I have always been a huge fan of the Manila International Auto Show since its inception back in 2005. In line with similar automotive gatherings across the world (Tokyo, New York, and Geneva) one would expect quite the spectacle, albeit probably a bit turned down. It gave the general motoring public a glimpse into what these manufacturers can offer.
Being an enthusiast from an average Filipino family, the Php100 entrance fee was more than reasonable for me to get my hands on an actual Porsche, Mercedes, and Audi – not to mention, see the new offerings the Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Indian manufacturers have on display. So what is it like 11 years on?
The Build Up
For 2016, MIAS was hyped to be the biggest and most dynamic of them all – 50% more space (30,000 sqm vs 20,000 sqm previously), more manufacturer and exhibitor participation, other automotive centric paraphernalia having a bigger area concession, and the usual classic and custom car competition. The overall theme set was Smart Mobility, whether that meant showcasing cars that actually drive themselves or a Siri-esque OS in an infotainment unit (with a bit more sense of humour I hope) is something that is up for us consumers to find out.
In typical automotive fashion, the organizers started everything with a huge bang by kicking the first day off with product launches from the main participants: Ford, Subaru, Hyundai, Kia, Chevrolet, Tata, Peugeot, Foton, Jaguar/Land Rover, Jeep, Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi, and Ssangyong… Wait, is that it? I thought there were supposed to be more manufacturers? The answer, sadly, is yes that is it. I tried to ask the friendly information booth ladies and marshals but they also have the slightest idea as to why not. Sigh. The show must go on.
Despite this disappointment, one still has to admit that the motoring scene in the country is only getting bigger and stronger. Brands taking a hiatus and resurging back in our market is a sign of this. Ssangyong is one of those brands. They dramatically slowed down in 2009 but the growth that the Philippine market has been through in the past seven years is more than enough for them to bring in 3 of their best-selling units with plans to bring in a few more.
In the meat of things
Now while the 4 day event is jam-packed with insightful activities like: a learning forum on applying Nano-coating on your windshield, a sponsored segment on retaining the right driving skills for life, or running your vehicle with no oil there are two main activities that you must not forget to do – 1.) Watch Russ Swift in action, and 2.) Sign up for all the test drives that you can.
Russ Swift (screenshot from www.russswift.com).
If there is a word to describe Russ Swift in action it’s – accurate. No one can park your Subaru with appendage-like control like this guy. There is a certain level of skill and focus that is needed in order for you to pull these types of stunts three times, on a scorching hot and humid day, on every day of the show. I watched him on 3 of the 4 days and he is pretty consistent. It was a delight to see him flick a car on its two side wheels and parallel park with millimetre accuracy, I just hope my fellow spectators don’t try this along EDSA while traversing rush hour traffic or when parking their cars in an already crowded street.
The test drive. Nothing makes an enthusiast happier than to get their hands on the actual goods. It’s different when you read up on these various models and finally experience driving any of it in the flesh -like going on a planned date that’s been set up by your best buddies where most, if not all, of the physical and character flaws appear to have a different light in your eyes. Amongst the handful of brands that I have tried, I would give my vote to Ford and Mitsubishi for acing the entire experience.
Getting set up with driving the Ford Ranger was straightforward and hassle-free. I just signed a piece of paper, handed them my license, and off I go (escorted of course). Getting in the Ranger is like stepping in a warm metal cocoon minus the slime. The way the Wildtrak model I tested was spec’d out is very similar to a high-end large sedan and not a pick-up truck: Power adjusted semi-bucket seats? Check. Intelligent climate control? Check. Nearly 2 dozen cubby holes and compartments? Check.
It only took about two minutes to get my larger-than-average heft (188cm height with a 230 pound frame) comfortable with the steering wheel, seats, mirrors, and AC adjusted. The ride is even similar with my 2013 Montero Sport – an SUV that I installed Recaro seats in and have modified to run softer shocks. You can tell that Ford took the time developing this vehicle, and it’s paid off with their sales record reaching number one in most of the SEA markets. I wish I had more time with it to further evaluate, but I didn’t want my friendly SA to get in trouble. Alas, all good things must come to an end.
Mitsubishi on the other hand took a different approach to their test drive experience: bring your best-selling models (latest Montero Sport, Strada, and Mirage) and let the consumers take a heavy crack (yes, way beyond 60 kph) at it. No other methodology can spell FUN quite like this one. It also shows how much confidence they have with their products. The test mule that I took a lot of time with was the new Montero Sport. For those who still think diesels are an agricultural tool made for moving heavy objects or ploughing the sugar or rice fields, you’ll be pleasantly surprised on how the newly developed engine delivers its power when mated with the 8-speed automatic.
It’s reminiscent of driving a V6 – the power and response is there but without the heavy fuel consumption. The trip computer showed an average of about 16.7 km/L when I was coasting along at 120kph. Yes, 120kph and coasting go together now. It still isn’t the most comfortable for big guys like me: the driver cockpit and seats were a bit narrow compared to the older model, the steering wheel’s reach function didn’t telescope far enough, and the pedals don’t adjust for folks with bigger feet. But that’s just me. I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands, of Filipino drivers would find this vehicle appropriate.
My last comment for you is to come early to do this first and bring a proper set of resilient trousers – I accidentally ripped mine up when I forgot to detach my seatbelt from one of the test vehicles, resulting with my pen compromising the main right seam. Very embarrassing.
Just like most of our favorite sitcoms that evolved throughout the years, this year’s MIAS is the same. From just being a pure exposition of car manufacturers to an activity that has something for every member of your family – even your dog. Everything is definitely bigger and better.
For those who were fortunate enough to attend, I’m sure you know what I mean. Now it’s a pity if you missed any of the action during that week, better make sure to file that leave in advance for next year’s show – I hear that they are planning to top this one yet again.
This article was written and contributed by Charles Gavino.