Thursday February 20 2014

Is having an American car in Uganda worth it?

Jude: Yesterday I saw a huge Ford 150.

Paul: The old or new one? The new one is very boxy.

Jude: I don’t know whether it is the new type, I have not been so keen on some American vehicles, so I don’t know which generation but I know it is a popular truck in the US alongside the Toyota Tundra among other huge pick-ups. But one thing I always ask myself is, does it make sense to import such humongous trucks on our narrow roads? Where do you park such a truck when it can consume space of two cars.

Mustafa: Trucks in the US are some sort of culture, they have a cult following. Having a truck is like a man’s right of passage. It is special to own a truck.

Jude: There is a story I read recently, I don’t know whether they wanted to tag it on Valentine’s Day but some survey had it that most ladies in the US are most likely to fall in love with a guy in a truck or that they find truck guys attractive.

Mustafa: Does that work with the Hilux? (laughter).

Jude: Why not?

Mustafa: But these big trucks look nice, it is cool to be up there, may be someone is trying to make up for where they are small.

Jude: The truck bed is more like an actual bed, you can sleep in there comfortably.

Paul: In America, part of the nature of these trucks is outdoor life, things like camping, fishing, outdoor for recreation, outdoor for work. In a truck, a typical American truck will have a rifle, a big load box, camping gear, tools, and a big lavish interior seat where he will sit with his girlfriend or dog.
But like you asked, where do you park it? It is very much their way of life.

Jude: The funny thing though is that many Ugandan drivers complain about fuel guzzlers and these trucks are this category. Even with some SUVs that have engines as small as 3000cc, some people complain, yet some of the American trucks are twice that.

Paul: The five litre truck, to be honest with you, has a very serious performance. When in such a truck, you have power, whether you need all that power is another thing altogether.

Mustafa: The bigger question is can I own an American car in Uganda? Disregard the trucks. I have seen the PT Cruiser. As a mechanic, Paul, does it make sense?

Paul: I know someone with a PT Cruiser and I know it can be a challenge to have some of the parts.
Jude: There is lady I saw driving one (PT Cruiser) but with a damaged rear lamp. I don’t know if she got fixed.

Mustafa: For instance, when I am ordering parts online , I look out for certain things.

Paul: If you came to me searching for a particular part say a headlamp, I will tell you we shall have to order for it because there is no dealer who stocks parts for Chrysler. Fortunately, today the world is a small global village. People order for car parts online.

Jude: How does that help the likes of the American made Toyota Camry, the Toyota 4Runner which is our Hilux Surf here? Aren’t these much better to have , don’t they share some parts with the JDMs? (cars meant for the Japanese Domestic Market that may end up in Africa and other places).

Paul: They do share parts.

Mustafa: Some engines are carry overs, they are the same. Apart from the frames or lights, some other things are the same.

Jude: But the American Camrys look very different from ours here (from the JDMs). They look big.

Mustafa: The body parts are different but the engines are the same. For instance, when I am ordering parts for the Aristo I look for Lexus GS300 because my Aristo is a JDM car and I cannot order from Japan I will end up with parts in Japanese. I just look for the year of make. The same can be said for the Harrier, the Altezza etc.

Jude: I think it is all about affordability. By the time you order for this car, then it means you can afford to purchase online and also maintain the car. I have seen someone with an Acura and he has been with it for some good time. I think he is not worried because Acura is not a JDM car.

Paul: No, he is not worried. He manages very well. I know that person.

Mustafa: But you know a Tundra is such a big vehicle. Are they expensive? I haven’t taken time to find out the cost but I think they are expensive.

Jude: I think it also depends on which generation is being imported into Uganda. I think most of what we have here are from the older or first generation.

Mustafa: But like Paul said, the global village thing makes life easier. You can enjoy the car if you can afford it. But in reality a Tundra will always be a hard car to drive in Uganda, you will be struggling with it. You are looking in the mirrors all the time. It is like a Fuso truck.

Paul: And its left hand drive!

Jude: Just imagine this narrow St. Barnabas road in Namuwongo that leads to Muyenga or from Muyenga to Namuwongo past IHK. It is a very narrow road, almost a one way road. How do you drive that huge truck on such a road?

Mustafa: You will drive next to the wall!

Jude: I mean if you are in a small car and there is a Fuso on the other side of the road, you feel inconvenienced, trying to squeeze on the edge with pedestrians, now same thing would happen when it is a Tundra coming.

Mustafa: But one thing I am sure of although I have not driven one, is that it must be a nice vehicle to drive in terms of comfort.

Paul: I have driven one, it is really nice. People, it feels good, the power. It is awesome, it responds to the gentlest tap on the gas pedal. I can understand those people who own those trucks. It has that huge sound. As I drove it everybody turned asking what that was.

Mustafa: Paul said everyone turned, the truck is a head turner!

Jude: It comes with a sound that is more powerful than that of the Subaru’s Boxer engine, the one most of us know.

Paul: It is authoritative. That sound blows you away.

Jude: But what’s with the Americans and big engines even in what we may call small cars?

Paul: They like big engines but lately, they are becoming less popular because of the fuel economy. These cars are becoming cheaper to buy because people are getting rid of them.

Mustafa: Paul you need to clarify on big engines, is it size or capacity?

Paul: Cubic capacity.

Mustafa: You may find a much smaller engine outputting similar power (of a big engine).

Paul: Actually, I am talking about the big guzzlers. The five litre type, the V8s etc. but what manufacturers are now doing is to make big engines that are more efficient such as Mercedes Benz’s CDI common rail diesels, and those with Blue Efficiency. So you have technology that shuts down some parts of the engine and the car keeps on running. You have a more efficient 6.5 litre engines, V8s, V12s.

Mustafa: It is called cylinder management system. If I am in Kampala, the engine shuts down two cylinders. If it is a V8, it becomes a V6 and if it is a V6 it becomes a V4, so it can only give you the extra power if you ask for it.

Jude: Some firms have downsized the engines. You heard about the Hummer story. The old ones were 6000cc but the newer type is half of that.

Mustafa: What are you talking about? Hummer closed.

Jude: The ones we have here in brand new form, the H2.

Mustafa: I actually saw one when I was coming here. The Hummer was one of those vehicles that added a roof to the popular pick-up culture but it just did not take off. But wrapping it up, an American car in Uganda is a hard sell for me on a personal note. You may enjoy the Tundra once in a while but there are times when you just want to enjoy your ride from A to B and not struggle with it turning, parking issues etc. The side mirrors are almost half a metre away!

Jude: I think sometimes it is all about status and wanting to be different, unique, like is the case for some musicians with their Escalades.

Mustafa: But Jude, you have seen these people struggling with their cars, bumpers falling off. It is not a good brand.

Jude: Could be they bought very old ones and you know how some old things come with problems. Are you saying Cadillac is bad?

Mustafa: Why do they break down? That tells you something about the brand. Cadillac is not so good.

Jude: Do you mean it is a bad brand?

Mustafa: It is good but not as strong as others to survive our harsh conditions.