Cars Made in the Philippines, Really?

Automologist, Harold, fondly remembers the glory days of car assembly in the Philippines and hopes the government ushers the return of those days!

Rarely are there people in the world who will recall or recognise cars and buses that are Philippine-made (other than our own signature jeepneys) but we have built tens of thousands of them over the past 70 years.

image source: CAMPI

Today, we build a lot of commercial vehicles and B-segment cars, but very few know it. And it might surprise you that we have a colourful history of building cars and have a local workforce that can match, or even exceed, that of Thailand and Indonesia (minus the tendency to unionise or have labour strikes that can kill the industry).

Here are among the great cars that Filipinos have built over the years:

Mitsubishi Motors

Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation (MMPC), which started as Chrysler Philippines and is the oldest local automotive manufacturer in the country, was established 55 years ago in 1963. MMPC has been producing cars we can now call iconic. Its initial salvo was Colt Galant. It survived the turbulent 80s with Galant Sigmas.

Three different kinds of Pajeros were made here: the first- to third-generation models, commonly known as the Intercooler and Fieldmaster, made from the late 90s to the early 2000s. There was also the Cimarron, the predecessor of the famous L300, and the L300 itself. There was also Adventure, which recently ceased production.

Toyota

There were two Toyota car-building efforts here: one under Delta Motors and the rest under Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) Inc., the current builders. Founded in 1962, cars such as the Toyopet Corona, the rear-wheel drive Corollas and Coronas rolled out of TMP’s factories. Luxury cars, like Cressida and Crown, were built here also. Toyota Philippines was one of the first to build the Asian Utility Vehicle with the Tamaraw (beaten, however, by Ford’s Fiera), along with the production and exportation of the now rare Delta Mini Cruiser.

In 1989, the first car that TMP 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.

These were followed by 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.

Honda

While it was not as aggressive a builder 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 become favourites of the Filipino consumer.

The fourth-generation Honda Civic, also known as the EF among enthusiasts, was made in the Philippines. Then, the fifth-generation model was made here too. Even the sixth-generation Accord was built here. 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.

Isuzu

The history of Isuzu assembling vehicles started with an AUV. Isuzu assembled the KC20 here, which served as a replacement for the GM Harabas. Soon after, the Gemini was also being made here but it would be in the 90s when production would go into hyperdrive.

Jump-started by the KB-series pickup, comes the Highlander, which was set to go head-on 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.

Nissan

The local assembly story of Nissan starts back in 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 built Nissan’s commercial vehicles, like the Eagle, the Frontier, and Frontier Bravado. Also built by UMC were Urvans and the Patrol Safari.

As UMC dealt with commercial vehicles, Nissan Motors Philippines Inc. (the pre-cursor of Nissan Philippines Inc.) on the other hand concentrated on cars. It 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

Ford stopped production in 2012, after decades of intermittent 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 80s. And not to be forgotten is the iconic Fiera, the first AUV in the country.

By the mid-2000s, Ford was making the Escape and the second-gen Lynx followed by Focus Ghia. 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.

General Motors

Were you aware that the 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.

Other GM cars made in the Philippines 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.

Volkswagen

Not to be outdone was Philippines Volkswagen. Some of the first models built here were the Kombi and the Beetle, with the former being an SKD and the latter being CKD. Then came the Brasilia, and other Brazil-sourced units; Passats were reportedly made here as well. Volkswagen Philippines built also 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.

Mercedes-Benz

Oh 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 vehicles. Some of the most iconic models from the German automaker, such as the Ponton and the Fintail, were indeed made here.

UMC moved on to Nissans, but 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-80s.

BMW

Surprise! BMW, although with a brief stint in local manufacturing which started in the 90s, made E36 3 Series variants here as semi-knocked down units. However, the Asian Economic Crisis of the late 90s brought an abrupt halt to all that. Still, there was a total of 2,135 of these made in a relatively short run, a good number for a locally assembled luxury car.

Volvo

Volvo made cars here too with the 850 series for the 90s. 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 still being built in the Philippines today?

While local production has slimmed down dramatically (blame the labour unions that killed it), there are still a few cars and trucks’ assembly lines operating here. 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. Mitsubishi with the local manufacturing of the Mirage and Mirage G4, following the demise of the Adventure.

Will the former glory days of car assembly ever be back in the Philippines? It really depends on the government. GOVERNMENT POLICY DICTATES INDUSTRY BEHAVIOR. I challenge the present economic managers to look at this potential. We have the workforce, we have the know-how, we have some facilities left. LET US PICK UP THE PIECES, SHALL WE?!

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