You can spot a person of social and political clout in Pakistan from a mile away. One of the most obvious signs is the gleaming four-wheeler piled high with guards who usually accompany them everywhere. And just as the culture of protocol in the country has grown from strength to strength over the years, the vehicles that accessorise these entourages have kept up with the transformations over the past three decades.
From 1986 to 1991, the import of Pajeros to Pakistan shot up dramatically. Along with being the vehicle of choice for the Pakistani elite, the four-wheeler also worked its magic as a status symbol for bureaucrats, VIPs and businessmen at the time.
The trend continued until April 1990, when Toyota added the world-famous Prado to its Land Cruiser series which eventually came to dominate the Pakistani market too. Along with its high-powered engine and equally high-end pricing, the car’s prestige was further enhanced when the government of Pakistan provided these vehicles to top bureaucrats and law-enforcement agencies. Soon enough, fewer and fewer Pajeros were seen on the roads, replaced by its more glamorous rival — the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado.
Today, the Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Land Cruiser Prado are one of the few most popular series of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) globally. The main rivals of the Pajero and the Land Cruiser Prado series in the leading world markets are the Land Rover Discovery and Nissan Patrol Y61. But, neither of these vehicles managed to make a mark in the Pakistani market which is now primarily dominated by the Vigo Champ — four-wheel drive pick-up truck assembled by Toyota in Pakistan.
Used mainly for security purposes, the first Vigo Champ was assembled in late 2010 by Indus Motor Company (IMC) — an affiliate of Toyota Japan in Pakistan. Unlike most other pick-up trucks available in the local market the Vigo Champ combines luxury with ruggedness. It offers both covered and uncovered space, which accommodates armed guards. The vehicle is available in eight colors, but is mostly seen in black and white. The company has sold over 6,000 units since December 2010, a large number of which have been predictably purchased by the federal and provincial governments for VIP security, police and other law-enforcement agencies.
According to officials in the automobile industry, the rise in Vigo Champ’s popularity is due to the increasing security concerns in the country. Its ability to be converted into an armoured vehicle because of its strong 2,500cc petrol engine makes it a popular choice for those at high risk.
Compared to other options, the Vigo is also far more affordable. The factory price of a new imported Land Cruiser ranges from Rs8.1 million to Rs23.6 million — from the Prado to the Grand Cruiser — and a used imported Toyota Land Cruiser and Mitsubishi Pajero can cost anywhere between Rs7.5 million to Rs10.2 million. On the other hand, the factory price of a standard Vigo is a mere Rs3 million while the most expensive version of the series, the Vigo Champ Automatic, costs Rs3.5 million.
According to HM Shahzad, the chairman of the All-Pakistan Motor Dealers Association, it is misleading to compare a Land Cruiser Prado or a Mitsubishi Pajero (class one category luxury vehicles), and a Vigo (class two category due to its lower price and features).
“[The] Vigo Champ is a pick-up and it should be compared with the pick-ups of other companies, which are unfortunately not very popular in Pakistan,” he said.
Currently, the Vigo Champ has no direct competitor in Pakistan as no other pick-up is being assembled or marketed here. Its closest rivals are the Land Cruiser and Land Cruiser Prado, which are not only luxury vehicles but also more expensive due to the higher engine power and additional 50% regulatory duty levied on the import of above 1,800cc vehicles in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 6th, 2013.