What used to be a junket has evolved into something meaningful

Ask most motoring journalists and they will likely tell you that the most-awaited annual event in the car industry is the Toyota Road Trek. Launched in 2005 with a trip to Boracay, the excursion started off as a junket masquerading as work. Every publication sent a four-member team that participated in an Amazing Race-style competition and spent the rest of the schedule eating, drinking and laughing.

It was such a hit among automotive writers that the blueprint was maintained every year: sporty challenges on the first day, merrymaking on the remaining days. Needless to say, Toyota Motor Philippines, the market’s clear leader, succeeded in showing everyone that it could organize a shindig just because.

As the years went on, Toyota’s supremacy in our market seemed to justify the need to party. Are you aware that nearly one of two brand-new vehicles sold in the country is a Toyota? This has led many environmentalists to lay down the blame for the global pollution at the feet of the Japanese automaker. And that’s not even mentioning the terrible problem concerning vehicular traffic.

In the last few years, it has become abundantly clear that the overpopulation of cars is primarily responsible for the worsening quality of life in Metro Manila. On social media, groups like How’s Your Byahe, Bes? regularly condemn car manufacturers for the hellhole that we find ourselves in. “Cars are evil,” these woke individuals cry in unison.

Visor.ph’s Managing Editor Sam Surla shows off the fish he caught during one of the challenges

And then, as if following a script, the Toyota Road Trek was paused for three years because of the pandemic. And the current president of TMP, Atsuhiro Okamoto, was ushered into his executive role in January 2020, unfortunately coinciding with the Taal Volcano eruption. I imagine these developments gave the company reason to reevaluate the way it did its marketing. Time to transform its hedonistic mindset to one that is austere. Time to shed the “villainous carmaker” tag for something virtuous and noble.

Last week, I found myself joining the 16th edition of the Toyota Road Trek (the first such event after the pandemic). I have to admit that the occasion felt a little strange—in a good way. First of all, whereas past versions had accommodated 50 participants, the latest one only had fewer than 30. To be honest, with the budget Toyota has access to, the firm could easily bring along 100 journalists and influencers if it wanted to. But no, the name of the game at Toyota now is modesty and efficiency.

Veteran journalist Al Mendoza tries out his luck at Jenga

In fact, the tagline of the event was “Drive to Carbon Neutrality.” That was the company’s way of telling people that it’s not a bad organization after all—that it has a conscience, that it advocates quality of life. All the vehicles that we drove were hybrid ones, including the star of the moment, the Zenix (or the Innova Hybrid). Everything about this affair was so curated that it gave the impression we live in a problem-free world. Heck, we even spent an afternoon fishing and binging on homegrown prawns—certainly more enjoyable than quaffing alcohol.

I don’t think a net-zero carbon-dioxide emission rating is possible for each one of us, but having a goal to aspire to is better than not having anything at all. Ecological extremists could insist that such activities are just for marketing—nothing more, nothing less. Whatever. I still like to think that a transformed Toyota makes our world that just a little brighter.

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FILL YOUR TANK: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)

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