Opinion: On Surplus Vehicles

What's garbage to some is a sports car to us. Or a garbage truck as well, come to think of it.

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I take out the garbage for the basureros to pick up, and I have found that as they throw it at the back of their truck, they immediately segregate the trash and sieve out the sellable PETs and cans from the general refuse. The power of basic economics, recycling as it should be.

We Filipinos are enterprising folk. We have lemons, we make lemonade. Este, we have calamansi, we put it in our soy sauce. We are practical people. Given that we don’t have money, we find uses for other nations’ junk. That explains why we have ukay-ukays and stores selling surplus furniture.

We even turn trash into transportation. Take the case of the jeepney. Army vehicles with a lenghtened rear with side-by-side seating and a contrived roof, becoming the earliest mass transportation after the devastation of Manila. And when we felt the fuel crunch, a seemingly cyclical thing in our history, we simply jettisoned their thirsty gas engines and swapped them for diesels. Now we are using the enemy’s motors, surplus Isuzu mills from Japan.

Go to Banawe and you will be amazed at the number of surplus Japanese engines available for sale. I went recently, and I really wanted to take home an 3SGTE rear cut from an MR2, if only I can dream. And from the condition of the half an MR2 that I saw, we Filipinos would probably use it more for a few more years if we owned it. But in Japan, things are different. Cars have to undergo rigorous inspections to see whether they are properly maintained and safe to run. The Shaken, the name for their vehicle inspection/registration system, is done every two years or so for personal cars. As a car ages it gets harder and more costly to make it pass, and most Japanese simply junk their cars. Initially they used to send them to breakers yards and chop them off. That’s how we can get our surplus engines for our jeeps and RB26s for our drift Cefiros. Now, they found out that instead of hiring people to break apart cars and pay them exorbitant wages, they can simply sell these cars whole to unsuspecting third-world countries like ours, whose consumers would then bite hook line and sinker. While getting cubist expressions of wierdness (think Toyota’s bB or Nissan’s Cube) we also get Skylines, FTOs, and ITRs in the PH, so I ain’t complaining.

The additional complication in importing these cars here is that we do not allow right-hand drive vehicles in our country. So we import them and convert them in our free port zones, and God knows what NoKor tunnel they sneak them cars out from. Plus, their mere availability pisses off the local car companies. Why buy a perfectly new car when you can get a poorly-converted, polluting, overused, unloved, decrepit and generally cheap Japanese surplus claptrap? Or so they say. They pose the question, if we consumers continue to patronize purchasing these surplus vehicles, then how then will our local automobile industry grow?

Good point. But I have some good news. From 2004 until today, the new vehicle registration data show that on a percentage basis, Filipinos are buying more and more new cars than surplus vehicles. CAMPI reports that its members have had the highest sales figures since before the Asian Financial Crisis some fifteen years ago. Things are bright for the automotive oligopoly.

And the Phantom Menace remains. We still can get surplus cars if we want to. We still can get surplus parts, so us enthusiasts can still indulge in whatever JDM fantasies that gets us off. All well and good. Because I am still searching for a Multicab to buy for the family business. More on my Multicab search in a later Opinion.

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