14 May 2021 ·
Urban Legend: Thailand’s Love Affair with the Mazda2
“Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this! It’s a miracle!” Loud and fuzzy voices screaming out of my walkie-talkie. I roll down the window of our blue Mazda2, poke my head out into the hot sticky air and look back. The notoriously bad traffic of Bangkok has parted like the Red Sea, and our army of colourful Mazda2s has taken over all three lanes of the sweeping arched bridge. Inside each car a member of the Thai Mazda2 club is grinning and shouting into a walkie-talkie.
I can’t help smiling either. When we landed in Bangkok the previous day, we were braced for a very different scenario. As well as its glorious temples, tasty street food and friendly people, Bangkok is most famous for its congested roads – there are 7.5 million registered vehicles in a city of 9 million back in 2013 when we visited (Now more than 15 million in 2016). As we crawl through the traffic our taxi driver paints a picture of gloom when we tell him what we’re doing the following day – driving eight Mazda2s right into the bustle of Bangkok, one of the world’s fastest-growing megacities.
The next day we drive to a road lined with golden swan-shaped lamps in a peaceful suburb. The club members greet us with their palms together and a light bow, and are soon chatting and laughing, inspecting each other’s cars and posing for photos to post on Facebook. They’re passionate about their Mazda2s and are unanimous in telling me why: it’s small, nimble and powerful, great to look at and affordable. “It’s perfect for the city,” says Yu, the colourfully dressed owner of a funky red Mazda2. An aircraft mechanic and a big Japanophile, he has a manga sticker on the fuel cap and plays Japanese pop songs in the car.
For the club members, their Mazda2s are not just expressions of personality but sacred vehicles that will keep them safe — inside many of them is a little Buddha on the dashboard and a talcum-powder painting on the ceiling drawn by a monk who blessed the car when it was bought.
We start the drive into the city and our Mazda2s are the stars on the road as we enter increasingly lively traffic. Buses and bright pink cabs do their best to break us up, while tuktuks and motorbike taxis snake in between. At times it’s chaotic, but strangely it’s not as stressful as driving in other big cities; there’s hardly anyone honking their horns or revving impatiently.
There’s also another pleasant surprise — we spot lots of other Mazda2s on the road. Mazda Staff from Mazda Sales Thailand, who we drop in to see, tells us why. “Mazda has a 5.2 per cent market share in Thailand, our highest in any country in the region,” he says.“Thailand is the automotive market to watch in ASEAN countries, making up a third of the region’s annual demand.” And of the Mazda vehicles sold in the region, a whopping 70 per cent are sold in Thailand.
Continuing on in our Mazda2s, we weave through the Sathor business district, past The Met, a mesmerising skyscraper that’s won international awards for its eco-friendly design, and onto the narrow streets of the 24-hour flower market, Pak Khlong Talat. Bathed in the soft evening glow, stalls on both sides of the street sell garlands of jasmine, chrysanthemums, orchids and lotus flowers.
As the sun sets we take a break, and I chat to Somchai, the president of the Thai Mazda2 club, about its success and how it’s progressed from a petrolhead fan club to a real social hub since it started. “A group of us meets every weekend to play football or badminton, do charity work and go on rallies,” he says. “Our website provides all the information you could ever want if you’re buying a Mazda2 in Thailand — 1,500 people visit it every day and post comments.”
We get back in our cars for the last drive of the day — it’s time to hit Chinatown, the pulsing heart of Bangkok and the club’s favourite hangout. Below the orange neon lights, the energy bursting from food stalls and night markets is contagious, and as we drive through the lit-up Mazda badges pop out in a blur of colour. Finally, we pull up at a food stall for some Kuay Jub, a pork noodle soup with fresh coriander. For the Mazda2 club, it’s been just another weekend hanging out together, but for us it’s been a great day in an incredible city.”