HARARE – The Toyota Raum is an “unassuming” little car. If we were to give it human characteristics, it would be an introvert.
Much like my namesake, minister Francis Nhema — quiet but effective in his own way.
The car doesn’t have the looks of its more “showy” cousins the Toyota Altezza or the Runx which cry out to be looked at.
With its “blunt” looks, it has been elbowing out its “better looking” cousin the Toyota Spacio as the car of choice for taxi operators.
And of late, it proved its “mettle” when it was used as a getaway car after a robbery in Avondale.
Notorious Mbare robber Boris Mushonga perished when he and of his “partners in crime” were involved in a head-on collision with a bus on Beatrice Road.
The horrific accident happened after the car burst a front tyre.
Elsewhere in the world, robbers prefer to use the more powerful turbo-charged models to enhance their prospects of getting away.
But the Mbare robbers may have used the Raum to con unsuspecting commuters into getting a lift from them.
The car is extensively used as a commuter car on the city-Parirenyatwa-Avondale route.
The “little car” is also being used on a city-to-city route from 4th Street to Copacabana.
On the fateful day, the robbers are said to have snatched $17 000 from a woman who probably had jumped into the car for a lift.
Who would have suspected that a Toyota Raum would be used by robbers. The money has yet to be recovered.
Because of its fuel efficiency, the Raum’s 1,5 litre engine is particularly suited for the now congested streets of Harare and the stop-start driving required under such conditions.
The Toyota Spacio, also with a 1,5 litre engine, has been the favourite car for taxis after dollarisation in 2009.
But initially, taxi operators rushed for the Toyota Ipsum, a seven-seater, that could be used to carry passengers to work in the mornings but could then be used on the city.
The Ipsum was quickly dumped because its 2 litre engine was uneconomical on fuel.
Demand for the Toyota Spacio was driven by the World Cup which was held in South Africa in 2010, the first time the event was staged on the continent.
Government allowed tourism operators to import cars duty-free. The result was a proliferation of the Toyota Spacio which was the tourism operators’ pick.
With the economy growing at an average seven percent then, hopes were high Zimbabwe would get a big spillover of the world cup crowds to watch games south of the border.
The police even trained tourism officers who were to guide the multitudes of tourists who were expected to come.
But the crowds expected for the world cup did not materialise.
The country was still emerging from a decade-long economic decline.
Some have blamed the hospitality industry for pricing themselves out of the market.
With the overtraded taxi industry, some turned the Spacios into “bedrooms” where revellers turned their tricks at night at the many drinking holes that dotted the city.
There were threats Japanese grey imports would be stopped by October 2010 which resulted in accelerated imports of cars, sending Zimbabweans across the border in Musina and further away in Durban to buy cars.
People changed their choice of cars as taxi operators began dumping the Spacio for the Raum.
The taxi industry has for a long time been dogged by liquidity problems.
Thanks to dollarisation, the industry seems to have been rejuvenated.
Soon after independence in 1980, when Rixi taxis dominated the taxi ranks, it was the Datsun 120y and the Renault 4s that held sway at taxi ranks.
Those models were remnants from the sanctions busting era when the French traded with the Smith regime.
It was not until the Esap era after 1993 when the Nissan Sunny (box) took over from the Datsun 120y as the favourite car for taxi operators.
The game moved from Nissan to Toyota after dollarisation and has remained in the Toyota stable ever since.
Hyundai muscled in on the taxi turf briefly, when for the first time, it offered brand new cars to taxi operators, but the South Korean car faded as it lacked spares support. Today, one can hardly see a Hyundai taxi in the city.
And so for the time being, the “little car” rules the roost on the taxi turf, with the help of its cousin the Spacio.