It must have been a shock for me when my wife and I decided to take the plunge and buy a Toyota Yaris Ativ in Bangkok back in Jan 2020, just before the world turned upside down. A back to basics Yaris (aka Vios in most other markets) in the #LenspeedOwned fleet – what’s going on?
The 25-year old me would have laughed at my 33-year old self. One that was exposed to the Airtrek Turbo with the bulletproof 4G63 motor in his early driving years, and then moved on to the MkV GTI, FD2R and MkV R32 (gosh, even our Citroen DS3 was fun when you’re in the mood for spirited driving). What is a CVT-equipped sub-100bhp Toyota doing in our garage?
I told myself to look at this ownership experience from another perspective. Why are there so many Toyotas in Thailand? What’s the pull factor? I didn’t have the answers just by observing the millions of Toyotas plying Thai roads – aided by the inauguration of Toyota Motor Thailand in 1962 capable of manufacturing 760,000 cars annually.
These figures are so difficult to comprehend, especially for a Singaporean exposed to the “unique” system of car ownership, with numbers that pale in comparison. Imagine: 10,000 Toyotas were sold in Singapore the entire 2021. 5,000 Toyotas were sold at Bangkok International Motor Show 2022 – an event that lasted only 12 days.
You might be wondering why I didn’t focus on how it drives. That’s because it is nothing special, really. Yes, it can achieve 23km/l with 90% highway driving at 90km/l, and a ridiculous 27km/l with uninterrupted traffic at a constant 70km/h (holding steady at 1,400rpm).
Here comes the important bit – this car served as a catalyst for me to understand more about the car industry in Thailand. Without this car, I might not have dug so deep into fact-finding, driving past countless dealerships and always asking how in the world this brand can manage 150 dealerships and 400+ showrooms around the country. It’s a scale so massive that I still cannot fathom. An absolute eye opener for me, humbling even..
Do I feel that I need something more fun to accompany this in the garage? Absolutely. Do I have regrets purchasing this car? Absolutely not. There is certainly inertia to buy an imported car, given that taxes are tagged at 300%. Of course, prices still pale in comparison to those in Singapore. But I feel that the prices between a locally-made car and a full import here in Thailand is so drastic to a point that it makes imports less appealing, at least for those that want a reliable, sensible daily drive.
If there is one attribute that I find most fascinating, it is that the car was made from scratch 100 kilometres from where I stay. And in between the factory facility there are countless dealerships I can fall back on if something goes wrong – at least I can try my luck with my broken Thai to replace a faulty alternator. And we need not camp on USPS to track shipment timelines. Parts for a Thai-made Toyota might even be transported in a Thai-made Altis taxi! Toyota in Thailand has an ecosystem so deeply rooted in the country that I am still trying my best to unravel – I am only scratching the surface of it all.
I now have a newfound appreciation for Toyotas in Thailand. Unpretentious in its nature, delivering uninterrupted journeys in a manner that even made me forget that I am even driving. I will turn up the volume to mask the CVT drone, and just enjoy it for what it is, a point A to B companion – not good from an enthusiast-led point of view. But we need cars like these to allow us to dream. An Evo V project car in the works next? Perhaps. I just know that I have a Thai-made Toyota to fall back on, to fetch me from the Samut Prakan-based workshop that has worked on that cranky project car’s build for months!