiwanese vehicle from Mitsubishi's partner: CMC. That wasn't necessarily the problem, but it gave rise to two other faults.
The first is that the Fuzion is originally a 5-seater model; in Taiwan, 7-seaters aren't so popular, so the CMC Zinger upon which the Fuzion was based only had two rows of seats. The third row was, in fact, a local retrofit; you can tell by looking at how different the upholstery and framing of the third row is.
The second is the engine: the only option customers had was a 2.4L petrol unit. There were no diesel options from Taiwan, and that meant the Fuzion could be quite thirsty in our kind of city traffic.
Good as the Fuzion could have been for Mitsubishi, it didn't sell in significant numbers and eventually discontinued. How many Fuzions have you seen on local roads? Even the far older Adventure (with a diesel option) outsold and outlived the more modern Zinger. The Xpander, however, is a different story.
2. Kia Soul
When Kia first launched the Soul in 2009, we honestly loved it.
At the time, many of the offerings in the more affordable tiers of automobiles were rather boring cars, with pretensions leaning towards an attempt to be premium and aspirational. The Kia Soul wanted to buck that trend.
I remember walking into Kia's service center to pick up the Soul EX. It looked rather funky with its boxy hatchback profile, rounded snout, the still little Tiger Nose grille, and those neat two-tone wheels. I even liked the asymmetric body decals; it looked like a tattoo (which I don't have) but on a car. If anything, the Soul reminded me more of the Toyota bB/Scion xB, which we never got in our market.
The interior was just as funky as the exterior. There were no wannabe luxury faux wood panels here. Instead, you get an interior awash in red contrasts. The horn pad is red, so is dash trim and cluster needles. Even the door speakers have red LEDs. I like the metal pedals, the subwoofer on top of the dash, and many more about the Soul.
The drive experience was pretty good too. The version I drove had the 2.0-liter petrol engine, and it was peppy with 144 PS and a decent 4-speed auto. Two years after that, I took a 1.6L model for a spin in Cebu, and I also liked it. Kia even followed it up with a second-generation model and with a diesel, but what was clear was they toned down the exuberance of the first; still, we thought it was a good offering.
But we don't see too many examples of the Kia Soul on our roads. Recently, Kia Philippines had already phased out the Soul, much to our disappointment. We think the pricing had a lot to do with it, as the EX we drove in 2009 was already at PhP 1.32 million; that in itself meant there were already a lot of options available. The 2011 1.6L we drove was at a much more affordable PhP 875,000; it sold decently but not as significant as we would have thought.
The common comment was that it was more of a hatchback than a crossover; you didn't need a ruler to realize that the ground clearance wasn't that high. And given the shift in customer preferences at the time (Ondoy just happened in 2009), some were hesitant to get what is essentially a slightly higher-riding hatchback.
Case in point: a few years later, Ford introduced the EcoSport at a similar price point. While it had issues with the dual-clutch transmission, the ground clearance and water wading was enticing to customers and sold well.
3. Mazda CX-7
When I first drove the Mazda CX-7 in 2010, I thought this was a real dark horse. It's one of those models that you wouldn't think was interesting or even decent until you get behind the wheel.
The styling was a bit unusual, and so is the side profile with the low roof but wide stance. Most crossovers at the time were still trying to look like boxy SUVs, but the Mazda embraced the fact that this was a crossover meant for paved roads, not a 4x4 for overlanding adventures.
Inside, I liked the space of the CX-7, particularly with the lateral room. It almost felt like an American SUV with how widely spaced the seats are. In the back seat, three wider than usual adults wouldn't have a problem sitting side by side by side; yes, we tested that. Perhaps it's the fact that Mazda, at the time, was owned by Ford. Another factor could be that the CX-7 had the North American market in mind.
The ones sold in the Philippines had a 2.5-liter MZR engine that made 163 PS and came with a 5-speed automatic. Fuel economy was so-so; I wasn't recording fuel eco at the time, but I remember getting around 6 to 7 km/l in the city.
There was also the way the CX-7 drove. The performance was OK, but not exciting. There's no denying it's a comfortable vehicle, but it was quite soft around the bends. The drive was alright, but it wasn't zoom-zoom as the Mazda brand wanted. But we don't think the performance and drive were issues; besides, who wouldn't want a very comfortable daily-driven crossover?
So why wasn't the CX-7 more popular when it was around? The most significant reason we think it didn't do well doesn't have to do with its drive but with its price point and market preferences. At PhP 1.5 million, it was already in the region of more rugged pick-up passenger vehicles like Fortuner and Montero Sport, and these had seating for two more people as well.
We also think timing had something to do with it: Typhoon Ondoy just happened when Mazda introduced the CX-7. This crossover from Mazda was swamped by a market that was gravitating strongly towards PPVs and frame-based SUVs that can wade through deeper water if the need arises.
4. Chevrolet Orlando
The Orlando was Chevrolet's attempt to challenge the Innova. Now while that seems like a recipe for knocking out yourself, there really was some serious potential with the Orlando.
For one, it didn't try to do what Mitsubishi did by coming up with a frame-based model. Instead, GM went the full monty and designed an MPV on a car platform. Actually, it used the framework of the Cruze, albeit stretched.
I would contend that the concept version of the Orlando looked much better, but the production model was actually quite decent. It may sit low like an MPV rather than a taller AUV, but we liked the boxy appearance. Somehow, the Orlando reminded us of the Dodge Journey.
The interior is quite pleasant and well thought out. I like the look of the dash and the appearance of those gauges and screens with the teal illumination. The audio system was decent, and that front audio panel can flip up, revealing a small compartment behind. The seating is good, with a fair bit of room to go around even for the third row... except if you're tall.
The drive wasn't that exciting with the transmission and the engine combo, but there was potential there given that I was getting decent fuel economy numbers in the 2012 model. I mentioned there was some noticeable noise at high speeds and vibration from the vehicle at city speeds. But it wasn't bad enough to say the Orlando was a terrible vehicle, though there lies the problem.
If an automaker wants to challenge market leaders like Toyota with a model in a segment they dominate in (ex. Innova in the MPV category), nothing less than the best will do. While there are quite a few positive points about the Orlando, they should have polished it up a bit more before stepping into the ring. That's also the same story for another Chevrolet in this list, but we'll get to it in a little bit.
5. Suzuki Kizashi
If you see a random Suzuki Kizashi on our streets, you are probably looking at one of the rarest sedans in the country, but it's also one of the most underrated.
The Kizashi's dimensions are unusual. It's not quite a compact car like a Civic or Corolla at the time as the Kizashi was a bit bigger, but it's also not as big as an Accord or Camry. This Kizashi was in the middle ground of those two categories, an unusual thing not just for a model but for a company that specializes in tiny cars.
Then there's the styling, which I quite like. It's not trying to be an executive car with boxy, limo-like looks. The Kizashi looks properly sporty with the flowing shape, the high rear deck, and those chrome exhaust tips that integrate neatly into the rear bumper. It's just refreshingly different from the more-of-the-same vehicles we see in those two categories.
Sit inside, and it feels driver-centric as the ergonomics are quite ideal for spirited driving. The steering wheel feels fantastic. The seat bolstering is quite sporty; there's a good hold on your body while cornering. The rear seat is decent, albeit not executive sedan-ish; you won't be able to cross your legs like if you were in an Accord. Interior quality is quite good, too, since the Kizashi comes from Japan, not Thailand or Indonesia.
It's not a manual; the one we tested had a CVT, but it came with a 180 PS 2.4-liter engine. That in itself is interesting, as a car of this size and weight should be fun. And it really is; there's a good amount of pep from the engine, and the handling is nicely dialed in.
So why did Kizashi become a sales success? While it was enjoyable to drive and very lively if you push it, the market at the time was already moving away from saloon cars towards SUVs. And the fact that it was an in-between model only added to the problem.
6. Chevrolet Spin
So here's the second Chevrolet in this list. Yes, it's the Spin.
The first time I drove the Spin was in Bangkok, which was weird. Normally, when we fly to Suvarnabhumi, it's to drive a vehicle made in Thailand, but the Spin was made in Indonesia. Regardless, I thought this was the model that I thought was right for our market, and should put forth a worthy challenge to the Toyota Avanza.
I know what you're thinking: another possibility of a self-knock out like with the Orlando. But the case of the Spin was different.
The Avanza, the top dog in the category, isn't outstanding at all. Some things need to be improved with the Avanza, like the ride when there are less than four people inside the vehicle (it's bouncy when not loaded) or the 1.5-liter gasoline engine with a 4-speed auto. I thought the Spin could improve on that formula.
Some like the look; for me, I thought it was OK. I can't expect much for design in the compact MPV class, but I'd say the Spin looked pretty good for its class; better than the Avanza at the time, in my opinion.
I liked the interior, particularly the modern dashboard and its many pockets and compartments. The seating was a bit upright, but that was expected because they did have to fit 7 seats into a small body. As a result, the seating isn't fantastic because you're so upright or high up, but it wasn't uncomfortable.
The Spin was a car-based MPV, so it should drive and ride better, and it does. The suspension settings were miles ahead of the Avanza even when unladen, with not much bouncing around when you're driving solo. The performance of the 1.5-liter petrol engine was good, especially with the 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy was good too if I remember correctly; 8.9 km/l in the city. There was even a 1.3-liter diesel option for the Spin which no other model in its class had, and the fuel economy of that was superb.
As for the reasons why the Spin didn't work, some would point to the look; many didn't like it because the design didn't stand out or seem all too modern. Some would point to resale value, parts availability, or the other generic reasons to denigrate a model that doesn't have a T, an H, or a diamond star on the tailgate. But one thing we think proved to be a key factor was that at the time the Spin was introduced in the Philippines (and in the region) was timing.
In 2014-2015 other carmakers were launching their versions of compact MPVs: Suzuki launched the Ertiga in 2014 while Honda launched the Mobilio in early 2015. Suddenly, the market had a lot of choices.
In the end, the Spin pretty much spun out. Not only were sales in the Philippines not as high as expected, but sales in the region were so low that General Motors eventually shut down the factory in Indonesia that produced the vehicle in 2015. They are using the Spin model name in China; actually the Orlando too. These models could be introduced in the Philippines in the future if we're correctly reading which way the wind is blowing for Chevrolet.
7. Nissan Sylphy
There is a rather obvious reason why the Nissan Sylphy isn't a common sight on our roads. But we'll get to that later.
The Sylphy was one of the first models launched by Nissan when the brand became part of one national sales company, that being Nissan Philippines, Inc. or NPI. The car is competing against the likes of the Corolla Altis, Lancer, Civic, Elantra, among many others in the compact car class.
The first time I saw it in the country (in 2014, I think), I thought it looked rather premium. While we like sporty looking compact cars, the Sylphy looked a bit more mature. No fancy shapes, loud details, or aggressive pretensions; the Sylphy just looked unassumingly handsome and cohesive. It was a step ahead compared to its predecessor, the Sentra 200, which came from Mexico.
The interior was also quite upmarket. While it may not be fancy with all the gray, tan, and silver accents, it does look clean, neat, and straightforward. Everything worked, there was a decent 2-DIN multimedia system, and the A/C was as cold as your ex's heart. Or colder.
It had a 1.8-liter engine with a CVT, and driving it around made it clear that this is a smooth operator. The ride quality was also worthy of praise. It just drives in a relaxed manner without any sporty pretensions or boy-racer ambitions; this is a straight-up competent everyday car. Even the pricing was competitive; in 2014, the 1.8 Upper CVT cost PhP 998,000. They still sell the model today, and the price of that similar variant (more or less) is PhP 1,052,000.
Now, there are probably many reasons why the Sylphy nowhere near its predecessors did. As we mentioned before, the market had switched to crossovers and SUVs. But perhaps one key factor is the name: Simply put, Sylphy doesn't have the same name recall as Sentra did. That's important to us.
We know the Sentra, and we love the Sentra. We don't know much about the Sylphy. Selfie, perhaps?
8. Ford Escape (Kuga)
We had considered that the Ford Focus should be on this list, especially after the problems with the way the Powershift transmission performed that we realized early on, followed by the reliability issues with it. But those are mechanical issues, and this list is about vehicles that we thought were quite good or interesting but didn't take off as expected.
But beyond the Focus, we thought of another Ford that didn't perform on the sales charts. That model is the Escape. No, not the Escape that was produced and exported at the Ford plant (now owned by Mitsubishi) in Santa Rosa, Laguna. The Escape we're talking about is the one they imported from the USA. Yes, for a few years, Ford Philippines offered the third generation Escape, which was rebadged Kuga in Europe.
Even as I look at the pictures of the Escape when I drove it, I'll maintain that it does still look good. I like the front with those cuts in the bumper, the wheels, the overall shape, the rear, and even the color.
The interior was a bit tech-laden at the time, but that's the norm for cars being launched nowadays. I liked how packed it was with features. The Titanium had a sunroof. I liked the SYNC system. I liked the power tailgate. There was really a lot to like about the Escape.
What's under the hood was also something I liked: it was a 2.0-liter turbo gasoline engine that drove all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic. Take note: automatic, not PowerShift dual-clutch. The Escape drove well, and I enjoyed the 240 PS available for my right foot to call upon. And when you're not blasting down the highway, the Escape toned down well for a fairly efficient drive.
The issue with the Escape, however, was pricing. The base model which had a smaller 1.6L turbo engine was already at PhP 1.49 million. The Escape Titanium came in at a whopping PhP 1.79 million. The reason is that the model is imported from North America. When they import something like the Explorer, the model can be priced competitively against similar large crossovers or SUVs. But at the price range of the Escape, it really sent the price up. As such, it was more expensive than many of the other crossovers at the time; except for maybe the JPEPA-unqualified RAV4.
And we don't have to say (but we will) that at the SRP of the Escape, you can already get a 7-seat PPV and in a fairly high spec.
9. Honda Legend
When Honda Cars Philippines showed us the Legend in 2015, we thought it was absolutely brilliant.
There's also really something very cool about this flagship Honda. The look is very premium and proper, particularly in black or white; truly representative of its status as the pride of Honda's fleet.
The interior is very impressive and is a huge step up from the Accord, posing a challenge to the likes of Toyota's Lexus division. This, after all, an Acura in North America. The leather is fantastic with quality that can rival German cars. The Krell audio system will make any audiophile go geeky and play ultra high-quality FLAC files, just to test it.
The Legend is also a technological tour de force. It has a direct injection 3.5-liter V6 (which can shut off cylinders, as needed) and a 3-motor sport hybrid system that delivers 380 PS total. The all-wheel-drive has torque vectoring. It has a long list of safety features including semi-autonomous features like adaptive cruise control with low speed follow.
Given all that, why is the Legend on this list? Well, the issue is with its price. This Honda cost PhP 4,390,000 when they launched it, about the same price as contemporary BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. So, if you happen to see a current generation Legend Sport Hybrid on the road, congratulations, you're probably looking at one of only 30 units officially sold in the country. As for the gray market, who knows?
10. Toyota Prius
Apart from the fact that this is a Toyota, you may also be wondering: What is the world's best-selling full hybrid vehicle doing in a list of good cars that didn't sell too well in the Philippines?
That's a fair question, but we think it belongs here regardless.
Toyota started selling the Prius in 2009; that was the third generation liftback model. We quite liked the third generation, as it was a massive improvement from its predecessor with the 1.5L hybrid that we were also able to drive as Toyota did have a few in their motor pool at the time. The third-gen model had a better 1.8L hybrid system, an improved ride, and drive overall.
Toyota followed it up with the fourth-generation model in 2015, and it presented a very different style statement. A lot of people didn't like the liftback Prius, so Toyota came up with a more kammback Prius. Inside, the changes were far more radical; I remember sitting inside it and wondering what was going on. Nevertheless, it still presented the same eco-friendly Prius drive with really exceptional fuel economy figures in the city.
Given how we tend to be allergic to cars that consume a lot of fuel with our already high fuel prices, why then aren't we seeing a lot of Priuses (or Prii?) on the road?
There are several reasons, of course, most of which are related to being afraid of certain things. For instance: What if you have to cross a flood? What happens to the electric drive system in a crash? There's also the fear of maintenance. The Prius is probably the only car in the Toyota lineup that an owner wouldn't take to a local garage to have fixed. Toyota loyalists couldn't also refer to the you-can-find-parts-anywhere notion (unusual as it may be) associated with most Toyotas. The part that people were particularly fearful of was replacing the expensive NiMH hybrid battery system.
The sticking point with the Prius not selling too many is the SRP. Since Toyota started offering the Prius in the Philippines, the price hasn't dipped below PhP 2.2 million if I remember correctly. The reason is that the Prius doesn't qualify for JPEPA. Yes it's made in Japan, but the engine isn't big enough to benefit. Some of the Lexus hybrids that have the 3.5-liter engine (ex. RX 450h) meet JPEPA standards, but not the Prius. The Prius does qualify for half the excise tax under TRAIN law, but even then, it didn't have an effect; the current Prius is still priced above PhP 2.3 million.
That means a compact car -hybrid as it may be- was priced like a top-spec executive sedan; for instance, the current Camry in the more expensive white pearl option is at PhP 2.042 million, or about 200k less than a Prius. Even the smaller Prius c hatchback is already at PhP 1.97 million.
So yes, seeing a Prius hybrid running around our roads won't be a regular occurrence. Most of the Prius units we've seen on the street have been government vehicles donated by Japan (with the decals to prove it), but that's OK. The Prius, as its name suggests, is a model that was supposed to come before others, one that is supposed to be a signal of a new future for Toyota.
We're seeing a bit of that future now in the form of other more affordable Toyota hybrids like the Thai-made Corolla Cross and Corolla Altis sedan. You can always tell by looking for the blue halo on the Toyota logo.