There was a time when Philippine roads were dominated by sedans. Anything smaller, those would be the likes of the Mitsubishi Minicas and the Volkswagen Beetle. But that really was the thing decades ago, wasn’t it? Four (or two) doors, hatchbacks, or real trunks, these were the norm. Cars were small, and smaller, while bigger vehicles just didn’t seem to belong on city roads.
Fast-forward to today and it’s undeniable that there’s been a wide proliferation of sport utility vehicles or SUVs. Heck, even pickups are now loosely called SUVs now. So what was it that sparked this sudden spike in SUV numbers through the decades? We can think of a good number of reasons but keeping it strictly local, here are the best reasons we can think of.
A caveat to this article, though: we are speaking strictly about “pure” SUVs (European SUVs like the Rovers) or as being pickup platform / body-on-frame vehicles. Crossovers are not included in this nomenclature as they are technically not intended as “heavy-duty” sport utility vehicles.
Let’s face it: Philippine thoroughfares, especially Metro Manila’s, are riddled with potholes. Major highways or interior roads, there’s not much difference in their conditions. Wide and gaping, small and deep to the point that they can break wheels or cause tire sidewalls to swell, yes, we all deal with it day in and day out. The government’s doing what they can to fix roads, of course, but this is something motorists can’t wait for.
With an SUV, you get something a lot more robust than a sedan. Thicker tires make for better cushions, plus SUV struts make for longer suspension travel. Sure, you’ll still feel road imperfections on your bums, but at least you don’t have to worry about the dreaded “bingkong” (colloquial for warping your wheels) from the former, or breaking your shocks and other suspension bits thanks to the latter.
Floods and the rainy season
Ride height, that’s the most obvious difference between SUVs and regular cars (duh). Okay, so what makes that better? Other than the occasional undercarriage scrapes cars are prone to, something that vehicle owners are more scared of are floods.
This requires no complicated analysis: would you rather get caught in standstill traffic in a torrential downpour with rising waters riding a compact, or would rather be in a high-riding SUV? We think we hear a resounding response in favor of the SUV here.
For every single SUV on sale in the market, wading depth is something that manufacturers would almost always declare, and that is very important for the Filipino vehicle owner; just ask victims of those living along Sgt. Esguerra or worse, the Espana floods. SUVs would always have a higher probability and success rate of riding through floodwaters without short-circuiting electrical components or stalling the engine than normal cars. That itself is a great selling point of SUVs. Better to be prepared than getting caught unaware, right?
Now we all know the Filipinos’ penchant for having, err, larger families. Back then you’d see parents and their brood of two or more stuffed into sedans or slightly bigger executive saloons. But now, there are a lot of better and more spacious options in the form of SUVs. Given their bigger, wider, longer frames, it translates to more flexibility as far as cabin space is concerned.
With an SUV, everything from the head, leg, and shoulder room is more abundant. Passengers no longer have to go through the sardines-in-a can analogy when they pile into their vehicles. Combine that with the aforementioned ride height and you have yourself a vehicle that can ferry even the most heavyweight (and even lightweight) of families with ease. Again, no scrapes here!
Seven-seaters have now taken the form of MPVs, but of course, they don’t exactly have all the other features we’ve already listed. Back then, and even until now, most SUVs have always had that provision. Same as with yesteryears, the rear-most seats can be tumbled forward or folded to the sides should there be a need for more cargo space, and that is yet another purchase point for sport utility vehicles.
More than being a family mobile, a lot of people now use their SUVs as a means to ferry their business wares. Yes, many may argue the merits of getting a pickup instead of this particular function, but with an SUV, you have more flexibility seat-wise if you’re not hauling cargo in the back. Perhaps it’s just easier to say that having extra cargo space is something better to have and not need it rather than to need it and not have it. Besides, you can’t have passengers sit on the pickup bed since it’s illegal according to Philippine laws.
While gasoline is a lot cheaper in other countries, the same cannot be said in the Philippines. With diesel being significantly more affordable here (thanks to government subsidy), and with savings and practicality part of the vehicle purchase game, SUVs have become a go-to for a lot of people.
It wasn’t much of an easy choice before, though. The fear of “diesel engines are more expensive and difficult to maintain” was top of mind for many folks then. But since the advent of cleaner diesel, and after many long-time diesel vehicle owners testimonies otherwise, diesel-powered SUVs quickly gained favor.
Let’s add the fact that diesel engines have evolved into more reliable power plants through the generations, so now we don’t have much of an excuse. The fact is that some engines can even outlast the vehicle itself. If that’s not proof enough of diesel power, we’re not so sure how else to convince otherwise.
Bonus: 4x4 Fun
Okay, so this last tidbit is just something we’re throwing into the practicality and value mix.
We mentioned that SUVs have become family “cars” of choice for many. For some, also like cars, SUVs can serve as weekend warriors. You can’t expect much on racetracks, but there’s no denying how taking fully capable 4x4 SUVs to off-road trails translates to a lot of weekend fun. So with a sport utility vehicle, you already have a spacious, high-riding people and cargo carrier, but you also have yourself a potential trail beast if you so choose to turn it into one.
Yes, it’s a different discipline, but it is one reason (or excuse) that some heads of the family have given their significant others as a reason to buy that “truck” instead of the usual and more affordable sedan.
And there we have it: some of the most trivial but also the most tangible and real reasons why we think SUVs have become so popular in the Philippine market. At the end of the day, it is a balance between budgets, practicality, and intended function, but for the most part, the merits of SUV ownership and its consequent popularity boil down to preference. To each his or her own, really.
If any of you readers out there have anything more to bring to the table, fire away, let’s talk about it. We can always have a healthy discussion on your preferences too, but for this article, let’s just stick with those who find more joy riding rhinos more than horses.