MANILA, September 2, 2003  (STAR) By Brian Afuang  - So there is virtually no Filipino car to speak of. No Filipino marque; nothing that is produced or exported in any significant numbers; or if built in quantities, like the jeepney, nothing that can be considered close to world-class. Five years after the Second World War, the jeepney may rightfully be called a "product of Filipino ingenuity," but more than 50 years later it should be nothing but a sick joke of a relic.

There are, however, quite a number of automotive products that are found on some of the world’s most popular or prestigious car brands that are built right in our backyard. And we’re not talking mere Looney Tunes sunshades rip-offs either.

Actually, automotive parts manufacturing (including motorcycle parts) is the country’s third-largest industry, topped only by electronics and garments. Locally-manufactured products include wiring harnesses, transmission units, alloy wheels, tires, and brake and clutch parts and systems. Reportedly, bits and pieces of ABS hardware — and even software — of snooty Euro marques like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volvo are products of skilled local hands.

Strictly speaking, the Philippine automotive industry is composed of two sectors; motor vehicle assembly and motor vehicle parts and components manufacturing. The parts manufacturing business counts a total of 256 companies, providing 45,000 men and women with a respectable source of income. No lifestyle checks concern for these people, which can’t be said of some government and military officials.

Supplying both the local auto assembly industry with OEM parts and the replacement parts market, the country’s parts makers are also major contributors to the economy, thanks largely to exportation of its products. According to the Bureau of Export Trade Promotion and citing figures from the National Statistics Office, exports of automotive parts have been significantly increasing in the past five years. From something like US$730 in 1997, exports reached US$1.06 billion in 2002, or a nine-percent annual growth rate. That’s in US dollars, in case you missed it the first time. A billion too.

And this year, the industry has lofty goals, targeting a 100-percent increase in export sales. It’s actually part of an ambitious three-year export growth plan, supported by the Department of Trade and Industry and is included in the final draft of Philippine Export Development Plan for 2002-04. Both the government and the industry are keen on expanding the manufacture of products that can be exported. Japan is the industry’s biggest client, taking 40 percent of total production, followed by the US with 26 percent and Germany, 15 percent.

Foremost of these products are wiring harnesses, which makes up about half of the total parts exports. Little wonder, then, that the country’s largest parts maker, Yazaki-Torres, is involved primarily in the wiring harnesses business, with annual exports amounting to P170 million. The company supplies to major Japanese car makers like Toyota, Honda, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Nissan, and to American giant Ford. It also builds car instrumentation, batteries and cables.

Chiefly, products of local companies are made of metals, plastic, rubber and other composite materials. Other major players in the industry are United Technologies Automotive Phils, also making wiring harnesses; Temic Automotive Phils, churning out ABS for the world’s best cars; Asian Transmission Corp., producing, duh, auto transmissions; Fujitsu Ten, car stereos; and Aichi Forging Co., Inc. which makes, well, forged parts, whatever those are. Even world-leading carmakers are into the parts business as well. Toyota has its Toyota Autoparts Phils, which manufactures transmissions and CV joints, and Honda Engine Manufacturing Phils, which should be self-explanatory.

Just like the legions of Filipino yayas and seamen employed the world over who may not exactly hold positions of power, there is not a significant Filipino car marque in the global auto scene. However, locally-manufactured auto products play an integral part in the cars these things ultimately end up on — just as the yayas and seamen play their indispensable roles.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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