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I’ve shared time, knowledge and wisdom from many wise and learned gentlemen in my almost two decades in the industry, allowing me to feel the pulse of the market, understand its direction and keep my eyes out on rising trends. I had an honest, sincere and down-to-earth chat with a few of these executives, and begged them to give an honest opinion on what’s going to happen, a departure from the usual heavily-sanitized official press releases from the industry associations and the large multi-national car companies run by veteran professional executives.

The first person I spoke to was Mr. Roberto Coyiuto III, president and CEO of PGA Cars, scion of the Coyiuto empire that has interests in insurance, stock market brokerage, petroleum / oil and mining exploration, power distribution and of course, automobiles. Mr. Coyiuto III fortunately still has an optimistic view on things. He believes that certain brands have good prospects despite the COVID-19 epidemic and the impending economic downturn. Says Mr. Coyiuto III: ‘we remain upbeat about certain brands that have a very small niche market and limited supply. Porsche and Bentley have loyal fans that are eagerly awaiting the release of our latest models. They might delay the purchase of these vehicles for a few months, but have shown great interest. Our other brands like Lamborghini will likely remain flat in terms of growth because the Italian brand also has a very small market, and they currently have no new models scheduled for release in our market for 2020. For Audi, 2019 was our best year after our highly successful factory supported sale so we knew 2020 would be slower. But the counter-point is we also have to examine our clients considering that  many of our clients are businessmen in different industries. We have to look if their industries, and their respective businesses were massively affected by the COVID10 Pandemic.’  It is refreshing, because despite the fact that the industry will be down this year, anywhere from 20%-30%, a family-run corporation is hopeful about the industry.

I was also able to get the views of Francis Ang, another scion and heir-apparent, this time of Felix Ang, founder of the Auto Nation Group and its predecessor, CATS Motors which holds stewardship of Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler/Dodge, Jaguar and Land Rover plus the Harley-Davidson motorcycle brand. While Mr. Ang declined to comment on their sales prospects for 2020, he did impart wisdom in the form of getting ready for ‘the new normal.’ Says Mr. Ang: ‘It’s hard to judge the overall impact of the COVID19 pandemic on our sales given the multitude of variables in both supply and demand. Best I can say is we are preparing ourselves for the ‘new normal’. ANG is currently studying our customer’s experience and how we interact with all our touch-points: website, showrooms, service facilities etc. And we are looking at eliminating the friction points that the pandemic presents (test drives, payment options, home delivery, etc). It will definitely not going to be a quick transition, but that’s how we are spending our time this lockdown, investing our time in the future for the ‘new normal.’ Those are definitely laudable inputs from a visionary entrepreneur which are preparing for the future and being pro-active rather than simply reacting.

An outlier in this group is perhaps Mr. Nicky Mariano who is old enough to be considered an industry veteran, but very much in the prime of his life, sharing the views of many younger executives. He is a real survivor and a realist-optimist, a rarity for someone his age in the industry. Now heading Legado Motors which holds the GAC brand, Mr. Mariano has seen the very highs and lows the industry has gone through, and is confident that we will survive, but not without paying a heavy price. There is always hope, but Mr. Mariano concurs that we have to rethink how we do business in the future, as the car industry has a lot of human interaction. Mr. Mariano says: ‘the industry will suffer huge losses for 2020, possibly 20%-40% compared to 2019, and we have to rethink how we do business: selling activities, interacting with people in general and meeting their needs amidst fears for similar re-occurrence of the pandemic. The industry, together with the finance sector will surely be thinking up of ways to make car ownership easier, just to help support and sustain the momentum the industry has had through the years, even at the expense of absolute profit. But there is still opportunity, especially for smaller players like GAC. Social distancing means people will, more than ever need to stay isolated, making public transport very tricky. Yet people still need to move, work and study. That’s where our brand comes in: we make a very tempting proposition due to our pricing and the technology we deliver: our GAC models meet Euro V emissions standards, deliver excellent fuel efficiency, and in the near future, will be one of the leaders in EV technology. Our air-conditioning system is also highly advanced, allowing to filter most known forms of germs, bacteria and virus and as we know, post COVID19, health, hygiene and overall wellness will be on top of everyone’s minds. Overall, the industry is far more stable and solid to survive, albeit taking heavy losses, in a global crisis like this.”  

The last person I spoke to is Mr. Spencer Yu, the President of SMC Asia Cars Distributors Inc., the automotive arm of San Miguel Corporation. Young, aggressive and very dedicated to his brand, the head of BMW Philippines has also experienced many of the recent global downturns which have affected the industry.  Interestingly, he had this to say about the matter, hinting that in the short term, the industry will be down, but there are far more pressing matters to deal with. Says Mr. Yu: ‘As with many other industries today, these are tough times for the Philippine automotive industry. While it is still too early to gauge the full impact of the crisis, it will definitely hit sales, particularly in the premium car segment. However, given the health crisis our whole country is grappling with right now, these numbers do not matter. As a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation, our focus now as SMC Asia Car Distributors Corp. (BMW Philippines) is to follow the example of our parent company and do what we can to help those around us. We bring to life the San Miguel value of “malasakit” by ensuring the safety and well-being of our team members. Their personal safety and job security remain our priority. Despite the current situation, we look forward to working with all our dealers, suppliers, and other partners to reinvigorate our industry, on which many people depend. Most of all, we remain committed to our customers and our communities, who can continue to expect our very best.’

So there you have it, insights, knowledge and opinion from rising stars in the industry. Overall, they are in for the long haul, and nasty bumps down the road are part of the game. But they have honestly shown faith and crucially, commitment to the local automotive industry given their views and plans.