It has been over two years since our last Photo Report in Bali, Indonesia, so an update is overdue. This time we also push to the Gili islands and get a glimpse of Lombok. A few things have changed in Bali since my last visit: a brand-new airport and some pretty impressive highways along the East coast of the island, but most strikingly it seemed to me that Bali was slowly but surely losing itself in the race for more and more tourism. The traditional Balinese hospitality has eroded, every single interaction with locals seems to be profit-motivated and, as I didn’t spend any time in Ubud this year, it seems any glimpse of authenticity has left the island for good.
Proof in point: I got myself into a very heated argument with one of our taxi drivers that had no intention to honour our agreed itinerary and had no qualms raising its voice towards tourists. Caution Bali: your tourism success is starting to inflate your ego to dangerous proportions, and very soon you might be shocked to discover that you are no longer one of the world’s favourite holiday destinations. Happily, it was a single incident and a couple of other taxi drivers helped me understand the Indonesian car market a lot better.
Let’s start with the Gili islands, forming part of the Lombok larger island and located a 1h30 boat ride east from Padang Bai in Bali. When speaking with Balinese locals, they all make it very clear that the Gili island are not part of Bali – which is correct: it’s supposed to be more dangerous, less interesting etc. I see what you did there, just trying to keep our Australian dollars in Bali. The truth is, mainly because all motorised vehicles are banned on the three islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air), the atmosphere is widely different in Gili than it is in Bali. Another influencing fact is that the dominant religion in Gili (as well as the rest of Indonesia) is Islam whereas Balinese are in majority Hindu.
I hear you shout already: why on earth would I spend some time in Gili if all vehicles are banned? That’s a very good point but even prolific bloggers like myself need to take a break sometimes… As a result of the ban, horse carriages rule the roost in the Gili islands, galloping at good speed in the middle of pedestrians without much care. I closely missed getting knocked out by a couple of carriages during my 5-day stay there and was surprised no one got injured in my vicinity as the carriages sometimes seem to operate with no inclination to avoid anyone. Not hearing the sound of a car, scooter or motorbike for five days was a very relaxing experience however.
A short boat trip to Gili Meno – almost uninhabited – and Gili Air – much less developed than Gili Trawangan – confirmed that horses do the main transport job in this region of the world. A nice touch: horse carriages in Gili Trawangan are painted in yellow and called Janur Indah and in blue in Gili Air where they all fall under the brand “Gili Air Transport”. I couldn’t help but smile at the idea of this blog anachronistically existing at a time when only horse carriages were available: how would I classify the best-sellers then? Would it be the horse or the carriage?
Back to Bali for a thorough analysis of the car landscape. As we noticed during the last Bali Photo Report in 2012, the more touristy areas are Toyota Avanza/Daihatsu Xenia territory, by far the favourite choice to taxi tourists around. These two twin nameplates sometimes account for up to one in every second cars in coastal areas where tourism is by far the main source of revenue, namely towns like Padang Bai or Amed, tourism ports to the Gili islands. According to Kadek Wir, a very friendly taxi driver with a distinct passion for cars, the Toyota Avanza is even more successful in Bali than in the rest of Indonesia because of the particularly touristy nature of the island compared to the remainder of the country, and despite a significantly higher tax lifting its price to 225 million rupiah (US$16.800) vs. 200 million ($14.900) elsewhere in Indonesia.
A quick glance at the port of Pamenang in Lombok from our boat on the way from the Gili islands to Amed in Bali confirmed this observation: an overwhelming domination of the two generations Toyota Avanza and Daihatsu Xenia. However our driver Kadek was driving a Suzuki APV, also extremely frequent on Bali roads and certainly ranking much higher than the 26th spot it commended nationally in 2014. I wondered whether the diminished popularity had something to do with the launch of the Suzuki Ertiga: apparently not. The Ertiga is much smaller – seeing one next to an APV removes any doubt about this, and therefore unadapted to tourist transportation. It has mainly been snapped up by private buyers since its launch almost 3 years ago. The explanation for decreasing APV sales is elsewhere…
Launched over ten years ago in 2004, the Suzuki APV has only had a slight facelift since, which for the untrained eye makes it virtually the same vehicle. Tourists (yes, us) seem to congregate towards newer vehicles. The Avanza has received a very visible facelift back in late 2011, and is due for another one soon, making it harder for owners of the first generation to get good taxi business. Seems basic, but makes sense. APV owners on the other hand don’t really have the need to renew their fare as it has looked the same for the past 10 years so tourists cant make the difference between a shiny-new one and a 10 year-old one, as long as it is well maintained. Hence decreasing APV sales.
Once we drive past the coast towards the centre of the island – our trip went to Kitamani near Mount Batur, the main volcano in Bali, the car landscape changes drastically, as it is now composed of vehicles used for the internal day-to-day running of the country, not so much for touristic needs. The Suzuki Carry Pikap and Mitsubishi T120 Pikap rule the roads, justifying their Top 10 national sales rankings. The Suzuki APV and APV Pikap are also more frequent. Also interestingly as it is the first time that I explore this part of the island, there are still a lot of old Toyota Kijang, the first vehicle produced in Indonesia for Indonesian businesses by the Japanese manufacturer.
Almost absent from the coast, the twins Toyota Agya and Daihatsu Ayla become a lot more frequent inside the island, a testimony to their private buyer base. However the numbers are nowhere near the #3 spot (Agya) and #10 (Ayla) the two models hold nationally, indicating their Indonesian success should have a lot more to do with much bigger cities like the capital Jakarta. Worryingly though, roughly one year after their initial Indonesian launch, the Agya/Ayla tandem is already racking up a pretty negative quality reputation. Our driver Kadek citing one member of his family that replaced his Honda Jazz by a Toyota Agya, only to have to get it fixed repeatedly. In a pragmatic country like Indonesia, unreliable cars are simply not an option and Toyota Motor is taking a risk. We’ll come back to Honda shortly.
The centre of the island is ripe with construction sites and roadwork, all catered for by bright green Hino trucks, recognisable from a fair distance and strolling the tiny mountain road at high speed.
A fascinating insight into the Indonesian car buyer’s mind shows that Honda is considered a premium marque at the same level as BMW or Mercedes, with the difference that the latter German brands are much harder to get fixed and therefore get depreciated a lot quicker. Who would have thought? It explains the plateauing of the Honda Mobilio in the sales charts, as this vehicle is almost exclusively destined to a wealthy private consumer base, not the taxi companies that have pushed the Toyota Avanza to the top of the sales ranking. In this context, the Avanza and Mobilio actually don’t compete with each other as they target vastly different buyers (for usage and price), and as such here was never really any chance the Mobilio would toppled the Avanza to become Indonesia’s best-seller. Switching from any Japanese brand to a Honda is a step up in Indonesia.
VW 181 Safari Jeeps from balisafaritours.com
Lastly, let’s mention the fun and multicoloured VW 181 Safari Jeeps from tour operator balisafaritours.com, one Datsun GO spotted near Ubud, one GO+ spotted near Kuta and a handful of Honda HR-V already driving around wealthier Ubud and Seminyak. The Toyota Hilux in Indonesia are almost exclusively single cab in both 2wd and 4wd variants.
The Photo Report continues below.