December 27, 2018

Passenger vans: Today’s real ‘big’ thing

In a recent report by the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc. (CAMPI) for the 3rd quarter of 2016, new vehicle sales in the first eight months of the year increased by close to 28% or 229,919 units, from 179,839 units in the same period of last year.
Passenger vehicle sales increased by almost 16% to 84,926 units in this period but the growth of the industry is apparently fuelled by commercial vehicle sales, which soared 37%, to 144,993 units. It’s a segment that is growing at double the pace, perhaps because this particular slice of the auto industry counts vehicles that are growing in popularity; namely SUVs, multi-purpose vans and utility vans.
While the appeal of SUVs is clear by now, considering prevalent road and weather conditions in the country’s metros. Vans on the other hand are also offering a unique appeal, not the least in terms of public transportation. On the personal side, vans are adequate as executive vehicles, and preferred by many as the ideal family vehicle.
Also trending in social media are ‘travel packages’ whereas agencies organize your whole family and friends’ adventure – tapping utility vans as the travellers’ service vehicle for the entire trip.
This versatility and utility has resulted in fierce competition in the van segment, and each automotive brand has mounted a different strategy to capture market share.
Supplementing Hyundai’s venerable Starex is a new, much larger H350; while Nissan still swears by its redoubtable NV350, which recently launched in an 18-seater variant. Stalwart Toyota has entered the game by flanking the ever-reliable Hi-ace Grandia and Commuter variants with a totally different high-end beast, the Alphard.
While the big players are focusing on two or so models, differentiated perhaps by a bevy of variants, increasing volume is silently being acquired by players like China-brand FOTON, whose approach is not just bringing to the market two or three models, but four, of varying shapes, sizes and capacities.
The Toano is an executive-class van reminiscent of Ford’s E-series and easily seats 11 in captain-style chairs; an even higher end variant featured in the last Philippine International Motor Show offers a nautically-inspired interior. The View Traveller and View TransVan are closer to standard vans, however each is quite distinct from the other both in shape and price point. The latest entrant is the sub-PhP 500k Gratour, a diminutive 7-seater that appears to be quite capable, and is perhaps the cheapest people mover available in the market.
As the government mulls solutions to mass public transportation and traffic woes, vans may be a viable answer that has surprisingly long-term implications. With these vans’ efficiency, such vehicles might soon be a ‘need’ not only for the emerging transport businesses but to big Filipino households as well.