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Desperate times call for desperate measures. One can’t really live this idiom unless you’re well into those “desperate times”. And does a global, industry-halting pandemic count as a desperate time? Well, based on the responses of economic movers and shakers, including those in the erstwhile booming automotive sector, it very well is.

Without a doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic and society’s response to it forced businesses to step on the brakes to give way to unprecedented health measures. Customers put off purchases and postponed their reservations. Shops and dealerships saw their inventories not move. The middle quarters of 2020 saw worrying slumps in car sales, and solutions, specifically the cure or vaccine to the virus, was still far from reality. Car companies had to do what they had to do. In order to jumpstart sales, they had to let some sparks fly.

So, we saw an abundance of discounts and freebies for vehicle car purchases, not just to make the sale, but to get the inventories moving again in order to make room for new stocks. One of the more radical promos was Hyundai Asia Resources Inc’s “Buy 1 Take 1” promo held sometime in June and July, wherein several Hyundai dealers offered a Hyundai-branded sedan for free for every purchase of a Grand Santa Fe. Heck, some even threw in a free motorbike to further sweeten the deal.

During the Inquirer’s Dec. 9 INQclusive webinar series held in celebration of the broadsheet’s 35thanniversary, the focus of the discussions, which revolved around how the Philippine automotive industry would move forward from the pandemic, eventually shifted back to what arguably was one of the most audacious moves by any automotive company, and Hari president and CEO Fe Perez-Agudo was just more than willing to set the record straight on that scheme.

When webinar moderator and multimedia specialist Ardie Lopez began the topic on the automotive companies’ ways of moving inventories, Perez-Agudo, as if on cue, had a ready remark: “This is my first time to officially answer (about) that promo. To begin with, I love the Hari Hyundai network. They were the ones who coined the ‘buy 1 take 1’ promo, and we gave them that sense of flexibility, independence to do what has to be done at that particular moment. I can’t buy back the stock, that’s number one. We had to do something about it, and they (the dealers) were asking for support.

“At the end of the day, the questions (that must be asked) are, ‘Was it successful?’ No one can say. ‘Did it disrupt the market?’ If it did, probably it is correct because everyone had no choice but to do something. And whether they have to do better than what we have offered is a decision of the distributor. Then, ‘Did it ruin the brand?’ I would say we have had some revelations afterwards that Hyundai was an aspirational car. We wanted it, but this was already an opportunity to grab one while this offer is being made,” Agudo explained.

She added, “Now, shall we wait for the next offer? I think we have to learn something. Filipinos have very short memories when it comes to experience. They will forget the promos the way we want to forget about Covid. But what they will never forget is their experience with the brand. What was their experience with the car they bought? What was their customer journey with us? This is more important. This is really about the culture and values of the Filipino.”

The hype was real, though. Perez-Agudo revealed: “The promo generated 200,000 votes (in social media) in three days. We were the talk of the town then in a few days. Of course, we can’t offer that kind of promo anymore, but nobody stopped buying Hyundai. Filipinos are still buying Hyundai even without the promo. And I don’t think the other brands lost sales because of the promo. The number one is still number one. Other brands kept their rankings. We just did what had to be done for that very moment. That’s what you call a strategy. And it’s over. Congratulations to those who were able to take advantage of the promo.”

And just like that, the current president of the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors (Avid) and the president and CEO of newcomer Changan Motor Philippines Inc virtually stole the show. Doubtless, the webinar’s other powerhouse guests—lawyer Rommel Gutierrez, president of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines (Campi), Antonio Toti Zara, president of AC Motors, and lawyer Albert Arcilla, president of The Covenant Car Company Inc—also had equally important things to say about what transpired and what will be in the auto industry, but nobody “seizes” the moment quite like the “Iron Lady”.

Whether or not times are desperate.

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