ROMANCING WITH AUTOMOBILES

These dream machines can turn into killer machines if not used properly.

KHALED QAYUM, Askari Leasing.
Nov 13 - 19, 2006

"Riding in my Automobile, with no particular place to go...My baby sitting by my side... listening to the radio....", is a popular American song which paints a fairly interesting picture, that anyone among us would love to relate to. Indeed to be able to sit in a car and head out for unknown, infinitely stretching roads, chasing the distant horizon, unto the blue yonder, is a beautiful dream. Owning a nice automobile has also become one of our basic human needs. Why so?

Our romance with automobiles starts at a fairly early age. Just when we are toddlers, boys are and will be attracted to toy autos. As children little boys play with little model cars and as they grow up, they play with real gas guzzling, gleaming, nickel chrome prime movers. But what about little girls? When young they play with little dolls, when they grow up, they play with young boys who own and drive these gas guzzling prime movers.

It is needless to say that once kids start playing with these small model cars, their love affair with cars never abates. What is the motivation to own bigger and better automobiles? On risk of playing Freud, one can hazard a guess that cars represent an alter ego for us. They reflect our personalities. That is why the marketing companies and advertising companies are focused on selling automobiles as lifestyle products rather than transportation machines.

Automobiles primarily provide us with a mean for transportation. As the society grows and progresses, so does the need to move and communicate. Traditionally there had been a shortage of automobiles in Pakistan. The profusion of autos on our streets is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was facilitated by the easy financing which was made available by the financial institutions for lack of other equally profitable investment avenues. In Pakistan the pioneering institutions in the auto financing have been Citibank, Askari Leasing, etc. who dominated the field for a number of years. With easy financing available the pent up demand was met and people who could previously not have dreamt of ever owning cars were able to drive in their name.

The field of automobile manufacturing / assembly has been a rather protected one. The industry has enjoyed protection from imports. The assembly plants were set up in Pakistan with the premises that their parts manufacturing will be developed locally. However, the same was not developed as envisaged or promised earlier for a variety of reasons. Then for the longest time the industry has been held hostage to price gouging by the dealers / automakers as the demand for new vehicles outstripped the supply. The dealers and manufacturers were charging over and above the listed price in name of "ON", a term which was coined specifically by the industry. The hapless purchaser was supposed to pay the additional money in the form of "ON", and still wait at time for months if he wanted to have his desired vehicle. Of course this is not fair, but then who said life is fair.

In most recent months we have witnessed a slight change. Now we are witnessing far greater number of vehicles both in the form of make and number on the road than previously seen. One sees such beautiful vehicles of a variety of makes on the roads these days that one automatically begins to salivate.

Is this good or bad? It all depends on your point of view. If you are a consumer, I suppose, it is good, as it will drive down the prices. The prices of secondhand vehicles in the market have already seen a dip. The "ON", is no longer applicable in some cases as there are more cars available now. On the other hand these cars may not have the spares and maintenance shops which are a pre-requisite for a successful launch for a vehicle. The same needs to be developed. Secondly, there is no surety of the continuity of the current policy? Will these cars still be available a few years from today? Will the previous gang of manufacturers win over again and restrict the imports of the new vehicles? These questions need to be answered. In Pakistan if we have suffered from one thing, it has been from a lack of continuity of policies. Someone once made a befitting statement about our government, that it is a lady of easy virtue. She can be won over easily. If the policies change again, we will have a whole bunch of unusable vehicles on our backyards being sold as junk.

Going along with the same, there is a number of other allied areas that need attention at the government level. Although there has been a substantial increase in the number of vehicles, the infrastructure has not appreciably improved. As a result our roads are clogged. Even cities like Islamabad which previously had never known any traffic jams witnesses the same on daily basis. There has to be some kind of regulation which controls the number of vehicles on the road and /or watches as to how much our infrastructure needs expansion in response to the increase in number of vehicles.

The people driving these vehicles have had no formal driving training. There is no restriction on driving age. Young kids who should not be trusted with vehicles are given a chance to test their machismo on the roads with vehicles which were purchased by their parents. At times they are involved in such terrible accidents which cause nightmares for the passers-by for weeks. Then again our dogma is strange, if one dies, it is the will of God, if not, then one is not dead as yet. Keep tempting fate. What should be done in this regard? Government should introduce a subject on "Driving and Road Manners", at school level, say middle level as it is done abroad. This should be made compulsory for all the students, so that the children are made aware of how to behave on the streets. This way the knowledge will be disseminated at large and hopefully we will have a population in time who will have manners and will know how to behave on the streets.

QUARTERLY COMPARISON OF SALES TAX DOMESTIC COLLECTION

 

FY: 05-06

FY: 04-05

Growth (%)

AUTO PARTS

Q1

578

399

44.9

Q2

493

661

-25.4

Q3

567

581

-2.4

Q4

706

598

18.1

Total

2,344

2,238

4.7

Source: CBR

At the same time a media drive should be launched by the authorities which would inform people, that the parents should not trust their offspring with cars unsupervised, unless and until they are of age and reasonably well versed with driving responsibly, for it is dangerous both for them and for the other people if they drive recklessly. These dream machines can turn into killer machines if not used properly.