Wisdom > Spoiler

Are European cars just an itch that needs to be scratched?

That depends on the person you’re asking, of course

For Pinoy enthusiasts, it is a goal to own a German vehicle. PHOTO FROM AUDI

I recently had a chat with a complete stranger at a car wash. He was having his German hatchback cleaned at the time, and I complimented it for its well-maintained exterior. I was surprised when he casually shared with me his frustration—more like regret—about his decision to purchase and own the car in question.

“I’ve had it for a few years, but I can tell you that my older Japanese compact sedan is in better shape now,” he said in the vernacular. “For my next car, I’m picking a Japanese vehicle again. I’ve already scratched the itch to own a European car. That’s it.”

By “European,” I assume he really meant “German,” as these are far more common than Italian, French and Swedish models in our country. While he did acknowledge that German cars have top-notch paint quality, he mainly lamented their overall reliability. “My much-older Japanese car has a more comfortable ride now than this one,” he added. He also cited a recurring mechanical issue that his dealership couldn’t properly diagnose and fix.

German luxury cars are status symbols here. PHOTO FROM MERCEDES-BENZ

A week later, during an out-of-town trip with an Asian car brand, the distributor’s top-ranking executive told our group how a German luxury sedan he owned would cause him headaches. “Every time one of the warning lights on the instrument panel comes on, I know it will cost me at least P100,000 in repair fees,” he complained.

And as if by serendipity, a reader based in the UK contacted me yesterday via Messenger, showing me a photo of his young boy in the driver seat of their current German car. I informed him that I was actually writing a piece about German cars, and here’s what he said: “They’re so much better in terms of finish and engine reliability. We’ve driven in 15 European countries with our other German car—without a single glitch.”

This got me thinking: Are the German (or European, for that matter) vehicles that we get in our market a notch lower in terms of engine build and overall quality? How come many owners in our territory express dissatisfaction with their ownership experience, while their counterparts overseas seem to be generally happy with theirs?

Or are the motoring conditions—fuel standards, road quality—in the Philippines simply inhospitable toward cars designed for European markets?

German or Japanese? You will surely get differing answers from both sides of the automotive aisle. PHOTO FROM BMW

Or maybe—just maybe—many Filipino buyers of German or European cars aren’t really financially prepared to own one. Maybe, as the above-mentioned dude said, they’re just scratching an itch. Maybe they just want to know the feeling of possessing such an automobile, or maybe even brag about it, so that the significantly higher expenses incurred in the upkeep of the vehicle contribute to a somewhat unpleasant experience. In the end, a car (whether it’s German or Japanese) is a car. Your approval of it will hinge on its quality, performance and dependability—never on its badge per se.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist for 26 years. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.