Reassembled cars can be seen everywhere in Taiwan. In the past few decades, the government has repeatedly clamped down on them. It has also taken measures such as negative persuasion, technical requirements, alienation, phaseout, and developed standard agricultural vehicles to eradicate reassembled cars. But they are able to take advantage of the social context and rationalize their existence. Reassembled cars have not only gained support or sympathy but also overturned the conventional concept of safety, which allows them to fight against official clampdown. To compete against mass-manufactured vehicles, their best strategy is to respond to the circumstances of Taiwan's rural area and offer the best solution. Their external advantages include their services, adaptability to all kinds of environments, not to mention that they are license-free and tax-free. Internal advantages include their safety, low prices, and flexibility in production and use, thanks to the collaborated network consisting of salvage yards and reassembled car makers. By making good use of all the aforementioned advantages and following Taiwan's social development, reassembled cars have gained a competitive niche that has failed the clampdown actions over and over again. But most importantly, they have supported Taiwan's economic development in many sectors.
Unlicensed reassembled cars can be seen everywhere in Taiwan. In farming, transporting, and construction work, resembled cars are heavily relied on either by the public or private sector. Nevertheless, in the past few decades, most reassembled cars in Taiwan have been illegal. As part of the auto assembling industry, reassembled cars are not protected and supported by the government; instead, every now and then, they have to face government's new resolve to clamp down on them. But today, reassembled cars still carry out all kinds of transportation tasks. How come the Kuomintang (KMT) government, which had been the sole authoritarian power in Taiwan for decades, could not deal with reassembled cars which have no business backing?
“Reassembled” has a negative social connotation. Out of the “systematic” considerations, “reassembled” often connects with “unprofessional”, “unsafe”,or “insecure”,suchas “reassembled computers”. But as a matter of fact, everything is composed of various parts or elements; the key to its function lies in its systematicness and stability. A computer contains parts and software from all over the world; a car comprises parts from different factories. While big carmakers have large advertising budget and bombshells at auto shows to promote and marketing their products, reassembled cars have long been associated with negative image. For example, a government-sponsored publication on road safety has constantly stated that the clampdown on reassembled cars should be stricter.1 The reports by the government and the media have further deepened the negative impression about reassembled cars. For example, some reassembled cars around Sindian City in Taipei County transported coal, gravel, construction equipment, and hardware in the early days. These cars, which were modified from cultivating machines, were described as:
For example, Yuan-Zong Wang and Ning Gao both published articles on clamping down reassembled cars in the said government-sponsored publication on road safety in 1995.
Cars without plates and licensed drivers. Their steering wheels, brakes and lamps just don't conform to the requirements. But these cars still can be seen running around Sindian, Bitan, and Chingmei, and therefore pose a great danger to people around the area.2
“Cultivators-converted trucks on the road pose great danger to traffic” (October 25, 1961). United Daily News.
And here is the view of Tainan County Police Bureau:
Today the means of transport are constantly advancing, so three-wheeler reassembled cars not only should be viewed backward but also unsafe because of their poor structure. With only one wheel in the front, it is not easy to control the car due to different momentum between the front and the back when making turns or going forward. Therefore, it would be difficult to stop the car in an emergency. These three-wheelers could easily cause accidents.3
“The influence of three-wheeler trucks on road safety” (October 20, 1973). Dawa News.
These statements can lead to the conclusion that reassembled cars mainly connect with negative messages such as “unlicensed”, “out-of-date”, and “unsafe”, so the government should heavily clamp down on them. Kaohsiung County Police Bureau also made a negative comment before one of its actions against unlicensed reassembled cars:
Most reassembled cars are without plates and safety checks; their drivers are without licenses. Lack of safety along with untested driving skills could easily result in accidents. Their existence has posed great threat to the lives and property of the public.4
“The clampdown on illegal reassembled cars should be strictly enforced” (June 29, 1974). United Daily News.
Except for its unsafety, this statement also emphasizes on the fact that the drivers have no licenses and know no traffic rules, so these cars are like moving bombs. The comparison to a threat to life safety can also make the public feel like fighting against a common enemy. Later in the 1980s, reassembled cars were further connected with “immoral”. For example:
Reassembled cars are unlicensed so they are not administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles. Their brakes, lamps, and exhaust systems don't go through regular inspections. The drivers themselves are without licenses, so they often get away when accidents occur.5
“The rampage made by reassembled cars and the overload of gravel trucks have affected road safety. Therefore, a complete clampdown on them is an urgent task.” (February 5, 1985). United Daily News.
Reassembled cars have run around Taiwan for decades. They have also been an integral part to the countryside and construction sites. But why are they still disapproved by the government and public opinions? Why do the government set no safety requirements for reassembled cars to safeguard its people, if the disapproval stems from lack of safety, systematicness, and specialization?6 How come the action against reassembled cars in the past few decades always ambiguous and has fine start and poor finish? Why can they remain unlicensed and tax-free? Why cannot they be replaced by government-backed mass-manufactured vehicles with big advertising budget? To answer these questions, it is necessary to analyze from their development, social character, and technology meaning.
Two of the reassembled car makers “M1”and “M2” (hereinafter “M” stands for “makers of reassembled cars”; “F” stands for reassembled car users; “O” stands for government officials) interviewed by the researcher said if the government were to include reassembled cars into its regulation, they would make reassembled cars that conform to official safety requirements.
2 The Rise of Reassembled Cars
While the government and media call them “reassembled cars”, in local communities, there are actually different names for different types of cars, such as the “iron cattle”, “siqizai”,or “laqizai”.7 But commonly, they are assembled at low cost by a one-man ironwork with used parts, without plates and doors. These cars are widely used in rural villages, fishing villages, and mountains by the lower classes.8In Taiwan, the rise of reassembled cars can date back to the end of World War II (WW II), when goods and materials were scarce. So, it is fair to say that the first reassembled car was the product of social needs, craftsmanship, and wit of ironworkers. In the following paragraph, this unique product will be discussed from three dimensions: shipping needs, rural demands, and the transition of the sugar industry.
“Iron cattle” refer to reassembled cars that use single-cylinder motive power such as a water-pump motor, a cultivator prow, or a motorcycle engine. “Siqizai” refers to reassembled cars that use four-cylinder engines; “laqizai” refers to six-cylinder engines. In fact, the word “reassembled” has a stigmatized intention. But there are too many types of these unlicensed vehicles, so here, they are all referred as “reassembled cars”.
Those cars usually are without plates. Three-wheeled or small four-wheeled vehicles are often put on the words “for agriculture use” on their body. Few reassembled cars still keep the unprecedented license plates issued to reassembled cars in 1976.
At the very beginning, it could be said that the emergence of reassembled cars was due to transporting needs. When WW II ended, Taiwan was quite short of resources. There were neither established car manufacturers nor imported trucks because of little foreign exchange. In middle and southern Taiwan, business people who had shipping needs, along with ironworkers, bid from the government for cannibalized parts of discarded Japanese military cars (most old military cars of Southern Taiwan were concentrated in Zuoying, Kaohsiung). The cannibalized parts from about five discarded military cars could be reassembled into one new truck.9 For every ten trucks, the government got six and the rest belonged to business people. Before long, many business people came to Kaohsiung to buy dismantled shells of used trucks and engines from old Japanese military jeeps, in order to reassemble into three wheelers (Fig. 1).10 Later on, they bought used parts cannibalized from Japanese trucks in Kaohsiung, which were imported as discarded hardware.11 In the deprived postwar era, the adaptability of Taiwan's business people and ironworkers created reassembled cars out of junk. In a sense, this was recycling in its early stage.12
According to the interview with M4, here, the Japanese military cars include privately owned trucks requisitioned by the Japanese colonial government during the war.
According to the interview with M3, in the 1950s, the demand for reassembled three wheelers was great, so makers got orders from across the island. But later when three-wheeled cars started to be imported from Japan with big air-cooled engines, they made reassembled cars with four-cylinder engines instead.
According to the interviews with M1 and M2, discarded parts cannibalized from US military jeeps used in the Vietnam War were also employed in the 1960s; later in the 1970s, transfer cases cannibalized from discarded US military cars began to be imported from the USA. But still, the makers mainly relied on Japanese used parts as the main source.
There was similar development in Japan. In the immediate postwar era, Japan was also scarce in resource, as well as in means of transportation. In 1946 by chance, Soichiro Honda saw a generator engine designed for a No. 6 wireless radio from the Imperial Army. He was inspired with an idea, which is to power a bicycle with the generator engine he saw. The motored bicycles invented by Honda were immediately popular among the public and laid the foundation for the later Honda Motor Co. (see pp. 51–52 of the Chinese translated version of “Monsieur Honda: tel gu'il s'est raconte a Yves Derisbourg” published in 1996 by Jiuyi Publishing House and pp. 53–54 of “Honda Legend” (translated title) published by Yuan-Liou Publishing Co., Ltd. in 1997).
Shipping needs stimulated the rise of reassembled cars, which can be seen from the delivery of gravel. The transport in the postwar era mainly depends upon cattle carts, but there is great limitation in its speed and transport volume, which are both better delivered by reassembled cars. In addition, the four-wheel drive (4WD) design enables them to enter into riverbed and any construction site, and ordinary 2WD trucks could not match this kind of mobility. Just take the construction of Agongdian Reservoir for example:
In the 1950's, there was great need for gravel due to the construction of Agongdian Reservoir. In the early morning, the contractor had to ship the gravel to the site in Dagangshan by cattle carts. The road was so hazardous that only one round trip could be made per day. In order to save time and boost income, cattle carts were replaced by two-wheel hand-powered diesel cars with wooden hoppers to deliver gravel. Before long, reassembled diesel iron cattle also joined the force (Gao 1998).
Since recovering mainland China seemed to have become an impossible task, the KMT government started to focus on developing Taiwan (Masahiro 1994). Many construction works which began in the 1970s revolved around the Ten Major Construction Projects and had great influence on Taiwan's politics, economy, and even the development of reassembled cars.13 The Ten Major Construction Projects comprised many construction works, and the much-needed gravel mostly came from rivers where the rear-wheel drive trucks cannot go into. In addition, after the “Accelerated Rural Development Program” put into practice in 1972, the rural area had also seen a lot of infrastructure construction, and again, reassembled 4WD cars were the major means to transport the much-needed gravel through rough mountain roads and country paths (Figs. 2, 3, and 4; Hsiao 1977). This proves that the demand for cargo transport and gravel delivery had provided advantageous conditions for the development of reassembled cars.
The Ten Major Construction Projects include National Highway No. 1, Taoyuan International Airport, Nuclear Power Plant, Suao Port, Taichung Port, China Shipbuilding Corporation Shipyard, Electrification of Western Line Railway, Oil Refinery, and North-Link Line Railway.
The rural demands also contributed to the rise of reassembled cars. In the immediate postwar era, the rural area still replied on farm cattle to cultivate crops and cattle carts as their major means of transportation (Chen 1981, p. 50).14 The takeover of machinery was not only the production of technological advancement but also the result of postwar agriculture policy and changing industrial structure. While increasing the number of owner–farmers, the postwar land reform also resulted in serious land fractionalization and failed to achieve economy of scale.15 Through the government's heavy taxation, requisitioned purchase,16fertilizer-for-crops scheme,17 as well as low price policy on grains18, the per capita income of farmers was only 58% of that of nonfarmers (Lee 1980). Consequently, younger generations in the rural area chose to migrate to big cities.
But later in the mid-1970s, cultivators had replaced cattle as the major motive power (Hu 1984).
After the land reform, the farmland owned by per farmer averaged 0.97 ha, far from 1.94 to 2.91 ha for achieving economy of scale (Liu et al. 1993).
Heavy taxation included land tax, education tax, national defense tax, and public land tax; requisitioned purchase included purchase of agricultural products from farmers when collecting payment in kind, purchase of agricultural products from farmers when collecting taxes, requisitioned purchase of additional grains, and so on (Liu 1992).
“Fertilizer for crops” was one of the most denounced schemes. The KMT government, through the fertilizer-for-crops scheme, deprived the production surplus of farmers by an exchange of unequal values. This can be viewed as hidden taxation on agriculture, no wonder Mr. Yu-hsian Yu said that farmers in Taiwan are the farmhands of Agriculture and Food Agency (Yu 1994;Xu 1972).
Low price policy on grains was aimed at controlling galloping inflation, ensuring the stability of food provisions to the army and public servants, and creating favorable conditions for cheap labor (see Lin 1997).
The outflow of backbone work force directly resulted in the population aging in the countryside and other related issues, such as inadequate labor force, soaring wages, and extensive farming.19 With insufficient farm cattle, cultivators, commonly known as “iron cattle” by farmers, were introduced into the rural area to assist cultivation (Chen 1981, p. 55). Meanwhile, some farmers also took time to convert cultivators into means of transportation.
Take Yunlin County for example, the average age of the heads of farming households was 54.2 in 1995 (see The Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) of Executive Yuan (1996)).
In the early days, agricultural reassembled cars were converted from the prows of cultivators and motorcycle engines. A cultivator prow not only provides momentum but also power to spray pesticides and pump water. So, the sufficiency of cannibalized parts was closely related to the availability of cultivators. In addition, there were only limited number of imported motorcycles in the 1950s. Still, some had installed discarded motorcycle engines on three-wheelers (Fig. 5; Lin 1976). In the 1960s, Taiwan started to assemble motorcycles for major foreign manufacturers and copied their products. Later in the 1970s Taiwan's motorcycle industry had seen tremendous growth (Fan 1995; Huang 1991). This in turn provided abundant engines and motorcycle heads for reassembled car makers.
While cultivators and motorcycles were getting more common, two rural transportation tools thus appeared. One is a cultivator or motorcycle linked with a dray to haul the crops and vegetables (Fig. 6), and the other is a reassembled car which uses the engine dismantled from an old cultivator or motorcycle (Figs. 7 and 8). But soon, motorcycle or cultivator engines could not satisfy various transportation needs with their limited horsepower. In remote areas, traffic demand had increased; the mountain area had seen growing exploitation of natural resources and planting of vegetables and fruit. Other factors, including the development of dairy farming, the specialized planting of ground-level vegetables, the collecting and distributing of fruit, the changing transporting method for sugarcane, the promotion of aquiculture (Fig. 9), and the need to transport cultivators to farmland, all contributed to the introduction of diesel engines which provide greater carrying capacity (Fig. 10), and reassembled cars also evolved from three-wheeled into four, five, six, eight, and even ten.
Other than shipping and rural transporting needs, Taiwan Sugar Corporation (TSC) also contributed to the rise and development of reassembled cars. Since the beginning of recorded history, the most important crops have always been rice and sugar in Taiwan. In the immediate postwar era, the sugar industry was still crucial to Taiwan's economic growth. Before the development of highway transportation, TSC transported materials mainly by sugar rail along with cattle carts (Fig. 11), which, however, has its own limitations, such as occupying large space, high maintenance cost, low reachability and adaptability, and lack of time efficiency and flexibility. After the war, Taiwan Sugar rail faced even bigger changes, such as increasing competitive crops with cane and the use of TSC-owned land for industrial zone. This had led to dramatic changes in producing areas. In addition, in the wake of rapid economic growth, road and infrastructure construction had resulted in increasing demand for traffic safety, so TSC rail had been asked to change route (Taiwan Sugar Corporation 1986, pp. 135–136). Due to low international sugar prices and weak export growth, TSC had no choice but to reduce its growing area and to merge its sugar refineries. TSC rail had also seen continuous dismantling and shutdown. Under the circumstances, reassembled cars thus took over its role.
Moving and carrying canes in the farm was the most disturbing task to TSC because it requires high carrying capacity without pressuring the soil and damaging sugarcane's perennial roots. As a result, the required cars had better be equipped with 4WD, dumpers, and flexible tires. Since cattle carts were phased out, TSC bought in 5-ton trailers to carry out the task. Because they were not of much use during breaks, TSC hired reassembled cars from the rural villages instead, which were in wide use back then because they were the only transportation that suits sugarcane fields (Fig. 12). Reassembled cars could transport canes directly to sugar refineries which were close to fields. If farther, canes would be transported to a transfer post and shipped to sugar refineries by light rail (Fig. 13). In addition, TSC developed a kind of reassembled car which could carry railroad cars in the back and a special mechanism to put canes in, so that reassembled cars could transport railroad cars loaded with canes to concentration fields to unload, and then they would be hauled away to the refineries (Fig. 14; Taiwan Sugar Corporation 1986, p.151).
3 Government Perspective
Reassembled cars started to play a crucial part in transportation in the deprived postwar era. As opposed to cattle carts, mechanized reassembled cars with power drive thus became an envy of people.20 But as the economy grew, Taiwan had started to see abundant transportation means. So the government was getting less tolerant to reassembled cars. In the early 1960s, the government began to shift its attitude toward reassembled cars and even formulated policies to control and clamp down on them.
Zheng, Xing-tu, who has driven three-wheelers for nearly 50 years, said that he started to drive three-wheelers soon after the restoration of Taiwan, when there were only few automobiles and roads were bad; therefore, three-wheelers were the major means of transportation. “To Entertain a Guest with three-wheelers, a Unique sight in Chunan” (July 26, 1996). United Daily News. In addition, Wu, Jin-hu, who ran a three-wheeler business in the immediate period after Taiwan's restoration, said that back then in Yunlin County, to rent a three-wheeler for a wedding was quite luxurious while generally most brides took a cattle cart when they got married (excerpt from the interview with Wu, Jin-hu in Douliou City, dated February 7, 1999).
By the government and academia standard, Taiwan's auto industry began with the establishment of Yuelong Motor in 1953. In 1957, the first jeep was available in Taiwan; in 1959, the first diesel bus; and in 1960, the first sedan Bluebird.21 But the so-called auto industry in Taiwan staggered from the 1950s to the 1960s. Even in the 1960s, Taiwan only manufactured a few thousand of cars per year, purchased mainly by government institutions, state-owned enterprises, and taxi companies. Private-owned businesses and the public rarely bought locally manufactured cars out of two reasons (Fu 1969, p. 25). First, locally manufactured cars were twice as expensive as imported ones;22 second, Taiwan's per capita income was too low to afford cars (Fu 1969, p. 32).23 That is why the government allowed business people with shipping needs to reassemble discarded parts into three-wheelers, but prohibited for passenger transport.24 The government also turned a blind eye to reassembled cars that were converted from cultivators. That is to say, due to rural demand and shortage in transportation tools, the government had no choice but to include reassembled cars into its regulation and temporarily regarded them valid. So, there was no clampdown on reassembled cars during that period.
The so-called auto industry refers to those auto manufacturers with large-scale capital, mass production, and support by the government and excludes small nonmass production car makers which assemble three-wheelers and “iron cattle”. Accordingly, any literature concerning the development of Taiwan's auto industry would discuss the history from the establishment of Yulon Motors, without mentioning three-wheelers or “iron cattle” (see Wang (1987)).
Based on the data of the first half of 1966, the producer price of the Bluebird sedan is NT $115,000, whereas the cost of C.I.F. of its competitive import counterpart falls at NT $59,539. The premium is 93% of the cost of the imported ones (see Lin (1981)).
In 1966, the average income per capita is $191.
“Three-wheelers are not allowed for passenger transportation.” (November 29, 1960). TSSD News.
Nevertheless, in order to develop auto industry, the government prepared to phase out three-wheelers in the 1960s. It stopped issuing new plates while tightening control on old cars and implementing strict inspection to weed out unqualified ones.25 In 1974, an official scheme to phase out three-wheelers was put into practice. Meanwhile, just as what was mentioned before, the media also stigmatized reassembled cars. Such negative opinions paved the way for the government's phase-out scheme. This kind of stigmatized rhetoric has lasted for nearly 50 years, from the 1960s up to today.
“Drivers of motored three-wheelers request for loosening traffic control.” (August 25, 1968). United Daily News.
Under the circumstances, the government adopted several methods simultaneously to phase out reassemble cars: firstly, to regulate reassembled cars by administrative decrees; secondly, to clamp down on unlicensed reassembled cars; thirdly, to develop standardized rural transporting vehicles in order to replace reassembled cars. For administrative decrees, Taiwan Provincial Government enacted four principles to regulate motored three-wheelers.
Limited to country road. Not allowed to enter into downtown areas
Not allowed on highway and areas with heavy traffic
No allowed for passenger transport
Not allowed for long-distance transport26
“Motored three-wheelers' effect on traffic safety” (October 20, 1973). Dawa News.
In order to prevent reassembled cars from developing into four-wheeled ones, the government temporarily allowed unlicensed motored three-wheelers to run on country road but prohibited cultivators to be converted into four-wheeled trucks.27 This was to make farmers use three-wheelers only, so the transporting demand in rural area could be sorted out while these reassembled cars would not enter into downtown areas and create traffic problems. Moreover, the government also hoped that reassembled cars would not be further developed. Therefore, regular transporting industry and auto industry would not be affected and could even prosper. Under these principles, the government decided to phase out by acquiring reassembled cars, just as it did with tricycles.
“Motored three-wheelers are allowed to transport produce and fertilizer.” (December 1, 1971). United Daily News.
With administrative decrees in place, the government also enforced its clampdown on illegal reassembled cars. For example, Taiwan Provincial Government once informed all local governments of stricter clampdown on illegal reassembled cars in order to maintain good traffic.28 At the same time, the media published reports which indicate that the traffic has immediately improved due to the clampdown action.29 This kind of media propaganda had reinforced public sentiment for the government policy. To root out reassembled cars, the provincial government ordered local governments to invalidate the business registration of makers that manufacture reassembled cars without authorization.30
“Iron cattle have disturbed the traffic in the cities. If the traffic is to be improved, relevant laws and decrees have to be in place.” (January 6, 1974). United Daily News; “Clampdown on illegal reassembled cars” (February 19, 1974). United Daily News; “The clampdown on illegal reassembled cars should be strictly enforced.” (June 29, 1974). United Daily News; “Further discussion on the clampdown on reassembled cars” (July 4, 1974). United Daily News; “A scheme that can phase out reassembled cars once and for all should be established.” (July 7, 1974). United Daily News; “The Provincial Government has ordered to strictly clamp down on unlicensed reassembled cars.” (September 5, 1974).
“Clampdown on reassembled cars in Kaohsiung County has resulted in tremendous decrease in traffic accidents.” (August 25, 1974). United Daily News.
“The clampdown on reassembled cars was ordered by the Provincial Government. Therefore, the Kaohsiung County Police Department urged people in the related trade not to stir up trouble and the public not to listen to rumors.” (July 7, 1974). United Daily News.
In addition, Taiwan Provincial Highway Bureau commissioned United Logistics Command and Eing-Hing Machinery Works to develop and manufacture agricultural transport vehicles for the transition period,31 using old military cars and 18 HP diesel engine produced by Eing-Hing Machinery Works. The Highway Bureau and the Industrial Development Bureau also invited Yuelong Motor and Mercedes-Benz Taiwan, based on official requirements, to develop and manufacture several model vehicles, including YL-525, CM260D1, and CM260D2 for TSC to try out for future reference Huang (1986).
“To maintain traffic safety and order, iron cattle that conform to required specifications should be produced to assist transportation in busy seasons for farmers.” (May 1, 1975). China Times; “Transportation in rural villages has entered into a new era, where cattle carts are gradually replaced by motored cars.” (December 25, 1975).
Basically, the government hoped to phase out unlicensed reassembled cars and eliminate their makers by adopting administrative decrees to limit the running area of licensed reassembled cars and suspend their licenses. Added with other complementary schemes, such as acquiring three-wheelers, encouraging reassembled car drivers to obtain driving licenses for small trucks, providing low-interest loans for small truck buyers, the government seemed to assume that the problem can be sorted out.
4 Contextual Competitive Niche
The government, in order to eliminate reassembled cars and fully develop auto industry, adopted multiple strategies including negative persuasion, technical requirements, alienation, clampdown, and phase-out. Nevertheless, from the late 1950s to the early 2000s, government's repeated reaffirmation to clamp down on reassembled cars have failed to deliver any result, not to mention its attempt to ask reassembled car makers to switch to another line of business or to purchase mass-manufactured vehicles instead.32 The disadvantaged reassembled cars, with their contextual technology, have gained competitive or survival advantage under government clampdown and phase-out policy.
Take the years from 1983 to 1985, the clampdown actions throughout Taiwan had born little result, which in turn had resulted in an increase of unlicensed reassembled cars. In Kaohsiung County, not a single unlicensed reassembled car had been confiscated, whereas only one in Miaoli County (see “Ineffective clampdown on unlicensed reassembled cars stemmed from passive attitude.” December 24, 1984, Taiwan Daily; “The key to effective clampdown on unlicensed reassembled cars lies in enforcement, no matter how good the policy is.” August 3, 1985).
Just like what mentioned before, from the 1950s to the 1970s, the outflow of backbone work force had led to population aging and other related issues in the rural area, such as inadequate labor force, soaring wages, and extensive farming.33 So, the cultivators had gradually replaced farming cattle. Some farmers, in order to boost income, used their free time to carry out goods delivery with cultivators that are added with hoppers. Later, they even drove reassembled cars to transport goods within short distance or passengers in the mountains. Local police responsible for clampdown generally sympathized with low-income owners of reassembled cars, worrying that their livelihood might be seriously affected if being clamped down on.34 According to Gangshan Branch of Kaohsiung County Police Headquarter,
Take Yunlin County for example, the average age of the heads of farming households was 54.2 in 1995 (see The Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) of Executive Yuan (1996)).
“To phase out motored three-wheelers, the authorities have to be resolved.” (October 4, 1972). United Daily News; “Ineffective clampdown on unlicensed reassembled cars stemmed from passive attitude.” (December 25, 1984); “Without licenses and safe structures, reassembled cars have disturbed the traffic and thus should be straightened out.” (December 19, 1985); “Total confiscation of unlicensed reassembled cars will jeopardize the livelihood of many; as a result, the enforcement will encounter resistance. The government should provide employment brokering for these people to ensure smooth transition.” (June 16, 1987). United Daily News; “Reassembled cars take advantage of the loopholes where they can violate traffic rules without being marked down.” (July 6, 1987). United Daily News.
Iron cattle and three-wheelers are indeed unlicensed, but it is necessary to discuss whether they are to be eliminated or not. So the police haven't taken serious action against these vehicles considering the clampdown may influence the production of the countryside and the livelihood of car owners.35
“The handling of unlicensed motored trucks should strike a balance between law enforcement and human relationship.” (October 8, 1972). United Daily News.
Local police were aware of farmers' situation and the importance of reassembled cars in the countryside,36 and they were also pressured by elected representatives not to clamp down on reassembled cars out of local production demand. Even if the police did take action, the Department of Motor Vehicles could not be burdened with such huge number of confiscated cars,37 and in some cases, police officers would have had to pay shipping fees with their own money in advance.38 When the police and local land offices also started to use reassembled cars,39 it would be even more difficult to clamp down on these cars (Figs. 15 and 16).40 This in turn had provided some legitimacy for reassembled cars.
Reassembled cars play a crucial role in agriculture production, so the police often give them “special treatment”. (see “A scheme that can phase out reassembled cars once and for all should be established.” July 7, 1974, United Daily News).
“Rules are often bended to accommodate reassembled cars; the point system still cannot take on reassembled cars.” (July 9, 1987). United Daily News.
“Given that unlicensed reassembled cars have both advantages and disadvantages, it is very difficult for the police to clamp down on them.” (December 13, 1987). United Daily News.
Even the police department of Miaoli County itself employed iron cattle to transport gravel for its own construction work (“Should iron cattle be eliminated?” September 21, 1973, United Daily News), and many village or township cleaning units also employed iron cattle as garbage trucks, sprinkling trucks, and so on. Chutung Forest District Office owned five reassembled cars, which had been approved by the Provincial Government due to practical need, whereas Hsinchu City public works team also owned two reassembled cars (“The city government is planning to declare the cancellation of the registration of unqualified reassembled cars for agriculture purpose.” April 18, 1985, United Daily News).
Basically, there is a “tacit understanding” between the police and reassembled car drivers: As long as they keep to the side and do not affect traffic, the police will turn a blind eye to them.
Nevertheless, there are some technology meanings behind these social factors to support reassembled cars to resist clampdown. These technology meanings are not essential existence; instead, they are dynamic, contextual, and created from the interaction among various actors in a certain environment.
Geographically, reassembled cars do not exist in the context of highway, racetracks, and arenas; neither do they serve as major export product. Instead, they exist in fields, riverbed, muddy roads, or places not accessible to mass-manufactured vehicles, places where require vehicles with simple structure, high carrying capacity, big torque, great impact tolerance, and easy maintenance. Many fields are small with footpaths between them as wide as only 3 m. If using ordinary small trucks to deliver crops, it would be impossible for them to go into farmland and make right-angled turns on these crisscross paths. But these are just what reassembled cars are good at. For example, in Taitung County, most sugarcane fields are in the mountain area where trucks are often turned over, so it is necessary to deliver sugarcane with reassembled cars. In this geographical context, mass-manufactured vehicles that are regarded “safe” by the authorities have turned out to be “unsafe”, while “unsafe” reassembled cars have turned out to be accountable to sugarcane growers.
Function-wise, due to population aging in the countryside, it is necessary to replace manpower with multifunction machinery, which includes cultivators to plow fields, water pumps for irrigation, and reapers and vehicles for harvesting. But for an individual farmer, to own so many machines would require quite some investment only for his small farmland, not to mention maintenance and storage problems. Therefore, how to integrate multiple functions into one machine has become an important task, and this demand has been met by reassembled cars. Moreover, the design of reassembled cars can vary in accordance with users' specific needs. For instance, it is impossible to transport construction steel bars as long as at least 5 m by ordinary small trucks due to the length limit. If by bigger trucks, it is impossible to enter construction sites in small lanes. As a result, a reassembled car specifically designed for this purpose has come into being (Fig. 17). There is only one seat for this kind of vehicle so that steel bars can be placed on both sides (Fig. 18). For the convenience of unloading, there are three hydraulic lifts on both sides and the back. Users have also come up with a solution in case the lifts break down—a lever device which enables heavy steel bars to land on the ground. For users' convenience, two long beams of wood are placed on the ground prior to unloading steel bars. This not only can avoid moisture but also make it easier for lifters to work. In addition, in order to drive on small byroads and make turns, as well as to bear load, this kind of reassembled cars are often equipped with five wheels, with one in the front and four in the back. Of course, it would be dangerous for the five-wheeled reassembled cars to run on freeways go downhill or make turns at high speed. But if they only transport steel bars within the distance of 10 to 20 km, speed would not be their priority. Moreover, rather than highways, they mostly travel on sideways; therefore, it is less likely to cause any accident.41 The safety of a reassembled car should not be examined against the standard of major carmakers without context. In other words, it is really unsafe to allow mass-manufactured vehicles to transport steel bars and run on highways.
The researcher went with a Tunghe villager Chang to transport steel bars. The trip started from his house in Gukeng Township, stopped at an ironworks in Fongtian Industrial Park to load steel bars, and arrived at a construction site opposite Gouju Police Station in Douliou City. Most of time, he drove on country roads at 20 to 40 km/h. When driving on Tai-3 highway, he had his car kept to the side; when making a turn or passing by a village, he had managed to slow down.
Reassembled cars can be adjusted to specific geographic conditions and other demands of the users. Moreover, they exist under unique historical and social circumstances. So, the technology has its own significance in the social context, which provides solid foundation for them to fight against official clampdown. Makers and users of reassembled cars (most of them farmers) are neither rich nor powerful. But when clamped down by the government, local magistrates, elected representatives, and even managers of national enterprises all stand up for them. In May 1986, Dawu Unit of Taiwan Provincial Highway Bureau Police Office “legally” clamped down on reassembled cars that run on provincial major roads. But several local elected representatives spoke out for reassembled cars, saying that in Dawu and Taimali, there was no choice but to run on Tai-9 Road because the two townships are located between mountain and sea. In order to quarry gravel by the sea or to farm in the mountain, it is inevitable to pass through Tai-9 Road. Without other replacement, reassembled cars thus became the major means of transportation in the rural area. Regardless of the unique circumstances and local backlash, Dawu Unit still clamped down on reassembled cars and hence created uproar. This time, even newspapers that had long endorsed government policy criticized Dawu Unit for its arbitrary actions. Not that there is any interest exchange between reassembled car makers and their advocates, but the social context has played a significant role.
First, to support typhoon relief effort and emergencies, the government has temporarily permitted unlicensed reassembled cars to run on country roads. In March 1974, due to oil crisis and difficulty in truck procurement, there was a shortage of trucks in Keelung Harbor to transport cargo, which were all packed in the harbor. As a result, Keelung Harbor Bureau instantly opened the harbor to three-wheelers to carry cargo. These cases show that in emergencies, unlicensed reassembled cars were given exceptional legality to participate in transporting work (Fig. 19). Since they were needed in emergencies, their existence can only be tacitly approved in ordinary times. Otherwise, it would be difficult to find reassembled cars in an emergency. Moreover, mass produced vehicles cannot adjust to muddy mountain roads and valleys in disaster areas. This also proves and affirms the appropriateness of reassembled cars in some social circumstances.
Another social circumstance is shipping demand of crops. As mentioned before, the low price policy on grains had resulted in low income for farmers, and mass-manufactured vehicles were far beyond what they could afford. So, the farmers were more than willing to transport crops by cheap and adaptable reassembled cars. If the government tries to clamp down on them, it would be difficult for those agricultural areas to operate. In September 1973, Miaoli Police Bureau ordered to conduct comprehensive clampdown on reassembled cars. Several County Councilors pled for farmers, arguing that there are insufficient laborers and means of transportation in the rural area. Iron cattle not only can fill in for the insufficient labor but meet the demand of transporting crops, hence can facilitate the development of the countryside. If iron cattle disappear in rural villages, a great number of issues will arise.42
“Should iron cattle be eliminated?” (September 21, 1973). United Daily News. The article also points out even the police department of Miaoli County itself employed iron cattle to transport gravel for its own construction work, so it makes no sense if the police clamp down on other reassembled cars for similar purposes.
Similarly, Ping Tung County Police Bureau started to strictly clamp down unlicensed reassembled cars in August 1974 and therefore created problems in crop shipping. This in turn forced the County Government to take an expedient measure, distributing triangular yellow flags which authorize unlicensed reassembled cars to ship fertilizer to farmers, as well as to cater to the harvesting demand of after-growth rice. Despite the protest of the shipping industry, the local government still had to enforce the measure. Likewise, Yunlin County Councilors pled for reassembled cars. Among them, Counsilor You, Rong-Mao stated that it is appropriate to clamp down on iron cattle in urban areas but not in agricultural ones, because iron cattle serve as replacement for cattle to transport crops. What is more, today's official policy is to stabilize prices. If iron cattle can no longer ship produce, prices will certainly go up due to increase in transportation costs.43
Yunlin County Council Records Volume 8. (1974). pp. 47–49.
Another Councilor Cheng, Jin-Lun continued to fight for reassembled cars. He said that cities may see no use of “iron cattle”, but in coastal areas they are necessity. In places where transportation is inconvenient, and roads are too narrow for trucks to pass through, iron cattle serve as the best replacement. The only problem is that they are not paying license and fuel taxes.44
In September 1974, former Premier Jiang, Jing-Guo visited Tainan County. Then, Magistrate Gao Yu-Ren appealed to Jiang for recall of the clampdown order. If the order were enforced, Tainan County would be faced with extreme difficulty in shipping crops such as rice and, in particular, sugarcane, which would not be able to be transported to sugar refineries. Gao cited that the yearly yield of sugarcane in Tainan County is 3 million tons, which takes four months to complete harvesting with the assistance of iron cattle. If by animal power, to complete in 4 months would take 600 cattle per day. Given that both animal power and labor force are scarce in the rural area, it is impossible to have so many cattle to carry out the task. Then, the resources can only be wasted (Fig. 20).
Due to oil crisis, Premier Jiang conditionally agreed to delay the clampdown on farmers using iron cattle as a means of transportation. The conditions are as follows:
No increase of new reassembled cars.
The authorities shall start immediately to develop safe and economical vehicles that can replace iron cattle.
Iron cattle currently available can only carry crops, not allowed to run on major roads.
Drivers shall receive traffic safety training.
Following this new direction, Taiwan Provincial Government enacted new measures in 1976 which standardize the requirements for reassembled cars, as well as stipulated to apply for temporary use certificate and to pay license taxes. All the unlicensed reassembled cars thus were legalized for the time being by the so-called Jiang, Jing-Guo Plate (Fig. 21).
Basically, the pleas for reassembled cars were out of rural shipping demand. That is to say, the social circumstance built a platform for reassembling technology, which creates huge number of reassembled cars. The mass number hence rationalizes their existence and translates the inferior vehicles into the backbone of rural economy. Furthermore, to clamp down on them would immediately threaten the rural economy, which can be viewed as a man-made crisis. Their role in relief effort as mentioned before just made the reassembling technology even more appropriate and necessary under the social circumstance.
The third social circumstance to the advantage of reassembled cars is the transportation task in the mountains or on special terrains. Hualien County Government once suggested the Provincial Government postponing the clampdown. Because when visiting rural villages and remote area in Hualien County, Control Yuan members found that reassembled cars are really suitable for its special terrains, with the ability to carry sugarcane on the fields and quarrying gravel in the rivers, due to their horsepower and high chassis. The remaining problems are only their defective brake systems and primitive structure. Before there were enough qualified and functional vehicles to replace them, the County Bureau of Economic Development hoped that the Provincial Government could include reassembled cars into its regulation and postpone the clampdown. Without them, local construction work, disaster relief effort, and crop shipping in places where ordinary cars could not get to would be mission impossible (Fig. 22). Similarly, Hsinchu County is mountainous so transporting crops and agricultural machinery could only rely on reassembled cars. To address farmers' concerns, Magistrate Chen Jin-Sing ordered the Agricultural Bureau and Police Bureau to suspend clampdown. Reassembled cars can also provide passenger transport in mountain areas where no bus is available, such as Wutai Township in Pingtung County. These reassembled cars have to pass through checkpoints so that they can enter into the controlled mountain areas. The police could see the demand in the mountains so they would make an exception for these vehicles. These cases show that in a small island like Taiwan with various landforms, farmers will make use of the land wherever they can. Even in remote area, there are still demands for products shipping, house building, infrastructure construction, and disaster relief (Fig. 23), and only reassembled cars are able to adapt to winding, narrow, or steep terrains.
Be it disaster relief, transportation, or crop shipping, they have all provided unique social circumstances for reassembled cars. If Taiwan practices highly mechanized extensive agriculture just like the USA, there will be no need for reassembled cars. With better policies, farmers in Taiwan can have higher income, so they will not necessarily heavily depend on reassembled cars. The technology behind reassembled cars stems from the historical and social background in the 1950s and 1960s, the geographical conditions in the mountains, and the specific working demand of different areas. With the technology, farmers are able to work in remote areas as well as transport and sell produce all by themselves.
5 Technological Competitive Niche
Reassembled cars have some comparative advantages over mass-manufactured vehicles under certain circumstances.45 The makings of reassembled cars are highly human and flexible, which can be tailored to customers' demands. In contrast, mass-manufactured cars, considering the needs of mass production and economy of scales, are standardized. The flexibility can also be seen from their size. A reassembled car can be linked to a 1×1-m small trailer (Fig. 24) while it can also be as high as 3 to 4 m, like those designed for shipping sugarcane or gravel. In addition, there are various forms of reassembled cars made in accordance with specific demands of customers. For example, the motive power for a reassembled car can be shared by the device that harvests corn or grass for feed (Fig. 25); a transport truck can be converted into a dredging truck just by adding a dredge pump; it can harvest sugarcane by adding a simple device (Fig. 26); it can be modified into a cement truck by adding a cement mixer (Fig. 27).
The following is summarized from the interview records of M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, O2, O3, and F2.
In addition to customized design, farmers also use reassembled cars diversely based on their own needs. For example, a cultivator can spray pesticide by adding a pesticide sprayer to its engine and linking to a 200-m hose (Fig. 28). The same mechanism could also be used on the design of orchard sprayers or to modify into a water pump. The diverse conversion is quite important to farming. On the contrary, a mass-manufactured vehicle can do very little help.
Reassembled cars with more than four wheels are usually 4WD, which allows them to run on fields, mountain areas, beaches, riverbed, and other challenging terrains. This can be seen as the greatest competitive advantage of reassembled cars. It is essential to equip a reassembled car with high chassis, 4WD, and toothed wheels if it were to run on muddy land or on rainy days, or to get into shallow sea to pick oysters or clams (Figs. 29 and 30). To run on ordinary fields, it is often equipped two high-speed wheels in the front and two toothed ones in the back; for slope and farmland, all the four wheels would be toothed ones. In contrast, mass-manufactured vehicles are often 2WD with four high-speed wheels. They are able to enter into farmland or riverbed, but they will find it hard to get out.46 Moreover, to enable farmers to farm on muddy land, makers have developed a 10WD vehicle that has got the patent in many countries (Fig. 31). Technological requirements and design are both determined by the aforementioned geographical circumstances.
Not until the 1990s were there 4WD pickups in Taiwan. The first 4WD pickups in Taiwan were 800 c.c. Subaru imported from Japan. Later, they were replaced consecutively by 800 c.c. and 1,000 c.c. pickups produced by China Motor (based on the interview with M5).
Excerpted from the interview with F9.
Reassembled cars, added with 3.5 L diesel engines, could have over 40 tons of carrying capacity. With the same engines, mass-manufactured vehicles can only have 7 to 10 tons. For reassembled cars, carrying capacity and adaptability to different terrains are more important than speed, so they focus on torque instead of horsepower. To this end, they are equipped with a four-speed gearbox, not a five-speed one (Fig. 33). Moreover, because they do not run long-distance or on highways, the assembling need not be too particular, and comfort is not their priority. Their cost thus can be reduced. The increase of unit carrying capacity means the increase in unit productivity and income. Another factor is the aging of rural population. Many old farmers are illiterate so they are not able to pass the written exam and get a driver's license. Since reassembled cars are illegal, naturally no driver's license is required, which has popularized reassembled cars in the rural area. Without a registration plate, farmers do not have to pay license tax, fuel tax, and other fees. This can also make up to the rural area economically and emotionally.
The gap between cities and the countryside reflects not only in education, culture, health care and economic development but also in the services provided by major carmakers. Comparatively, buying a reassembled car can enjoy much better services. Generally speaking, a maker serves only a couple of villages. These makers not only assemble cars but also provide maintenance services. Considering the mobility of farmers and scattered rural settlements, makers sometimes would go on-site to fix the problems. The simple structure of reassembled cars also allows makers to go on-site with simple tools. The considerate services have made them popular among customers. Some makers regard themselves as a service provider; assembling is only minor in their business.48 By serving customers in their neighborhood, they can have far better mobility and network with local community than major carmakers.49
Excerpted from the interview with M2.
Some reassembled car makers with great reputation can have customers from Taoyuan to Tainan. In Siluo produce market and its neighborhood, most reassembled cars used are manufactured by makes in the Siluo area.
Reassembled cars are also relatively safe. Due to shipping demand, they focus on torque instead of speed (normally under 30 km/h).50 For this reason, they are safer for old farmers that are less responsive. In order to avoid clampdown, they often drive slowly and keep to the side.51 This has increased safety as well. In addition, a reassembled car is not used frequently and for long hours per day, so it is often built upon a -shaped steel frame, which far exceeds its safety requirement (Fig. 34). With much slower speed, reassembled cars will endure less impact even if an accident does occur. In contrast, thinner and lighter steel are often used on mass-manufactured vehicles because speed is one of their priorities. So, there are often more casualties when they crash.
The interviewee F7 said that he did not accept an old taxi given by his son, since he considers that the speed of a sedan is too fast for an old man like him. As a result, he still drives or rides his reassembled car or motorcycle.
According to the interviewee M2 who makes reassembled cars, he often reminds his customers to respect other drivers and keeps to the side when driving reassembled cars, so that they will not be clamped down by the police. A police officer O4 also said that if kept to the side and driven slowly, the police will not clamp down on reassembled cars.
After Premier Jiang ordered not to clamp down on reassembled cars, then TSC general manager Yu Ying-Biao pointed out in KMT-run Central Daily News that many country roads are narrow, winding, and bumpy, where iron cattle can be put to use. In addition, they are assembled by ironworks with old engines and cannibalized parts. So, they are popular among farmers due to cheaper prices. Having rationalized the existence of reassembled cars by presenting geographical and social circumstances, Yu further provided expert opinions to endorse reassembled cars, to counter the stigma put on them:
An U.S. automobile expert was surprised to see one of iron cattle with a dumper during his visit to Taiwan. He was even more surprised when he found that the production cost was so low. He thinks that the design could be award-winning in the U.S.
By citing the opinion of a foreign expert, the technology behind reassembled cars had gained new approval. What is unique about Yu's endorsement is his citing statistics to prove that their accident rate is much lower than that of mass-manufactured vehicles:
Take March 1973 for example. The accident rate per 10,000 private large passenger cars is 367; business passenger cars, 673; business trucks, 1353; business pick-up trucks, 675; iron cattle, 201, the lowest among the five.
The stigmatization had long been based on “unsafety”, to be specific, high accident rate. But the authorities never provided statistics to support their rhetoric. Yu, as the first to cite numbers, proved the impression to be wrong—their accident rate is the lowest. That is to say, reassembled cars are relatively safe. Compared with the stigmatizing by the government, makers and users have provided a new perspective: Reassembled cars are safer than mass-manufactured cars when put in a proper context.
Competitiveness of reassembled cars can be discussed from their cost and be compared to that of small and middle enterprises (SMEs). The competitiveness of SMEs does not rely on the productivity of a single manufacturer. Instead, by their specialized division of labor and flexible complement, they have formed a network, which has shaped their strong competitiveness. The production process is broken down into separate tasks that are assigned to different plants, and the central plant will do the assembling in the end. All the plants involved form a “collaborated network”. In the network, the central plant is in charge of orders, material supply, specifications, assembling, quality control, and sales while satellite plants are only responsible for manufacturing the parts assigned to them.
Reassembled car makers across the island not only are very similar to SMEs in terms of collaborated network and competitiveness but they also have their own unique technological pattern. First, the parts they use are mostly second-hand standardized ones which come from auto salvage yards. Whether they are from local salvage yards or imported as discarded hardware, basically a reassembled car maker can be seen as the central plant which purchases parts from its “virtual collaborated network”. It is true that the old parts were originally ordered by the central plant of a car manufacturer. But after used for 10 to 20 years, they have become discarded hardware, obtained by the reassembled car maker. Although it is not the maker which orders the parts from those specialized plants, it does not have to produce by itself either. So, the sources of these used parts can be regarded as its virtual collaborated network.
The virtual collaborated network provides the maker with mass-manufactured parts (Fig. 35), which are already much cheaper than handmade ones, not to mention if they are second hand. That is to say, a reassembled car maker can spend very little in parts. Moreover, these second-hand parts are standardized products with standard interface. This makes it easier for the maker to assemble a car and cuts down unnecessary cost. In addition, their rectangular steel structure needs no mold making and punching machines. This also lowers the production cost.
Due to the illegal status of reassembled cars, neither farmers nor makers have to pay taxes. Low-income farmers can thus save some money.52 Also, they are slow and less used, so the maintenance is relatively easy. In addition, they can run as long as over 20 years (Fig. 36) while the average life expectancy of mass-manufactured cars is 10 years, and trucks overloaded on a regular basis only 5 years.53 Most reassembled cars run on diesel fuel, so they cost less than cars run on gasoline.54
The factory price of large-sized reassembled cars is about NTD $200,000 (US$6,000), while NTD $70,000–100,000 (US $2,100–3,000) for smaller ones. Either one is only one third to one fifth of the factory prices of mass-manufactured cars with similar functions. According to the interviewee F3, a second-hand reassembled cars can be purchased at a price as low as NTD$20,000 to 30,000 (US $600–900).
Take the interviewee F6 who works in the maintenance department of Yuelong Motor for example, he bought a reassembled car at NTD $30,000 (US $900) 3 years ago. He only uses his reassembled car for transporting crops and fertilizer, so it rarely requires maintenance. In his opinion, a reassembled cars can be used for 10–20 years due to low use frequency.
The unit price of diesel fuel is only about 70% of that of gasoline.
To sum up, reassembled cars can survive because they have found their niche. They do not compete with mass-manufactured cars on speed, comfort, handling, or interiors. Their greatest advantage is their responding to the circumstances of Taiwan's rural area. Of course, people with different needs may see them in a different light. For example, a 4WD mass-manufactured car may cost three times as much as a 4WD reassembled car, but it is still favored by young people because of the comfort, speed, less noise, image, and exterior. Unlike a reassembled car, they can drive it long distance and on highways. These features are “advantages” to young people. Reassembled cars do not try to compete over performance; instead, they compete over their adaptability to the needs and values in a given circumstance (Figs. 37 and 38). By bringing their advantage—customized services—into full play, the rural area has seen a great number of reassembled cars. The force is too huge to be put out by the government. That is why they can run across the countryside for decades without license plates.
Reassembled cars can be seen everywhere in Taiwan. In the past decades, the government has taken measures such as negative persuasion, technology requirements, alienation, clampdown, phase-out, and developed standard agricultural vehicles to eradicate reassembled cars. However, reassembled cars are able to take advantage of the social context and rationalize their existence. They have not only gained support or sympathy but also overturned the conventional concept of safety, which allows them to fight against official clampdown.
Into the twenty-first century, again the government tried to clamp down on reassembled cars that ship cargo, but then came the September 21 earthquake in 1999. To support the military's reconstruction effort in the disaster area, Ministry of Transportation and Communication issued an emergency order to mobilize vehicles for the first time since KMT's retreat to Taiwan. Vehicles that were mobilized at the first stage included 15 reassembled cars. Meanwhile, township offices across Taiwan all demanded to postpone the clampdown on reassembled cars for the convenience of reconstruction work. Many houses waited to be torn down were in narrow streets. So, township offices had to employ small reassembled cars with great handling to transport debris. In addition, there was little safety concern because they were slow and drivers were experienced. Once again, the local authorities supported reassembled cars to meet the current demand, especially emphasizing on their “safety”.
The repeated official clampdown means repeated failure in previous attempts, while the support of local authorities and elected representatives shows the importance of reassembled cars in the rural area. The government has tried to regulate them with “Jiang, Jing-Guo Plate” and other measures and to develop standard agricultural vehicles to replace them. But policies and technology that leave the social context just cannot last.
In addition to surviving the clampdown, reassembled cars also have to compete against mass-manufactured vehicles for customers like farmers, fishers, and cargo carriers. Reassembled cars can survive because they have found their niche. They do not compete with mass-manufactured cars on speed, comfort, handling, or interiors.
Their greatest advantage is their responding to the circumstances of Taiwan'srural area. Their external advantages include their services and adaptability to all kinds of environments, not to mention that they are license-free and tax-free. Internal advantages include their safety, low prices, and flexibility in production and use, thanks to the collaborated network consisting of salvage yards and reassembled car makers.
Reassembled cars are left out in the discussion about Taiwan'seconomic and industrial development. Neither can they be seen in courses of any mechanical engineering department or costly feel-good auto commercials. Nevertheless, the many reassembled car makers, built upon their collaborated network, have responded to Taiwan's social development. This not only gives them a competitive niche but also, most importantly, they have supported the economic development in many sectors.