June 2-8, 2008 Myanmar's first international weekly © Volume 22, No. 421
 
 
 

Clash of the titans on streets of Yangon

By Thomas Kean
Yangon car traders say the Nissan Sunny Super Saloon (left) and Toyota Corolla SE Limited (right) are the two hottest cars on the market.

THERE is a battle being fought on Yangon’s streets – for the title of most popular car. It’s not the Land Cruiser and the Prado facing off, or a BMW and a Mercedes in opposite corners. Slugging it out are an unlikely couple; the 1986/87 Nissan Sunny Super Saloon and the 1988 Toyota Corolla SE Limited.

The ’88 Corolla was a sixth generation model in a line of cars stretching back to 1966. It lost the boxy looks of its predecessor and was successful worldwide but it seems nowhere more so than Yangon, albeit 20 years after its release.

The Super Saloon has a similar history – the first Nissan Sunny was launched just a month before the first Corolla, in September 1966. The previous incarnation of the Nissan Sunny, known as the B11 series, might be familiar to viewers of the cult television show, Top Gear. Host Richard Hammond declared it the “worst car ever”, while co-host Jeremy Clarkson showed great delight in ceremonially destroying a B11 by catapulting it using a medieval trebuchet in his 1996 documentary, Jeremy Clarkson: Unleashed on Cars (and also called it “the worst car in the world, ever” – just in case you didn’t get the message).

The later model Nissan Sunny Super Saloon, the B12 series, has been slightly better received – at least in Yangon.

But why do these two cars dominate the former capital’s streets? According to dealers at Myanmar’s largest car market, Hanthawaddy Car Trading Zone in Kamayut township, the pair represent a good mixture of reliability and fuel economy coupled with a relatively low price tag.

“There are plenty of spare parts available for both of these vehicles and they’re reliable. They might be more than 20 years old but they’re still going strong,” said U Aung Than Win, a car dealer at Hanthawaddy.

They are both reasonably priced, which also sways buyers.

“Instead of buying, for instance, the 1991 Toyota Corolla, which is about double the price, customers generally choose the older 1988 model and save themselves about 300 lakh (about US$26,800),” U Aung Than Win said.

Their dominance appears to have taken something of a hit in recent months though, as values have dropped significantly.

“The Sunny Super Saloon is now about 220-230 lakh (K22 million; about $19,500). Four months ago it was more than 300 lakh (about $26,800),” he said. “The 1988 Corolla has also fallen in price, from 425 lakh (about $38,000) to 320 lakh (about $28,600).”

He said this price drop is partly to do with the popularity of locally-produced, industrial zone cars such as jeeps and vans.

“Even though they are old cars, the Sunny and Corolla are more reliable and will last longer than a new car from the industrial zone,” he said. “They both have a good reputation among brokers and buyers and are quality vehicles.”

It is for this reason U Aung Than Win is confident the Sunny and Corolla will continue to dominate the car market in Yangon. But he says another secret to their success is that they appeal to a wide cross-section of buyers.

“The Sunny Super Saloon is especially popular with women because it is fully electric – power steering, windows and mirrors – and comes in many different colours,” he said. “They are also commonly-used by taxi drivers, who favour them both for that reliability but also their good fuel economy.”

U Khin Maung Lin, also a dealer at Hanthawaddy, agreed that Corolla and Super Saloon were the two dominant cars in the market.

“The market is very cool at the moment and we are only selling around five or six cars a day here at Hanthawaddy but most of them are either the Corolla or Super Saloon,” he said. “They are also popular among the dealers, who trade between themselves.”

And his tip on the car that could knock the Corolla or Super Saloon off its perch as Yangon’s favourite car?

“The Suzuki R+ wagon. It’s cheap because it’s made in Myanmar, under a joint venture with the Suzuki company from Japan, but unlike the other industrial-zone cars it’s actually good quality. I think this will be more and more popular as it becomes affordable.”

   
         
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