December 10, 2021 By Gerard Jude Castillo

From humble beginnings: The History of the Asian Utility Vehicle

When one hears the term Asian Utility Vehicle (AUV), images of a bare-bones, no-frills workhorse almost always come to mind. The younger set would often think of the likes of the Isuzu Crosswind or the Toyota Revo. But did you know that the AUV goes even further back than these? And it’s even more humble than you think.

What exactly is an Asian Utility Vehicle, you ask? The original concept was meant to fulfill a need for Filipinos’ clamor for a cheap, no-frills form of transport that could haul large amounts of passengers or cargo. As there were no SUVs to speak of back in the 1970s, one only had either a sedan (which was too small( or a pickup truck (which didn’t have enough seats). The answer with a cab and chassis vehicle with a rear box that could carry either cargo or passengers.

In the beginning

While it may not necessarily be the first AUV sold in the country, the Toyota Tamaraw is arguably the most popular one to date. In fact, this and the Ford Fierra are often what come to mind when one thinks of older AUVs. Both the Toyota and its Ford counterpart were powered by either a gasoline or diesel engine mated to a basic 4-speed manual gearbox.

Its chassis could take heavy payloads or up to 16 passengers in jeepney-style, face-to-face seating. And yes, basic meant no aircon, an optional stereo, and no doors or windows in its most basic trim. Protection came from roll down plastic covers to keep passengers or cargo protected from the elements.

With AUVs growing in popularity after the Tamaraw arrived in 11976, the likes of the Isuzu KC series, as well as the Mitsubishi Cimarron (which came as early as the 1960s) came into play. Now, Filipinos had a vehicle for both family and business. Sure, it wasn’t stylish or comfortable but it got them from Point A to B, which was more than enough for most folks.

The rebirth of the auto industry—and the AUV

After the exit of most major automakers due to the political and economic crisis of 1983, the local auto industry was practically considered non-existent. Things started to look up, however, after the 1986 People Power Revolution and a new administration stepped in. This paved the way for the re-entry of Toyota Motor Philippines, which eventually brought in the Tamaraw FX in the early 1990s.

Unlike its predecessor, the new-generation Tamaraw FX, as it was now known, had a two-box design that now had an enclosed passenger compartment (akin to a tall station wagon). And yes, it now came with air-conditioning and a stereo.

While it was the only available vehicle of its kind during the time, it did usher a new kind of industry—the Garage Service or mostly known as the FX service. This essentially involved Tamaraw FX vehicles waiting at terminals until they were filled with passengers. Once filled, they ferried passengers to various destinations around a given route in relative comfort.

As the late 1990s rolled in, so did the likes of the Isuzu Highlander, Toyota Revo, and the Mitsubishi Adventure. While the Highlander was a direct rival to the older yet now erstwhile Tamaraw FX, the newer Tamaraw FX Revo and its Mitsubishi rival were more civilized versions of the FX. In fact, they eventually came with various special editions like the Sport Runner for the Revo while the Adventure even got the Galant’s de-tuned 4G63 gas engine in addition to its 4D56 diesel mill. And yes, they now came with optional automatic gearboxes and all-power features.

Soon after, Isuzu countered with its Crosswind that introduced such niceties as a Diesel, automatic, Turbo combo, along with creature comforts like DVD headrest-mounted monitors for rear passengers, body cladding, and rear door mounted spare tire to give it that SUV look.

Modern-day AUV?

All this, however, was apparently just a precursor to what we now know as the Toyota Innova. Yes, believe it or not, the Toyota Innova traces its roots to the humble Tamaraw of the 1970s. This time, however, it is a far cry from the cart-like workhorse and its more akin to a Multi-purpose vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place at the country club or five-star hotel. As for the Adventure and Crosswind, they have given way to the more modern Xpander for Mitsubishi—again, an MPV.

So what has become of the humble AUV? You could say it has evolved into the likes of a light truck such as the Mitsubishi L300 FB, this time with a Euro-4 compliant diesel mill to get with the times. Isuzu also has Trviz that fills the need for a workhorse for both people carrying and car

Yes, the Asian Utility Vehicle has come a long way.

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