Last year, when Volkswagen Philippines launched five new vehicles sourced from China, many people were livid. How could a German automaker with a rich heritage foist Chinese-made cars on them? Anywhere but China, commented some of these consumers. Much of the feedback was so negative that it was hard to tell whether customers were upset because they thought Chinese products were inferior or because they hated the People’s Republic for entirely political reasons.
Even as the distributor guaranteed that the quality was exactly the same as the brand’s European-manufactured vehicles — and explained that the business decision to source cars from China was mostly spurred by the lower 5% import duties courtesy of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreements — there still remained countless car buyers who stubbornly refused to even just consider the models in question. As far as they were concerned, anything from China was to be avoided. A sentiment they presumably shared on social media using their Chinese-made smartphones (yes, iPhones included).
And then last week, Kia Philippines — now under new management — officially unveiled its next bread-and-butter offering, a small sedan called the Soluto. What’s the relevance of this to our topic? The Soluto, you see, is actually the Pegas, a car that Kia had initially designed for the Chinese market. Indeed, the renamed vehicle for our territory is currently assembled in and imported from China.
The common denominator between Volkswagen and Kia in our market? Both are now distributed by Ayala Corporation, a highly reputable business organization whose excellent reputation no doubt played a role in the aforementioned car companies choosing it to become their local representative. I bring up good reputation because anyone hoping to sell Chinese-made cars in our extremely brand-conscious market will need an overabundance of it.
Now, if you’re 35 years old and above, chances are your mind is already made up when it comes to Chinese-made cars. You’ve long decided you won’t ever own one. That’s okay. The distributor probably knows that already. And they’re okay with it. You know why? You’re not the target market. And neither am I.
You see, consumers our age have biases that are now so ingrained in our consciousness that no slick marketing campaign can erase them. I remember helping my father shop for a new car in the US back in 2008. He was bent on getting a Ford Mustang. Meanwhile, I was doing my best trying to convince him to get a Japanese car instead. A Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry perhaps. The moment the names of those Nippon brands left my mouth, he gave me a weird look as though I had just suggested that we go rob a bank. That was because the thought of buying a Japanese car was inconceivable to him. Back in the 1960s, Japanese cars were the Chinese cars of my father’s generation. No matter how passionately I argued in favor of Japan’s present-day car-manufacturing superiority to American and European rivals, my old man would have none of it. He would rather walk than sit behind the wheel of such vehicles named Corolla and Civic.
China and its business partners aren’t aiming for us, my friends. We’re old. We’re on the way out. We’re retiring soon. They know that. And they don’t care. They’re going after the next generation, whose members are easily wowed by fancy and shiny gadgets. So whine all you want — it wouldn’t make a difference. Chinese-made automobiles will soon flood our market. Enjoy your Japanese ride now while you still can.
It is what it is.