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The car is not the star

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Don’t Drink And Write

I’ve attended more car launches than my deteriorating memory can accurately recall, but I can confidently proclaim last Sunday’s BMW M5 debut as the most amusing one. It wasn’t because of production value. In fact, there were no fog machines, no balletic dancers, no executives descending from the rafters. There was only a simple backdrop that visually framed the car and the podium beside it. Quite a spartan setup for the arrival of a P14,790,000 high-performance German sedan, to be honest.

And yet the place was packed with petrolheads who were so loaded they managed to transform the venue’s parking lot into a mini version of the Geneva Motor Show without really trying. Driving to the San Miguel Corp. (SMC) compound for the event were wealthy owners of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and McLarens. On a Sunday. At seven in the morning. In heavy rains. Purportedly to attend a car launch. But surely, this wasn’t the M5’s irresistible appeal at work here.

No, the members of the so-called Supercar Club showed up to the affair for one reason only: to show their support for Ramon S. Ang, the car-crazy SMC president who acquired the BMW distributorship from Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez last year — and then proceeded to change the company name to SMC Asia Car Distributors Corp. (SMCACDC). Along the way, he poached Lexus Manila sales director Spencer Y. Yu, the same guy who had sold him mass-market Japanese vehicles during the latter’s stint at Honda Makati as a young car salesman. Mr. Yu officially became SMCACDC’s president last July 1.

If stories circulating about him are anything to go by, that’s how Mr. Ang operates. He rewards people for their loyalty, and he gets them to do his bidding. If RSA tells you to pack up your things at your current employment and asks you to look after one of his business units, you do exactly that. At least that’s what Mr. Yu did when he severed his ties with Lexus and, by extension, Toyota and George S. K. Ty.

By all accounts, friends never say no to Mr. Ang. Take CATS Motors’ Rene G. Nuñez, for instance. As president of a Mercedes-Benz dealership, he should be running as far away from any BMW gathering as he humanly could. On Sunday, not only was Mr. Nuñez one of the special guests, he also lent a couple of his classic M5s for the BMW model’s multi-generation display in the driveway.

Ah, and there was Carlos Gono, the owner of the AutoPlus Sportzentrium garage shop whom RSA fondly referred to as his “kumpadre” in his speech. It was Mr. Gono who personally invited many of the affluent supercar owners in the guest list. He and Mr. Ang go a long way back — apparently all the way back to when RSA was still running a car shop of his own. The Big Boss never forgets. He remembers who his friends were before he became a three-letter power acronym that sends top bankers quaking in their boots, and he relies on them for the occasional support he could otherwise buy with his loose change.

With Mr. Ang now at the helm of the BMW business in the Philippines, expect a major migration of customers from rival luxury and premium brands. This is not just a typical executive leading a car company — this is one of the boys, a true car nut who happened to hit the big time beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. When he takes the microphone and says the M5 is faster than your Ferrari or Lamborghini, you don’t feel insulted. You feel good. Because Ramon S. Ang wants to sell you a car. Which means he wants to do business with you. And anyone who has done so has only gratitude to express.

The M5 breakfast meeting offered a peek into how it’s going to be from this point on: car guys taking selfies with the BMW chief, grown men lining up for a chance to chat with him, prospective buyers wishing he could sell them on that new X model. Ramon S. Ang will be a traveling rock concert for the Bavarian brand.

Other car company bosses will market their products to you based on spec-sheet merit. RSA will make you want to buy a BMW M5 without the need to mention its 600-hp V8 engine and all-wheel-drive sure-footedness. You’ll get one because you’re hoping that maybe — just maybe — you could get into his circle and swap motoring stories with him, interspersed with business lessons here and there.

If you’re lucky, you could even be someone he’d demand loyalty from. A fate I’m sure brings many rewards with it.





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