1980s: An Era Never Remembered For The Variety of Cars That Pakistan Had

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In terms of the number of options available for an automobile buyer in Pakistan, we are definitely witnessing the worst period ever. There are currently only three sedans (Civic, City and Corolla) and 4 hatchbacks (Mehran, Cultus, Wagon-R and Swift) to choose from. If you are to buy a 1300cc sedan, you have to choose either between City, or a Corolla…and that’s it. In 1800cc segment, the competition revolves around Civic and Corolla Altis, while the hatchback segment is all but Suzuki’s playground. If we add the Bolan and Ravi Carrier and a couple of options recently offered by FAW, the total number of car buying options still remains around 10. A lot of people blame the buyer for being “resale-obsessed” and “not willing for a change” but in reality the market has been engineered in such a way, that the automakers can churn maximum profits out of a non-competitive monopolized market.

the80sBefore the imports were halted in favor of local production of automobiles which started in our country back in the early 90’s, the options available to a car buyer in Pakistan were almost five times more than what we have today. Ask anyone who has observed the market in the 1970s and 80’s, things were absolutely different. People were free to explore a variety of brands and the concept of resale while still existed to a certain extent, wasn’t a topmost priority as it is today. Let’s try to sneak back into the past and have a little comparison between the number of options available today versus those available during the 80’s.

It was during the mid-1960s when Japanese brands started to dominate our market. Before that, European and American brands were sold here, but their size and fuel consumption was a major point of concern, whereas the Japanese brands were smaller and fuel efficient. Most popular Japanese cars of the 60s were the Toyota Corona RT40, Mazda 1500 and Datsun Bluebird. Then during the 70s, more Japanese vehicles made their way to our market, Toyota Corolla became the most popular car here alongside Datsun Sunny and Mazda Familia. Later towards the late 70s Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Daihatsu cars also made their way into our automobile market.

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The 80’s was probably the golden era of our automobile market in terms of the variety of options we enjoyed. Not only this, we used to get a new shape approximately every 3rd year which resulted in a magnificent variety of cars to choose from within a single decade. Just put it this way, talking about 1000cc hatchbacks from 1980 to 1989, within a decade there were 3 generations of Daihatsu Charade alone. They were offered in several trim options and engine variants (Diesel/ Petrol/ Turbo etc). While if we add up the likes of Toyota Starlet, Nissan Pulsar, Suzuki Swift, Subaru J10 etc. the number (including the trims) would exceed 20 whereas from 1991 to 1999 there was only one option, the Suzuki Khyber available in only one trim, with no metallic color offered before 1999. Towards the late 90’s, Kia Pride made its way and was available for a couple of years only before the company packed up and left.

Not only this but hatchbacks that we had in the eighties were better equipped than those offered locally by 2010. Take local Suzuki Alto as an example, it was never offered with rear window defrosters or proper retract side mirrors while cars of the eighties have had much more than this to offer.

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If you were to buy a 1300cc sedan, the options available during the 80’s included Daihatsu Charmant, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Sprinter, Mazda 323, Mitsubishi Lancer, Nissan Sunny, and a few more, each available in multiple trims. Not only that the options were so many, the liberty to choose between the trims as well as the interior color was something a buyer of today can never enjoy. Take Honda Civic, for example, the 3rd generation Civic was available in as many as ten exterior colors and four interior colors (Black, Brown, Maroon and Blue) to choose from. Most of the cars we had during the 80’s were offered in multiple interior color options. Today if we are to buy a local car, we are bound to get a single interior color, which remains same in all the range of available trims.

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The 1500cc+ category was filled with options like Honda Accords, Toyota Corona, Crown, Mitsubishi Galant, Mazda 626, 929 while a long list of cars with bigger engines were also found frequently on the roads. In 4x4s the Mitsubishi Pajero was considered as the status symbol of the 80’s, followed by Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Patrol and smaller ones like Daihatsu Rocky and Suzuki SJ410 were there to be offered.

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A car buyer back then was never so obsessed with resale as a new shape vehicle within three years was a norm. People were always ready to go for a change and brands like Nissan, Mazda and Mitsubishi were equally popular during the 80’s. Particularly Nissan (Datsun) and Mazda were there since the 60’s and had a very loyal customer base before they were ruled out of the market.

Also Read: Atlas Honda Investing 100 Millions USD To Increase Production

Most of the cars from the 80’s are still surviving strongly even after nearly 30 years of their life, parts are available, and they still hold a decent resale value. Daihatsu Charade being one of the most popular cars from the 80’s is still found in handsome number on our roads, the iconic Corolla EE80 and 90, considered as one of the most successful corollas of the era. Mitsubishi Lancer, the car that came equipped with a digital speedometer in the 80’s, the Honda Accord 3rd gen, considered as one of the most comfortable cars of its time.

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It is sad to see that the local automakers keep offering the same shape for several years. Indus motors dragged the 7th gen E100 Corolla for about nine years, PakSuzuki has been dragging the Mehran ever since, while Cultus is nothing but a hatchback version of the discontinued Margalla, still in production having completed more than 25 years of its life. The current Honda City is also about to enter its 7th year of production in our market. Not to mention the Suzuki Ravi and Bolan, which have their connections from the 1970’s, have completed about 35 years of their life without any sort of technological improvement whatsoever.

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Pakistani market has a lot of potential if given the right options at the right price people will surely go for a change. The government should encourage new entrants in the automobile sector and must provide a fair playground for automobile manufacturing companies to ensure a competition driven market that will be beneficent to our industry, our economy as well as the consumer.

Pictures courtesy: favcars

Usman Ansari

An automotive enthusiast associated with the animation industry since 15 years having worked with leading organizations and production facilities across Pakistan.

  • Irfan

    Nice article

    Things have surely changed a lot in Pakistani market…unfortunately for the worse for the consumer.

    In the name of protecting a Japanese owned local industry we have completely compromised on modernization and consumer interests…I am not in favor of imports and would always prefer to see a vibrant local industry however I believe the government is to blame for this situation as it as only looked after the interests of Japanese Investor (and the Japanese embassy) and not consumers.

    Now we are stuck in an era where either we have to choose for a obsolete outdated and models that are phased out from the entire world …some for 3 decades….. Bolan, Ravi, Cultus, Mehran, Swift, and now even City are retired in all countries expect Pakistan with little chances of replacement in sight….
    ….by being unable to manufacture modern and safe vehicle Pakistani cars cannot be exported as they do not meet safety or quality standards of other countries..

    It’s a matter of shame that over 70% of Pakistan made cars are globally obsolete and do not even offer a single airbag in this day and age..

    Situation is good for Japanese Investors to make money and send back to Japan.
    But bad for Pakistan – both the economy and the consumer

  • Guest

    Must say this is a very good article. Along with recent articles on analysis of the news of Honda Atlas increasing their capacity, the article about Vezel having faulty software not subject to recall and this one, the choice of topics is becoming more and more engaging. Way to go.

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. Also, many commentors and forum members usually compare Pakistani market with choice available in Gulf countries or Europe. A more suitable approach would be to see what other developing countries have done. These countries have same problems as Pakistan such as they are fuel importer, expensive fuel, poor economy, poor consumers, rioting, political instability, crime rate etc.

    Look at Mexico, they adopted Nissan Sunny B13, localized it, used it as govt vehicle, as taxi, as police car, as private car and as everything. Many good things went for them, such as simple design, large interior room, small on the outside, comfortable ride, variety of engine options, millions of upgrade possibilities etc.

    China went with Volkswagen Santana which comes with an 1800cc engine which is comfortable in the plain areas and even in the mountains of Tibet. China also adopted Pajero second gen as the de facto SUV for daily military use. Indigenous improvements such as 6 speed gearbox, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS were made locally to suit the local market.

    Iran, despite all the sanctions and embargo, they adopted some cars from Peugeot. All these countries have made piecemeal changes to these cars over the years to make them modern. Look at Paksuzuki, if they had implemented their EFI in the Mehran and Bolan and Ravi 2 decades ago, Pakistan would have saved a lot of money on fuel imports. But Paksuzuki was not sincere with Pakistan, so they didn’t do it.

    India, till the time they were ready to become such a big market, relied on the Ambassador. The car was roomy, comfortable, good pick, was capable on mountains.

    Other examples such as Sri Lanka, Nepal, etc. can be seen.

    Meanwhile although these countries relied on one or two basic cars as national carrier, they made improvements to policies as per short term and long term economic situations and they had a variety of options available in addition to this basic national carrier. What national carrier do we have? Nothing has been localized so far.

    Rather Pakistan became a dumping ground for kei-type cars which were too small for the average Pakistani to sit comfortably, had tiny engines which demand an overhaul ever so often, struggle and heatup and cannot be indegenized. The tax structure has also made suitable that smaller and less efficient engines be more popular and larger engines which would pull the weight more efficiently, require less gearshift and as a result end up with less accidents due to driver fatigue, this type of engines would be penalized.

    What the real thing is with all these cases that the government itself became involved in what do they want to localize … and they went with something with long-term improvement potential. What would Pakistan want to adopt? The second gen Alto called Mehran? No one can sit in comfort in it. It would be much better if they adopted the third gen Alto which came in yellow taxi 1993 scheme. It was much roomier inside though small on the outside.

    Even today they can indegenize the modern Kei/Ignis with 1000cc and 1200cc options.

  • Abdul Hannan

    nice article….even fx of 80s had more options than mehran……even bikes of 80s like yamaha rx115,yb100,suzuki a80,a100,gp100,kawasaki gtos are still admired today than the pokemon bikes of 2015……but cars or even every machinery was imported and was advanced and of superb quality so they were expensive of that time…..the gold was 2500 rupees/tola and yamaha yb100 japan assembeled was of 13000……whereas fx was 40000 rupees

  • Ehs

    Paksuzuki does not want to modernize so that they can reap maximum profits from old technology and send them back to Japan…I can tell you one thing for sure Paksuzuki cars may be cheaper but they are not fuel efficient at all and have zero safety and quality. (if you think logically they do not offer good value for money)

    Mehran Euro II EFI 2015 in city traffic still gives like 12.5 kmpl(cutlus bolan and ravi are similar) while Swift even struggles to reach this figure. Look at cars with more modern engines like honda city, vitz, passo, mira, etc…they are wall way more fuel efficient than these junk paksuzuki lineups.

    India, Thailand, and Malaysia are all implementing on producing hybrids/semi-hybrid cars because that is the future…

    Paksuzuki should be heavily fined and taken to court by govt and consumers…
    either they should replace and provide modern models or do leave Pakistan.

    They have destroyed the potential of our whole auto industry and destroyed our industry’s export potential. Only the government is happy with them no one else.

  • Taimur Hassan ISLD

    Mehran , Cultus , Ravi and Bolan are more than the true value of Money. These are most reliable cars and you can do rough and tough with these cars. These cars are also shock and knock proof. Contrary to it , Passo , Vitz , Prius , mira ,alto and other used impoeted Japanese cars are not reliable at all.. They can stop any where on your long travel , causing troubles of Gears , clutch , controllers etc… Mehran Mever Stops any where , its a defensive car with no Electronic Shits at all.. Goes every where from rocky terrains to smooth roads… Suzuki Mehran and Bolan ROCKS EVERY WHERE…. We donot need Technologically advanced cars… Message from SUZUKI LOVER….

  • گیسٹ

    بھائی صاحب آپ کو تو گاڑی کی ہی ضرورت نہیں، آپ گھوڑے کو ایڑ لگا کے نکل جائیں! ۔

  • عبد الرفع چاچڑ

    Bhai i’ve been using toyota passo 1.3 in interior sindh for 3 years and believe me cultus can’t stand beside it….My passo hasn’t ever disappointed on any journey…The imported hatchbacks have many features than any pakistan made sedan has, not to mention the trunk area…

  • Lazy Sapper

    As long as Haram Daar is the finance minister, you are not gonna see new automakers here. He is already planning to sell out government owned businesses instead of eliminating corruption and making them profitable. Plus this chimpanzee face is shoving loans of IMF down out throats like his father has to pay them back?

  • Asim Ijaz

    Sahi farma rahay hein ap !!! Japanese tu pagal hein ju apni cars mai advance electronics and SHIT laga te hein .. Zaroorat he kya hai .. Engine ki jagha bhi ghadha hona chiye its more reliable.. Jahan baad hon tu danday maaray k phir chala lein

  • Atif

    The whole world is foolish right only Paksuzuki is right.
    Keep praising 1970s/1980s era cars like Bolan, Ravi, Mehran, and Cultus. This is the reason why Pakistan is not moving ahead in any field whatsoever and the country has ZERO vehicle exports.

    Some People here dont seem to want change or improvement just like politics. Same parties get elected over an over again despite proven poor performance record.

  • Zarak Khan

    some correction about mexico
    the Mexicans use beetles as taxi having 2 million taxis alone in mexico city and they use dodge and ford trucks for police otherwise you are right about iran,china and india

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