Virtually all news footage of traffic in Kabul shows the obligatory yellow and white early 1990s Toyota Corolla wagon turned taxi. This begs the question, where did all of these right hand drive Corollas come from?
Well, it all starts in, you guessed it, Japan. White is by far the most popular car color in Japan, whether you’re a middle class housewife with a Corolla sedan or a Ricoh copy machine repair guy with a company-owned Corolla wagon. The only difference being, the commercial wagon has the company logo, telephone number, and random advert words stenciled on the body panels.
Due to Draconian inspection regulations meant to stimulate the domestic auto industry, Japanese cars in Japan become prohibitively expensive to keep after three years. Millions of low mileage (100,000 kilometers), reliable, and well maintained cars and vans flood the non-existent Japanese used car market annually.
In the first half of 2005, auction houses throughout Japan exported 350,000 used vehicles. Most headed to either Vladivostok for the insatiable Russian Far East market or Dubai, where they ended up in South Asia or East Africa.
Savvy Pakistani businessmen bought the cars from the Japanese auction houses and had them shipped to Dubai. There, Afghan expats bought them and shipped them to Bandar-e-Abbas, on the Iranian coast. There, the cars, still in their containers, were shipped overland to the frontier town of Islam Qala. The cars were then driven over the Afghan border to Herat, where they sat in huge car lots owned and operated by a few Kandahari families. Finally, the Corollas were driven to Kabul, where they were painted partially yellow. However, the Japanese characters, logos, and telephone numbers were often kept in place, as they evidenced that the car was Japanese, well taken care of, and most importantly, reliable.
In 2005, a 1992 to ’94 Corolla in good condition sold for $5,400 to $6,800 in Kabul. Importers of right hand drive Corollas took a beating when the Afghan government banned the import of all right hand drive vehicles. Investors lost their shirts on that gamble.
In this consumerist and disposable world, it’s good to see perfectly fine cars being used to its maximum (and beyond) potential. These Corollas are used by hard working entrepreneurs ad infinitum.
I must say, though, it was extremely difficult to find any decent photographs of the ubiquitous Kabuli Corolla taxi on the net. Their importance is taken for granted. They merely blend into the bleak and dusty background. But if anything will raise the phoenix from the ashes that is the Afghan capital, it is the peppy Corolla. Fight on!
Image source: Wikipedia