Pakistan’s automotive industry: From then to now

Back in the pre-galvanised steel days, things were much simpler and easy; all someone had to do was go out and buy a Toyota because that was all the choice we had in early 80’s. Whether it was the AE86, most commonly known as the 86 Corolla, Corona, Crown 97’, Surf or the Land Cruiser, the choice was pretty obvious. Then came the year 1989 “Enter the Suzuki”; that year gave us the most iconic car of the Pakistan’s Automobile Industry; Suzuki Mehran, which was called the ‘Common Man’s Car’. This car was introduced with a 90,000 rupees’ price tag. According to the sales and production data regarding the local automotive industry, published by Pakistan Automotive Manufacturing Association (PAMA) in 2015, Pak-Suzuki has sold more than 490,000 units of this car in Pakistan till date. But then the decline started or, dare I say, the monopoly of Pakistani Automotive Industry made its debut which started to rob Pakistanis of their potential choice of buying more for paying less, which inevitably leads me to address that due to lack of options, we Pakistanis prefer buying second hand vehicles than buying new ones.

Let’s cut the chase, shall we? 60% out of the 11,000+ people, who participated lately in PakWheelsAuto Industry Survey, admitted to buying a second hand car. Let’s take Suzuki Mehran as an example. iI is more economical to buy a 2012 model than to pay almost twice the money for its brand new model, which is essentially the same.

Looking back at some of the psychological reasons, which influenced the rising trend of favouring used-cars than to buying new ones, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Pakistanis prefer to rate fuel economy, value for money & exterior design above security in any car. Let’s be honest, we never had the choice neither the liberty, to choose between different options; I guess the saying “Beggars can’t be choosers” truly depicts our reasoning and actions. Because after all these years, we are still buying and appreciating globally obsolete cars for more than 25 years. Here is another bad news for many of us. This trend is not just limited to the car-buying; insurance market in Pakistan is in even bad shape.

Interestingly, around 21,000 vehicles are being stolen yearly, and the total figures surrounding this auto theft turns up an astounding 5 billion rupees worth of property loss. Only a minute number of Pakistanis have admitted to retaining an auto-insurance. But the above mentioned survey fails to shed light on the problems causing this stagnancy. Apparently, our society is into three schools of thought (Haraam, Blasphemy and Legal) when it comes to auto-insurance and financing. And let’s not forget the 5+ year old vehicles not allowed to be insured and the evergreen cycle of palm-greasing in police’s case. Yes, the picture is truly and utterly miserable.

But one might wonder what about the people who do get their cars financed or insured? What about them? Surely, they are not that few in numbers. No, actually due to the revisiting of financing policies, a lot more companies and individuals are investing in this avenue but in the end, this matter is all about perception. And this leads one to wonder about the precautions, which banks take to ensure the protection of their investment. Yes, I am referring to trackers, a device which can be used to track or immobilise a vehicle. Majority of the Pakistanis do not have a tracker or an immobiliser in their cars, which again paints a bleak picture. The companies are trying to retain their image after the disaster which took place a couple of years back and left thousands of local cars jammed, because the company had closed its operations overnight due to bankruptcy.

To top it all off, I haven’t even mentioned any accident of underage driving. Our society encourages these young drivers and that is a fact. To me, underage drivers have no fault of their own, due to the lack of adequate legislation and its implementation; their parents and our culture are the ones to be blamed. In Pakistan, children grow up hearing that driving when young is cool, leading to their unnecessary rise in confidence and associating it with something of akin to wonder. But the biggest concern is aimed towards driving without license.

In addition to parent’s encouragement, there’s the lenient legislation which has resulted in the culture of underage drivers. Lack of licensing offices and a relatively forgiving law has made drivers, whose age allows them to apply for driving license, are least bothered to get one. As per the aforementioned survey, out of the 24% drivers who drive without a permit in Pakistan, 41% are of ages 21 and younger, which serves as a testament to the need for stricter rules and regulations against drivers who take the road unlicensed along with the requirement of more licensing offices which can bare the load of addressing and initiating automobile licensing protocols for the ever increasing population.

Compared to our morose automotive industry, the international community has grown by leaps and bounds. In almost every other country of the world, security of the passengers is rated as the top priority; which means air bags, structurally strong chassis and pre-installed immobilisers to stop the petty crime of theft. But the most important thing is the integration level of their infrastructures to promote, uphold and facilitate people when it comes to driving license and auto-insurance. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I think it is time that we take the initiatives to promote and uphold the auto-mobile laws and spread its awareness in Pakistan.

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