SMALL VEHICLE WITH A BIG FUTURE

MANILA, OCTOBER 21, 2003  (MALAYA) By SANDRA DIEZ (Photos By PHILIP DUQUIATAN) - MOST Metro Manilans may not know it yet, but a small yet powerful vehicle is geared up to address sectors of the motoring landscape in dire need of a facelift.

The move however is not new to the Visayas and Mindanao. The vehicle called a Multicab, introduced in Cebu 10 years ago, has provided the solution to a growing road "nuisance" and eyesore of smoke-belching tricycles and jeepneys.

"I developed the Multicab as an upgrade to the tricycle," said Norberto Quisumbing Jr., chairman of the Norkis Group of Companies at his office in Mandaluyong.

It was in 1990 that Quisumbing, fondly called NQ Jr. or NQ by his peers, decided to develop a better alternative to the noisy, dilapidated tricycles that were clogging Cebu's main thoroughfares. Today, we see Cebu commuters ride in the safety and comfort of passengerial Multicabs called Easyriders, their drivers no longer exposed to the elements. Trendy lines and colors add to the Multicab's aesthetic appeal and its compact size is well suited to narrow local streets. And because it seats to as many as 10 to 14 passengers (depending on the model), operators who have shifted from three-wheelers earn twice as much as they used.

"In effect, the Multicab has brought about a better standard of living, especially in the provinces," said the 73-year-old NQ whose company was awarded Most Outstanding Countryside Investor on its Ruby Anniversary last year. "But such a change did not just happen overnight," he added.

Pilot area

The pilot area chosen to introduce the Multicab was just outside the gates of the original Norkis factory in Mandaue City where tricycles, their numbers unregulated, literally had a chaotic run of the streets. Buen "Buddy" Delfin, group managing head of Norkis relates, "Tricycle operators and drivers associations (TODAs) in the vicinity first saw the Multicab as a threat to their livelihood that they would throw stones at the Multicabs." But gradually, operators could no longer resist the added benefits of the passengerial Multicabs over their old vehicles. The Multicab provided the lower to middle-income market in the countryside with a versatile four-wheeled, gasoline-powered vehicle that is environment-friendly, yet very affordable. (Norkis Cebu currently pegs its prices at P136,000 to P166,000 for its passengerial models while private models range from P86,000 to 185,000.)

"In time, we gained the confidence of (the local) transport cooperatives," said NQ. From its origins in Mandaue, Multicabs have since made a strong presence in the Viz-Min regions with over 200,000 units running nationwide. And, as is the case with any hot item, its popularity has spawned many copycats who operate in backyard shops. But unlike the knockoffs, Norkis Multicab offers more than just a good quality product. A three-month warranty and professional after sales support for both parts and service ensures every purchase is a valued investment. "We don't mind the competition," NQ said confidently. "The high quality of our vehicles proves who is the real maker of the Multicab."

History

The excellent quality of Multicab and other Norkis vehicles are the end result of a 41-year history of entrepreneurial spirit, the drive to excel and ability to survive economic and political challenges with no losses incurred.

NQ Jr. together with wife Britta (nee Bartolome), set up Norkis Trading Co., in 1962. With meager experience and a capital of only P5,000, they took on the exclusive distributorship of Yamaha motorcycles in the Philippines.

In 1963, NQ invented the tricycle in Dagupan City. He thought of attaching the Yamaha YGI 80-cc to a human-powered pedicab, a vehicle banned by Mayor Arsenic Lacson for connoting slave-like work. The concept became popular and soon the volume of YGI-80 sales soared. Tricycles appeared on Philippine roads everywhere and because jobs were scarce, they became a means of income for many Filipino families. Today, there are over two million tricycles in the country. Like the jeepney, it has become another icon of cultural diversity with sidecars designed to reflect different regional tastes and styles.

The economy would later fall into a deep crisis in 1983. With the peso devalued and dollars scarce, importation became difficult. Norkis was forced to reduce the volume of Yamaha production and retrench thousands of employees. NQ had to think of a way to save the company and the jobs of 3,000 Norkisans.

He decided to import used Yamaha components and engines at a fraction of the cost of brand new units. These were then shipped to Cebu for re-engineering, reconditioning, rebuilding and recycling - a process Norkis calls its Norkis 4-R System or N4RS. The result was a cheaper but like new motorcycle called the "Econobike." The new system was labor intensive, needing five workers more than the assembly of a brand new motorcycle that NQ was able to recall his retrenched employes. Almost half a million Econobikes have been sold since then.

Multicab craze

With the N4RS system honed over the years, Norkis eventually had the resources to introduce a product that would upgrade a deteriorating public transport system. NQ decided to bring in used component engines and parts of 550-cc and 660-cc Daihatsu and Suzuki engines and factored in some Filipino ingenuity and creativity to create the newly-styled, light, 4-wheel Multicab. The 550-cc engine is matched to variants for use city streets while the 660-cc is fitted to models more suited for hauling and uphill climbs. Porta Coeli Industrial Corporation (PCIC), a newly-established Norkis affiliate makes sure that each Multicab, the only BOI-registered 4W light vehicle, undergoes full engine overhaul, parts replacements, new chassis and body fabrication, oven painting and detail assembly.

Since the first passengerial variants rolled out of the Mandaue plant, the Multicab has become so popular that Norkis has introduced other models to suit the tastes of the private sector where variants can be configured to the customer's specifications from accessories to paint color. Budding entrepreneurs and cost-conscious companies are eyeing the Multicab as fuel-efficient and affordable alternative to service their needs. Families on a tight budget can opt for the Multivan while sporty types will find the Elegance Sports and Offroad highly appealing. Ambuvans and golf carts are also available.

In many ways, the Multicab has been instrumental in continuing the Norkis vision of "fulfilling the Filipino dream," that is "to have a vehicle of his own so he can be the master of his own time." Through the years, Norkis grew and expanded into a network of 200-full service branches nationwide and employs a 5,000-strong workforce. Last year, it expanded its operations when it opened its new 150-hectare complex with modern facilities in Compostela, some 23 kilometers from Mandaue, giving Norkisans a renewed sense of optimism.

Its achievements are an example of what Filipinos can do to contribute to a country's economic growth. The enterprise has grown in step with history, stayed in tune with its markets and environment. For its patriarch, Norberto Quisumbing he is confident that the Norkis Group will continue its growth, maintain its niche in Philippine business and open new horizons and opportunities for the Filipino.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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