Every so often the motoring landscape in Sri Lanka goes through changes that alters the way we travel, drive and ride. When we were kids, it was the British and European cars that dominated our roads. Morris Minors were the taxis. Mechanical Taxi-Meters were mandatory. For those of you who don’t know, the Taxi-Meter could be mounted inside the car or outside on the front mudguard so that the driver could reach it through the window. The meter had a transparent sign with a light that said “On Hire” or “For Hire”. When a passenger started on a hire, the driver would start the meter by moving the actual section that contained the sign, to the side. The board would change from “For Hire” to “On Hire” and the meter would start working!
Then in the mid 70’s, with the so called “oil crisis” the three-wheeler taxis started coming to our shores. Interestingly, the very early three-wheelers were Piagios from Italy. There was a trickle of them here, and then when India started assembly operations, the trickle became a flood. The rest as they say is history. The Morris Minor taxis got slowly but surely wiped out.
Then we had the Japanese invasion in the late 70’s when the British and European cars got replaced very fast… and with good reason too. At that time, the European car industry was in crisis and there was very little innovation coming out of Europe. The Japanese cashed out on this. Japanese cars were made of lighter materials, and they made use of economies of scale to produce cars that were cheap to buy, cheap to run, and were made with an implied “expiry date”. The formula worked, not only in Sri Lanka, but as we now know; throughout the world. Cars made to “last a life-time” were a thing of the past, and people all over the world dropped their loyalty to European brands and turned in droves to buying Japanese.
Then came the Korean invasion, and in a way for Sri Lanka; the Indian invasion. Not to be outdone though, the Europeans made smart moves and moved most of their production facilities to countries with cheaper labour. Hence India today manufactures most European (and Japanese) brands.
With all this, the Sri Lankan market has turned again – we are now yet again willing to consider European brands with the same enthusiasm that we considered Japanese brands a few years ago.
Then next phase though has already started. And that is the Chinese invasion. Chinese cars that were considered “junk” a few years ago are now given serious consideration. Not surprising though, when you consider that premium European brands (Eg: Volvo) are now Chinese owned!