If you find the title of this article a little weird, let me explain.
On the very first day of this month, it was reported that the Yuchengco Group was shutting down four of its Honda dealerships (Kalookan, Fairview, Marikina and Marcos Highway). The reason provided by the company at the time was that the move was designed to improve the efficiency of its automotive business.
In the evening of that day, I received a call from Johnny Fetalvero, the veteran industry executive in charge of said car business of the Yuchengco Group. He just wanted to assure me that it was merely a business decision, and that the company expected to emerge stronger moving forward. Toward the end of our conversation, he asked me: “Hey, do you want to test-drive the Azkarra?”
At first, I thought I’d heard wrong. But then he was really offering me the Geely Azkarra for a few days. This was bewildering to me for two things. First, Geely Philippines itself hadn’t made available a demo unit to VISOR during that time. Second, why would a high-ranking officer of an organization operating Honda dealerships lend me a Geely vehicle?
When it became obvious that I was sort of confused, Fetalvero volunteered this heretofore-unbeknown-to-me piece of information: The Yuchengco Group is actually a shareholder of Geely Philippines, owning 20% of the latter (Sojitz Corporation of Japan owns 80%). In fact, Fetalvero added, they already have a Geely dealership in Manila.
It quickly dawned on me that the Yuchengco Group (whether they admit it or not) is now pivoting to Geely. Sure, the organization still has Honda dealerships in Greenhills, Manila and Quezon City, but it looks to me like the writing is on the wall.
And so, I wondered: Is Geely’s future so much brighter than Honda’s? Is the Yuchengco Group seeing something that is still not so apparent to me at the moment? Perhaps more to the point: Are the Chinese automakers really catching up with the Japanese? Would Filipino car buyers eventually ditch Honda for Geely?
Maybe I found the answers when I got inside the Azkarra.
In the past, the mere mention of “Chinese” when it came to cars was enough to make me laugh. The quality inside and out was so appalling I was certain I would never even consider test-driving—let alone owning—a vehicle made in the People’s Republic. But the Azkarra’s Luxury 4×4 variant has changed my mind. Not completely, I admit, but considerably. The materials are first-rate. The craftsmanship is superb. The NVH levels are amazing. If you had blindfolded me and made me ride this car, I would have guessed it was European. Not even kidding.
Without the blindfold and without looking at the badge on the steering wheel, I’d still say the cabin is substantially better than a Honda’s.
Of course I’m just largely musing here. But based on the Azkarra’s interior fit and finish alone, betting on Geely over Honda in the coming years isn’t an entirely crazy idea. The evolution of its products is so fast that rival brands have every reason to worry.
First, you lose your dealers. And then you lose your customers. That’s usually the natural progression of things.