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Things are finally looking up for the beleaguered automotive industry as sales jumped 225.4 percent from May to June for CAMPI and 198 percent for AVID.

         The stars of the first semester are Suzuki and Morris Garages (MG). 

         MG, a fabled British brand now owned by China’s SAIC Motor Corporation, amazed the industry by breaking into ranks of the top 10 performers with 1,801 total vehicle sales, although it couldn’t be included in our top 10 chart since its sales figures were still not reflected in the latest Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors (AVID) report.

         PDI Motoring, when reporting on the industry’s sales performance, relies on the data officially released by CAMPI and AVID. But an official source from MG confirmed the semestral performance.

         While MG unofficially broke into the top 10, Suzuki gained entry into the elite top 5 circle.

CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM

         The joint year-to-date June 2020 sales report of CAMPI and the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA) showing 15,578 units sold in June compared to 4,788 in May, was accompanied with a press statement from CAMPI president Rommel Gutierrez.

CAMPI president Atty. Rommel Gutierrez

         “This positive growth shows early signs that consumer demand for new cars is starting to improve albeit slowly,” said Gutierrez. “We remain cautiously optimistic amid the prevalent social and economic risks and uncertainties the country is facing. The auto industry recovery may take time as vehicle sales will remain a challenge.”

         The optimism generated by the month-on-month sales growth is tempered by the reality that compared with the first semester sales of 2019, the January-to-June 2020 sales of 85,041 units reflects a 51.2 percent decline.

         Gutierrez, who is concurrently 1st vice president of Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation (TMP), observed that the industry is maximizing digital platforms as one of the avenues to strengthen their post-lockdown sales campaigns.

         The transition to digital solutions adapts to the “new normal” environment where stay-at-home and social distancing protocols are still practiced to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

AVID’S STATUS

         Meanwhile, AVID reported that its 21 member companies representing 25 global brands posted 3,697 units in sales in June, a 198 percent increase from the 1,239 units sold last May.

AVID president Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo

         Despite the sales growth in June, AVID president Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo cautioned that many factors may continue to dampen industry sales in the coming months even as quarantine guidelines are relaxed and more businesses reopen.

         When dealerships were closed for over two months in the first half of 2020, AVID sales dropped by 54.8 percent from the 43,082 units sold in the first semester of 2019 to 19,455 units in the same period this year.

         “While AVID members and their partner dealerships have gone to great lengths to COVID-proof their facilities, strengthen online e-commerce assets, and offer extraordinary promotions and deals to win back customers and encourage buying, headwinds remain,” Agudo said.  “These include lower remittances, weaker demand, and the prospect of a second wave, so we can’t let our guard down.”

         Agudo, who is concurrently president and CEO of Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc., noted that more and more innovations are coming up in the industry, highlighted by quick, efficient, and “contact-less” services that allow the car companies to adapt and create a “better normal” for the industry.

         “This is not the industry’s first crisis, but it is surely the most challenging,” she said.  “We can’t face it alone, so we are closely working with government and other stakeholders to help contain the pandemic while gradually reviving the industry in a safe and sustainable manner.”

SERIES OF CRISES

         Indeed, the auto industry has survived a series of crises in recent years.

         After posting an industry high of 448,107 total vehicle sales in 2017, encouraging industry leaders to dream of 500,000 unit sales in 2020, the Philippine auto industry was confronted with tough challenges.

         It started with the imposition of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law that increased the excise tax on new car sales effective January 1, 2018.

         In September 2018, automotive sales were derailed further by a runaway inflation rate that soared to 6.7 percent, causing CAMPI/TMA sales to plunge to 357,410 units.

         CAMPI/TMA and AVID closed 2018 with total sales of 382,361 units, a 16 percent drop compared to 2017.

          2019 was a better year for CAMPI/TMA due to a 3.5 percent uptick in sales to 369,941 units sold compared to 2018’s 357,410.  It was less than the 410,000 sales target for 2019, but CAMPI/TMA nevertheless welcomed the positive figures after ending 2018 with a double-digit decline in 2018.

         What happened to the auto industry in the years from 2017 to 2019 pointed to only one thing: the vision of selling half a million vehicles by year-end 2020 was fading fast.

         The coronavirus pandemic quickly killed that fading dream.  The auto industry– in fact, the whole country and the whole world – was totally unprepared for Covid-19 and the sudden shutdown of the economy starting March 16, 2020.

         CAMPI/TMA reported a 65.7 percent decline in sales in March 2020 with 11,209 units sold compared to 32,173 units in the same month of 2019.

         AVID posted a 34.4 percent dip in first quarter sales amid the lockdown caused by the pandemic.

         The only winner in the first quarter was Kia (Adventure Cycle PH, Inc.)  which sold 923 units to grab 9th place in the consolidated top 10 list, pushing Foton down to 10th place.

         The impact of the almost three-month lockdown in the Philippines is further reflected in the YTD June 2020 sales figures posted by the top three market leaders of CAMPI.

         Toyota sold 35,648 vehicles compared to 73,454 in the same period last year, while Mitsubishi scored 15,133 sales compared to 30,470 in 2019, and Nissan’s sales slid to 9,708 units versus 21,060 in the year-ago period (see chart.)

THE RISE OF SUZUKI AND MG

         Like in the first quarter of 2020, the top 10 sales performers’ rankings remain essentially the same at the close of the first half except for the rise of Suzuki to no. 5 from 7th, leapfrogging over Ford and Honda in the process.

         Suzuki, which is known globally for its small but sporty vehicles, sold 5,660 units in the first semester, 293 more than Ford’s 5,367 and 487 units more than Honda’s 5,173.  Suzuki is now the new member of the elite Top 5 circle, which is still led by Toyota, followed by Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Hyundai.

         At the same time, the 6th to 10th rankings would have been reshuffled had Morris Garages (MG) been already registered as an AVID member and its 1,801 units sold had been  included in the official counting.

         MG was launched in Manila in October 2018 by The Covenant Car Company, Inc. (TCCI), the distributor of Chevrolet vehicles.  MG offers four affordable models in several variants.

         If MG had been included in the counting, it would have replaced Foton (1,038 units sold) at 9th place and eliminated Kia (1,012 units sold) from the top 10.

SUMMING UP

         The competitive achievements of Suzuki and MG, the digital innovations and virus-resilient marketing strategies developed by industry players, the sales growth from month to month, plus the gradual easing of quarantine restrictions and the eventual development of a vaccine — all these generate hope for the automotive industry’s full recovery. Only a timetable is missing.