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Is the glass half full or half empty?  In the first half of 2021, the automotive industry scored robust growth in total vehicle sales compared to the same year-ago period, but month-on-month growth was paltry.
In a joint report, the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. (CAMPI) and the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA) stated that sales in June 2021 reached 22,550 units versus the 15,578 units posted in the same period last year, indicating a 44.8% growth.

Year-to-date, according to CAMPI/ TMA, the industry has sold 132,767 units, a 56.1% improvement over the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors, Inc. (AVID) reported a 55% increase in total vehicle sales for the first semester of 2021 as reflected by 30,153 units sold compared to 19,509 units in the same period in 2020.

However, the good news was tempered by slower month-on-month sales results.  CAMPI/TMA posted a weak 2.2% growth in June 2021 versus the previous month, while AVID reported that June sales improved over those of May “by a hairline” from 4,871 units to 4,936 units sold.

CAMPI president Rommel Gutierrez, who is concurrently First Vice President of Toyota Motor Philippines, commented that “the industry is coping with the pandemic, recording a double-digit growth of nearly 49%, but measly growing by 2.2% versus the previous month.  This is a respite amid the less buoyant consumer outlook for big-ticket items for the second quarter of this year, according to a government survey.”

He added that “the auto industry continues to adjust to the effects of the pandemic, at the same time striving to strike a balance between its contribution to the economy and keeping its stakeholders safe and healthy during these unprecedented times.”

AVID president Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo, who is concurrently president of Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. and Changan Motor Philippines, was buoyed by the 33% growth of AVID sales in June 2021 when 4,936 units were sold versus 3,698s in June 2020.

“It has been an uphill struggle for the automotive industry, more so among importers, but the recent numbers are encouraging,” Agudo noted.  “As our nation progresses towards achieving herd immunity, the automotive industry has proven resilient and poised to emerge stronger than ever.  With better prospects ahead, we will continue to give our best to ensure the complete recovery of the industry.  This much, we owe the Filipino people.”

THE COVETED 3RD.  Industry players who succeed in breaking into the Top 10 honor roll eventually aim for the Magic 5 Circle and, ultimately, the coveted No. 3 rank.  Third place is the highest rank within reach for Top 10 performers since market leaders Toyota Motor PH Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors PH Corp. are literally impossible to overtake in sales.

Competition for the No. 3 spot heated up after the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in early 2020.  Pre-pandemic, Hyundai Asia Resources occupied the prized 3rd place for nine consecutive years, from 2010 to mid-2019, until it was replaced by Nissan PH, Inc.

By the end of the first quarter this year, however, Nissan had been overtaken by Ford Motor Co. PH, Inc.  Ford in January 2021 leapfrogged from 6th place to 4th place over 5th placer Suzuki PH, Inc. and 4th placer Hyundai.
At the same time, Suzuki outsold Hyundai to remain in 5th place.  So when Ford replaced Nissan at No. 3 in April, Suzuki moved up from No. 5 to No. 4 by outscoring Nissan in sales.

Last May, it became clear that Suzuki with its continuous upward trajectory in sales would challenge Ford for the No. 3 perch. Ford led Suzuki by only 47 more units sold in May.  Suzuki finally succeeded this June by selling 9,987 vehicles versus Ford’s 9,855.  That’s a slim lead of 132 units, but it’s bigger than 47 and pegs Suzuki to the No. 3 spot for now.
Meanwhile, the other players in the Top 10 retain their May 2021 rankings: Nissan at No. 5, Isuzu PH Corp. at No. 6, Honda Cars PH, Inc. at No. 7, Hyundai at No. 8, Sojitz G Auto PH, the distributor of Geely, at No. 9, and KP Motors Corp., the Kia distributor, at No. 10 (see graph.)

SMALL VS BIG.  Suzuki’s victory over Ford reads like a David vs Goliath legend.  Suzuki is globally recognized for its small, budget-priced vehicles like the Celerio, while Ford is known for its big, brawny pickup trucks like the Ranger Raptor.  

While Suzuki offers a dozen models in subcompact and minicar sizes:  passenger cars in sedan and hatchback configurations, crossovers, SUVs, MPVs and mini cargo van with prices ranging from less than P600,000 for the Dzire subcompact sedan to P1.468M for the subcompact crossover Vitara, Ford sells 12 variants of the Ranger, one of the Ranger Raptor, and no passenger cars.  The price of a 2021 Ford Ranger starts at P1.155M and goes up to P1.998M for the Ranger Raptor.

In a lockdown economy where the capacity of the public transportation system is limited to curb the spread of the virus, people would logically look for more convenient and safer means of mobility.  A small, practical, affordable vehicle would fill this need rather than a big, gas-guzzling pickup truck.

This is not to say that there is no market for pickups.  Well-heeled consumers who like to drive a truck as a lifestyle statement (even if they rarely, if ever, go off-roading) or who need a truck for farm work or to transport heavy stuff, constitute a large and lucrative segment of the market.

Toyota Motor PH, for example, lists its Hilux pickup as its second best-selling model (8,856 units sold in the 1st half of the year) after the subcompact sedan Vios (16,807 units sold), the country’s top-selling motor vehicle across all brands and categories.  The Hilux even outsold the mini subcompact hatchback Wigo (8,707 units sold.)

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