When a car aficionado talks about a successful Asian utility vehicle (AUV) that really swept the country and created myths as to where it got its name, the Fiera, produced by Ford, which traces its history to 1913 when the iconic Ford Model T originally introduced in the US, was being assembled in the Philippines.
Contrary to political conjecture that Fiera stands for so-so Marcos-connected auto label, the term, in Spanish, actually means beast, in reference to the adaptability of the vehicle to tough and rugged Asian roads. It was first commercially produced in 1971.
But the Fiera was not the first AUV to be produced in the country. A decade earlier, Mitsubishi introduced Cimmaron (which means ‘wild’ in Spanish), followed by Mitsubishi L300 FB when Fiera and Tamaraw, known abroad as Kijang, became the league-leading AUVs.
The Tamaraw, after the endemic buffalo found in Mindoro, was produced by Delta Motor Corporation and powered by a 1.2 liter Toyota 3K motor.
Actually, there are three generations of Fiera, which was popularized in Mindanao by Ford distributor Davao Motor Sales (DAMOSA). The first-generation AUV was powered by an OHV engine used in Ford Escort, followed by a Perkins for the next group and the last.
Given the Fiera’s strong market presence, other automotive producers covered by the government’s Progressive Car Manufacturing Program followed suit. The DMG-VW label introduced Trakbayan, while General Motors was proud of its Harabas, the smallest AUV species.
A limited edition of Ford Fiera crew cab was introduced in 1982.
Although the Ford AUV was one of the most sought-after utility vehicle produced in the Philippines, some auto historians claimed it was “one of the world’s greatest marketing flop ever pushed by Ford Motors.” In the Latin Americas, it did not click because of supposed poor safety standards but, through time, it had earned the moniker as “one of the toughest cars ever built.”
An interesting trivia about Fiera, is that it saved Don Antonio O. Floirendo Sr., the late Davao banana mogul, from financial disaster after its 2,000-hectare farm was ravaged and flattened by strong winds in the 1970’s. Profits from the sales of the utility vehicle saved his day.
Anton Andres, in “The AUV: In the service of the Filipino” (2015), wrote that the AUV mania spawned other models produced locally. For instance, Francisco Motors Corp. (FMC) had its FMC Pinoy AUV inspired by the Mazda pickup. Soon, it was producing the larger Anfra, which was also inspired by the Mazda pickup, also known as Ford Courier and later became the Ranger.
This frenetic market trend to cash in on the Fiera phenomenon did not stop with the departure of Ford from the country in 1984. Pilipinas Nissan bought the rights to produce Fiera IV, which became the Nissan Bida. After martial law in 1986, fourth-generation Fiera competed with FMC’s Anfra and Mitsubishi’s L300, the Cimarron’s successor.
In 1983, Mitsubishi introduced the Delica, a corruption of “delivery cargo”, as an AUV cargo. In later years, new models that included the Versa Van started to show up in primary streets.
The return of the Toyota brand in the 1990’s under new investors also marked the revival of the Tamaraw, now rechristened as Tamaraw FX, which was more of a wagon than a Fiera. Its rebirth gave rise to a new public transport scheme known as Garage Service, later known as FX, which required the unit to wait at terminals to be loaded.
After staying on the side lines for quite a time, Isuzu relived its presence in the AUV challenge by introducing the Hi-Lander, known abroad as the Panther. Unlike the Fiera, the new vehicle had new features that included air-conditioning and power windows.
The article (www.autoindustriya.com) also highlighted the fact that in the 1990’s Mitsubishi upgraded its AUV entry through the Adventure, which shared components with the Isuzu Hi-Lander. It possessed a wide variety of variants and two engine selections.
“As time progressed,” Andres explained, “there were soon less utility oriented models such as the GLS Sport and Super Sport variants but the Adventure stuck to its people carrier roots and can still carry 10 passengers for base and mid-level trims.”
Toyota also introduced improvement in Tamaraw FX and named the new specimen Revo, short for “revolution.” The unit “was a quantum leap in terms of design, refinement and driving dynamics compared to the old Tamaraw FX. The gas engine finally received electronic fuel injection which helped reduce noise, vibration and harshness levels. [It] didn’t leave its AUV roots behind. It still sat 10 passengers but with more car-like levels of comfort [and] was such a popular model that it overtook the sales of Toyota’s own popular sedan, the Corolla.”
In later years, new road runners were introduced, carrying features of luxury, sportiness, and speed. Mitsubishi modernized its Adventure, which outlived the Fuzion, while Isuzu brought out the Crosswind. Toyota, which also owns the popular Innova, introduced the XUVi and Sportivo variants after retiring the Revo in 2005.
Today, however, the line that divides AUVs from sports utility vehicles (SUVs) with the introduction of new models that carry prevalent themes popular among car buyers and collectors.