Anton Andres / Manufacturer Press, CAMPI | June 12, 2018 12:41
A fond look back at cars made in the Philippines
While we don't have a marque of our own, we have quite the resume when it comes to building cars. For almost 70 years, local workforces have rolled out hundreds and thousands of cars; not just for local consumption, but also for export. These days, we mostly build commercial vehicles and B-segment cars, but what was it like in the past decades? Needless to say, it's quite the colorful history. Read on.
Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation, which started out as Chrysler Philippines here, is perhaps the longest standing local automotive manufacturer in the country. Established 55 years ago in 1963, MMPC, has been through the ups and downs of the country, while producing cars we can now call iconic.
It all started with the Colt Galant which still bore Chrysler Philippines plates by the end of the production line. It was soon followed up by the Lancer, which MMPC would build right up until the EX era. Of course, we all know too well that MMPC churned out quite a lot of box-type Lancers in the span of those years, ranging from the basic 1.4 SL variant, to the cooking 1.6 GT which even came with rear disc brakes.
Besides the Colt Galants, Galant Sigmas helped power MMPC through the turbulet 80's while the 6th-gen Galant was revolutionary with the addition of the still revered GTI. 'Rayban' (7th-gen) and Shark (8th-gen) Galants also came out of the Cainta, Rizal facility.
Three different kinds of Pajeros were made in Cainta, namely, the first-generation model, along with both types of second-generation Pajeros, the first phase which is known as the 'Intercooler' by enthusiasts, and Fieldmaster made from the late 90's to the early 2000's.
Of course, there was also the Cimarron, the predecessor of the L300, and the L300 itself. There was also Adventure which recently ceased production.
Perhaps you can split Toyota's car-building efforts here in two phases, one under Delta Motors and the rest under Toyota Motor Philippines Inc., the current builders.
Founded in 1962, a vast majority of the models sold here were made by Delta Motors. Cars such as the Toyopet Corona, the rear-wheel drive Corollas and Coronas rolled out of their factories. Even luxury offerings, such as the Cressida and Crown, were built by Delta. Delta was one of the first to build the Asian Utility Vehicle with the Tamaraw (beaten to the punch by Ford's Fiera), along with the production and exportation of the now rare Delta Mini Cruiser. Unfortunately, the economic downturn of the mid-80's meant Delta Motors had to close their doors by 1984, along with Toyota not being present in the market for four years.
Fast forward to 1988 and Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) as we know it today was established. March 3, 1989 would mark the first vehicle rolled out by TMP in their first plant in Bicutan. The first car they built (as a semi-knocked down unit) was an eighth-generation Crown, packing a straight-six engine to boot. On the same day, the Toyota Lite-Ace came out of the plant, also as a semi-knocked down unit. The now iconic 'small-body Corolla' followed a few months later.
So what else did TMP build here? That would be two generations of the Corona, the fourth and fifth-generation Camry, three generations of the Corolla, later becoming the Corolla Altis, the Tamaraw and its eventual successor, the Revo, a few generations of the Hilux and HiAce, to name a few.
While they haven't been building cars locally as long as Toyota, Honda has quite the resume when it comes to Philippine production. Honda is a relative newcomer here, being established in October of 1990, but through the years, Honda Cars Philippines Inc. (HCPI) has made cars that have resonated with the Filipino consumer.
It all started with semi-knocked down units of the fourth-generation Honda Civic, also known as the EF among enthusiasts. However, it was with the fifth-generation Civic (or EG series) where HCPI really picked up. Both hatchback and sedan variants were made here, from the DX hatch to the range-topping ESI sedan, which occasionally wore a '4AT' badge for its automatic guises. HCPI would build Civics here right up until 2011 with the FD series being the last to be produced locally.
A few years after the launch of the EF and EG Civics came the first of the Accords. In the Philippines, we got the fifth-generation model first and it too was made in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Even the sixth-generation Accord was built here, with that particular model being the last D-segment sedan Honda made in the country. The first two generations of the CR-V were also assembled here and, to this day, the City has been rolling out of the Santa Rosa plant for over 20 years.
The history of Isuzu assembling vehicles here goes a long way and it all started with an AUV. Kicking off Isuzu assembly here was the KC20, which served as a replacement for the GM Harabas. Soon after, the Gemini was also being made here but it would be in the 90's where production would go into hyperdrive.
Kicked off by the KB-series pickup, it was followed up by the Highlander which was set to go head to head with the Tamaraw FX. The KB production line soon made way for the Fuego in 1998, while the Crosswind took over the Hi-Lander line in 2001.
The local assembly story of Nissan dates back to the days of Datsun when Universal Motors Corporation (UMC) built the 200C sedan, also known as the Cedric in Japan. Various Datsuns, such as the 180B, were made locally right up until Datsuns were eventually called Nissans in the country.
UMC would go on to build Nissan's commercial vehicles. There was the Eagle, the Frontier, and Frontier Bravado, assembled under UMC's wing. Also built by UMC were Urvans, and the Patrol Safari.
While UMC dealt with commercial vehicles, Nissan Motors Philippines Inc. (the pre-cursor of Nissan Philippines Inc.) on the other hand concentrated on cars. Locally, they assembled the Stanza, the 2-door Pulsar, the Maxima, five generations of the Sentra, Cefiro, two generations of X-Trail, the Livina, and the Serena.
Ford pulled out of the local assembly back in 2012, capping off decades of (intermittently) manufacturing in the Philippines. The American automaker made full-sized LTDs locally, although most didn't come with a V8 engine. It was eventually followed by the Escort and Cortina, which carried through to the 80's. And let's not forget the Fiera, the first AUV in the country, according to archives at least.
Cue the economic downturn of the 80's and Ford was out of the Philippines with the Laser and Telstar being the last models before their return in the late 90's. The marque returned and kicked off the production of the first-generation Lynx. Oddly enough, the first-generation Focus was also made here but it wasn't sold in local dealerships. Those models were, in fact, for export only.
By the mid-2000's, Ford was making the Escape and the second-gen Lynx production line was succeeded by the Focus Ghia, which was in its second iteration by the time it was made here. Initial hatchback versions of the Focus were assembled in South Africa instead. On that note, the Focus and the Escape would eventually become the last Philippine-made Fords as the Fiesta marked the arrival of Thailand-sourced units.
Did you know some first-generation Chevrolet Camaros were made here? General Motors was quite the assembly powerhouse here back in the day, producing not just Chevrolets but also Buicks, Pontiacs, and Opels, just to name a few. These GM products were made by Yutivo Sons Hardware Corporation.
Yutivo Camaros were built here between 1967 to 1969 and most were fitted with a low-compression 250 cubic-inch (4.1-liter in metrics) motor. So if you have a Camaro lying around in your yard, take a look at the plate near the engine. You might just have a Philippine Camaro and it's worth a pretty penny.
Some of the other GM cars made here were the Buick Electra, Pontiac Parisienne, Vauxhall Victor and Viva, Opel Rekords and a couple of Holdens, with the Torana being one of the most popular models.
Philippines VW fans might be familiar with the term DMG. Those are the initials of Domingo M. Guevarra Sr, the person responsible for bringing in, and leading the production of, Volkswagens in the Philippines.
Some of the first models built here were the Kombi and the Beetle with the former being an SKD and the latter being CKD. A few years down the line came the Brasilia, and other Brazil-sourced units; and Passats were reportedly made here as well. A quick visit to Volkswagen's Philippine history wouldn't be complete without the Sakbayan, which was chosen to be PLDT's fleet vehicle back in the day. There was even the Trakbayan, essentially a truck based on the Beetle's floorpan.
Yes, they made Mercedes-Benzes in the Philippines. While UMC is known these days for their ties with Nissan, from 1955 to 1970, the company was one of the first importers and assemblers of the three-pointed star. Some of the most iconic models from the German automaker, such as the 'Ponton' and the 'Fintail' were indeed made here.
When UMC moved on to Nissans, some family members wanted to continue the Mercedes-Benz assembly part of the business. Thus, Commercial Motors was established, responsible for rolling out W114/W115 Mercs. They eventually moved to building the W123, both in SKD and CKD kits, which carried through until the mid-80's.
Another surprise in this list BMW although it was a brief fling in local manufacturing. In the 90's, select E36 3 Series variants were made here as semi-knocked down units. However, the Asian Economic Crisis of the late 90's brought an abrupt halt to all that. Still, there was a total of 2,135 of these made in a relatively short run; not a bad figure for a locally-assembled luxury car.
Volvo makes the list of marques that made cars here too with the 850 series for the 90's. Like the BMW 3 Series, the Volvo 850 was made here as a semi-knocked down unit over at the Star Motors plant in Santa Rosa, Laguna.
What's being built here now?
While it sounds like local production has slimmed down quite a lot these days, there's still a fair amount of cars and trucks that roll off our assembly lines. Toyota builds the Innova and Vios in the thousands. Honda on the other hand has been building the City here for over 20 years now. Foton set up shop in Clark where the Toplander is being assembled while Hyundai completes semi-knocked down kits for the Eon and H350. Isuzu meanwhile continues the pickup assembly tradition with the current D-Max. Last but not least is Mitsubishi with the local manufacturing of the Mirage and Mirage G4, following the demise of the Adventure.
These are just a few examples of cars that have been built in the country, along with a few that's still being made here. Looking back, we have interesting footnotes in our motoring history. We've made unique models, luxury cars, SUVs and even sports cars, making local motoring that bit more colorful. With a resume like that, it's likely we'll see 'Made in the Philippines' on cars for many more years to come.