Past and Curious
This is how the local auto assembly started
Under the current Compulsory Automotive Resurgence Strategy, the domestic assembly was reinvigorated. Local vehicle manufacture, however, dates back to the 1910s.
Cars and trucks sold locally from the 1900s to the ’30s were categorized as ‘export versions.’ These were manufactured in their countries of origin, and imported to the Philippines as completely built units. Rolling chassis units were also sold to buyers who want their units customized. In 1910, Estrella Auto Palace sold to Enrique Zobel a rolling chassis Brasier that was eventually fitted with a customized body by Manila craftsmen.
Setting up of a local assembly plant for Asian markets was proposed as early as 1929 by Durant Motors of California, but it did not materialize. The demand for more cars after the 1932 depression eventually necessitated the establishment of local automotive manufacturing plants by the late ’30s. Importing disassembled units was cheaper than importing complete built units. Luneta Motors, a pioneer dealer of Chrysler and Plymouth cars, operated an assembly plant from 1937.
While the basic features of locally assembled vehicles were similar to those sold in countries of origins, Philippine versions until 1941 were right-hand drive; driving on the left was the traffic route in effect during the time. Speedometers were also in metric configuration. Only four-door sedans were built; other body styles like convertibles and coupes were imported back then.
Domestic vehicle assembly returned after Liddell Motors and International Harvester MacLeod (Philippines) initiated the assembly of trucks and pickups in 1948; these were badly needed for the country’s rehabilitation after the war. Fabar Motors led the resurgence of car assembly with the 1950 Studebakers.
Northern Motors, an official GM dealer in the country, assembled the Chevrolet Suburbans and Bel Airs in the early ’50s. Mantrade assembled Ford Mainlines and Fabar Motors introduced the Studebaker Conestoga, the first locally assembled station wagon, also during that period. Universal Motors, Northern Motors, and Diesel Motors Germany assembled MercedesBenz, Opel and Volkswagen units, respectively. Other locally made European and Japanese models followed in the ’60s.
A number of special-bodied cars, like the Triumph Herald drop-top and the Citroen 2CV soft-top, were also made locally in the ’60s. The Chevrolet Malibu SS emerged in 1964, followed by the AMC Javelin, the Dodge Dart, and Opel coupes. The only locally made V8 cars were Buick Electra 225 sedans, from 1964 to 1966, while the only locally made GT cars were Chevrolet Camaro RS models, from 1967 to 1969.
Motorcycles introduced from the 1900s until the late ’50s accounted for less than 1% of annual vehicle sales. Harley-Davidsons, Indians, BMWs, BSAs and Triumphs were sold as completely built units by dealers like Hahn Manila and Macondray. Because demand was negligible, no large motorcycle facility was envisioned. That said, Japanese motorcycles with sidecars successfully replaced manually driven tricycles in the ’60s, paving the way for Norkis Trading to build a large assembly plant in Cebu and a network of dealerships outside the city.