At the first Philippine Auto Parts Expo (PhilAPEX) that featured exhibits from 30 local auto parts manufacturers, also showcased were 16 prototypes built for the government's recently announced Public Utility Vehicle (PUV) Modernization Program. Held at the Philippine Trade Training Center (PTTC) in Pasay City last week, PhilAPEX also served as venue for the launch of Philippine National Standards 2126, series of 2017 (PNS 2126:2017)--the official set of standards for modernized PUV's and the basis of the prototype vehicles exhibited.
Although modernized PUVs will eventually span four classes, the newly approved PNS 2126:2017 standards initially focus only on Class 2 and Class 3. Under both classes, vehicles are to have gross loaded weights of under 5,000kg and capacities of more than 22 passengers. Specific to Class 2 vehicles are side-facing seats and provisions for some standing passengers, while Class 3 vehicles will have all passengers seated in front-facing seats. Vehicles in either class will have further variations as being either air-conditioned, or not.
With over 200,000 public utility jeepneys marked for replacement over a period of three years, and replaced with vehicles built on the underpinnings of light-duty trucks while also mounting Euro 4 engines that are in synch with the country's clean air initiatives (initiatives that are coming to a head early next year), this new initiative creates an entirely new market segment for truckmakers. It's no surprise that major players are now in a race to become the go-to guys, the household names for these new, passenger-jeepney replacements.
Market leader Isuzu revealed three prototypes, all with aircon-ready glassed windows--two are with bodies constructed by body-builder Centro, a third with body by Almazora. Those featuring Centro bodies were Class 2 and Class 3 prototypes built on Isuzu's new, not-yet-launched, QKR77 chassis. For good measure, it seems, Isuzu also worked with Almazora for another Class 2 prototype, this one built on what looks like a current-model NKR chassis (going by its 2.8L 4JB1-TC engine and a gross vehicle weight that's over four tons).
Isuzu-Centro Class 2 prototype
Isuzu-Centro Class 3 prototype
Isuzu-Almazora Class 2 prototype
Hino, the country's second largest truckmaker next to Isuzu, and a Toyota affiliate, fielded both Class 2 and a Class 3 prototypes with glassed windows. Hino Philippines chairman Vicente Mills says that both vehicles are working prototypes, both featuring bodywork done in-house at their manufacturing facilities in Laguna, and both focused on the P1.6M and P1.4M price points specified by government for jeepney replacements with or without air-conditioning, respectively.
Hino Class 2 prototype
Hino Class 3 protoype
Also exhibiting prototypes with in-house body constructions was Santa Rosa Motors with their Class 2 and Class 3 vehicles built on China-sourced Chengdu Dayun light-duty truck chassis featuring JE493ZLQ4-4 engines from the Jiangxi-Isuzu Engine Company joint-venture. Notably, while Santa Rosa's Class 3 prototype comes across as a light and efficient minibus, their Class 2 concept was made to look, in sharp contrast, like the country's traditional jeepney, complete with open windows.
Santa Rosa Class 2 prototype
Santa Rosa Class 3 prototype
Major player Mitsubishi / Fuso showed three prototypes: glass-windowed Class 2 and Class 3 prototypes with Almazora-built bodies, and an open-window Class 2 alternative with body by Centro.
Fuso-Almazora Class 2 prototype
Fuso-Almazora Class 3 prototype
Fuso-Centro Class 2 prototype
Punctuating how body builders can be the drivers of the modernization initiative, the Centro-built body on a Fuso Canter chassis looked very similar to the one mated to a Foton truck chassis as another Class 2 open-windowed prototype with similar capacity.
Foton-Centro Class 2 prototype
India giant Tata Motors showed two prototypes--an open-windowed Class 2 prototype with body built by Centro, and a glass-windowed Class 3 by Almazora. Both prototypes were built on their classic SFC 407 4.5-ton light-duty truck chassis powered by a 3.0L inter-cooled turbodiesel. A distinction that makes it look and feel like a traditional jeepney is the 407's vintage front-hooded look that dates back three decades to when the model was originally introduced in 1986. The model with its semi-forward cab has proven so popular globally that Tata confirms they will continue offering it, have already upgraded it to Euro 4 compliance in other markets, and are ready to do the same here by January next year
Tata-Centro Class 2 prototype
Tata-Almazora Class 3 prototype
Body builder Del Monte Motors showed their open-windowed Class 3 prototype built on a Hyundai truck chassis with the lightest rating in the bunch at 3.6 tons gross weight, and the smallest turbodiesel at just 2.5 liters displacement. Such optimistic engineering, hoping that the Del Monte prototype's combination of light weight and small engine displacement would deliver a hefty capacity of 23 seated passengers plus the driver, was surpassed only by those of the electric vehicle prototypes exhibited at the event.
Hyundai-Del Monte Class 3 prototype
The electric vehicle prototypes shown at PhilAPEX were the eJeepney Rizal and eJeepney Aguinaldo. While electric jeepneys have become a familiar sight in the metropolis, these prototypes from eJeepney are asserted to be specifically for the jeepney modernization program, both having Class 2 bodies constructed by Centro and both with capacities for 27 passengers.
eJeepney Rizal Class 2 prototype
eJeepney Aguinaldo Class 2 prototype
In developments surrounding PhilAPEX, the coalition of transport groups standing in opposition to the government's PUV modernization program apparently found it imperative to mount a protest right outside the venue. And, instead of placards communicating their misgivings based on the cost of the modernized PUVs and of the new requirement of having a fleet of at least ten vehicles to secure an operator's franchise, the coalition that includes the giant PISTON organization (Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide) boiled down their position to simply being opposed to the phase-out of the old traditional jeepney. They should be ready to elaborate, and at length.
With all these prototypes ready to be inspected by the public, at the PhilAPEX event initially and then at any event that stakeholders will care to organize later on, protesters should be ready to explain and articulate their opposition to the phase-out of the classic jeepney. Why? All the prototypes show marked improvements over the passenger jeepneys now serving the commuting public. A predictable state of affairs, really, now that jeepneys serve as minibus-sized transports despite having evolved from small, low-roofed, off-road utility vehicles.