Panama wheels…

We recently made a holiday trip to the Carribean, and visited both Curaçao and Panama. Car lovers as we are, a keen look for the car traffic over there and which cars one sees on the Caribbean roads is a must. We share here with you our interesting findings. 

Korean and Japanese brands galore…

Front licence plates are not required in Panama…

Reliability combined with low service requirements are of course an absolute must on these shores, so it comes as no surprise that masters in the art like Hyundai, Kia and Japanese brands such as Toyota, Honda and Suzuki are having a strong market presence over there. The world wide trend towards SUV’s is also seen here clearly, with however classic sedans being also very much in favor.

Interesting to see small taxis and official vehicles in the shape of Sedan versions of the compact Hyundai i10 for instance. 

Premium playground in Panama City 

Panama city is of course also the playground of the European premium brands, and BMW, Lexus, Mercedes and last but not least Audi are seen frequently as well as their posh and stylish dealerships. A flourishing second hand market for the far eastern brands is maintained by mostly Pakistani dealers…

Many roadside service stations flourish, offering electronic diagnosis, regular service and mostly airco repair...

The Caribbean climate is no easy ride when it comes to corrosion, as it is both (very) hot and humid. Chromed bar chairs in your home will rust dark brown if you don’t keep them polished and protected regularly, so it is no small compliment for the far eastern brands that they remain mostly rust free.  Indeed, your trusted Nissan or Toyota Land Cruiser pickup or Suzuki Vitara will stand the test of time. 

This is what is left of a fifties Jeep, a garden ornament…

Classics have had a hard time fighting corrosion, and the survivors in the shape of 50’s Jeeps are few and far between. We discovered in the garden of one of the Panama mansions the grille of a ’50s Jeep, and a lovingly kept example underneath a nice self made garage roof. 

This one is more lucky and lovingly kept, although still fairly exposed to the elements…

Kawasaki 4×4 power has struck on the beaches and idyllic island paths. 

Motorization is now on every corner of our beloved globe, and the local inhabitants of the idyllic islands like Taboga for instance are not hauling their food and sundry’s by foot anymore.

The classic scooter, bike or Vespa tricycle is also history. The typical housewife now carts her children to the school proudly behind the wheel of a short wheelbase Kawasaki 4×4, mostly in the two seater pickup version so the beloved husband can haul drinks, building materials, luggage for hotel guests, anything along the narrow and sometimes barely existing island roads. 

More well to do residents opt for the bigger four/five seater version, and indeed, it is excellent transport in these tropical temperatures, where the totally open framed structure offers you that sweet breeze when you are humming along. It has of course a low gear mode so even the steepest hills reaching those beautifully situated residences with panoramic views are totally easy to tackle. 

Green power is few and far between…

Of course, with these low gasoline prices in the region of around 70 dollar cents per liter there is little room for alternative propulsion, and only Lexus and Toyota hybrids add a green touch to the total picture, and are to be applauded for that. Steep hills on the islands make powerful propulsion a bare necessity, and this leaves little room for battery fed energy, especially when beach car like vehicles such as these Kawasaki quads are infrequently used.

Electricity is also more often than not scarce on these remote places, as they are produced by generators. Residents also use old faithful’s like 17 year old Suzuki Vitara’s to haul their shopping groceries and luggage to their mountain top villas, and these Suzuki’s are coveted indeed… 

On our whole trip, we never saw ONE electric car… Except those used on the Panama golf courses…. 

Hans Knol ten Bensel 

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