Auto industry hoping to sustain the gains of 2021 despite pandemic hangover

The Philippine automotive industry had reason to enter this last month of the year with more than the usual optimism.

The year-to-date November 2021 joint sales report of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. (CAMPI) and Truck Manufacturers’ Association (TMA) showed that their members have sold 240,642 units, a 22.7% growth versus the same period last year. If the YTD November sales report of the Association of Vehicle Imports and Distributors (AVID) were to be added, that total number would surely increase.

In fact, according to CAMPI president Rommel Gutierrez, as early as last month the industry had already surpassed the overall sales of 2020. On a per month basis, total vehicle sales of CAMPI and TMA reached 26,456 in November, reflecting a 17.2% increase over the 22,581 units recorded in the previous month.

“Surpassing our last year’s sales performance gives the industry renewed hope that recovery is underway as restrictions started easing and economic activities have resumed at improved levels,” said Gutierrez, who is concurrently First Vice President of Toyota Motor Philippines.

He added that the paradigm shift to online sales and marketing methods and activities will definitely continue. “This has become a viable strategy for the automotive industry to meet the needs of our stakeholders.”

However, he pointed out that the industry “remains cautious and on guard at the same time on the uncertainties brought by the COVID-19 mutations, which hopefully will not undermine our recovery.”

So far, the industry’s good luck has held. Despite the recent arrival from overseas of three persons infected with Omicron, COVID’s newest and most transmissible mutation, Alert Level 2 allowing moderate economic activities remains. Meanwhile, some countries in Europe are again locking down or imposing stiffer restrictions as the Omicron virus sweeps across the continent. The Philippines could tell them, “Been there, done that,” having successfully curbed the spread of the Delta virus by November 2021.

The industry’s revised sales target for 2020, taking into account the longest and hardest lockdown in the region, was 240,000 units. CAMPI, TMA and AVID together managed to surpass that target with 245,222 total sales. Although it was way below the 419,106 total vehicle sales achieved in 2019 before the pandemic crippled the economy, the industry had survived its most challenging year and entered 2021 hoping for a slow but steady recovery.

At the end of 2020, the Top 10 in sales were:

JANUARY SCRAMBLE

The year began with a bang when the Top 10 rankings were suddenly scrambled. Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. (HARI), which had been No. 3 for nine consecutive years until it was overtaken by Nissan in 2019, dropped out of the Top 5 as 6th placer Ford leapfrogged over No. 5 Suzuki and No. 4 Hyundai to grab 4th place. Hyundai thus sank to No. 6, an endangered position as Honda Cars PH, Inc. was only 24 units behind.

Also in January, Geely, the brand relaunched in September 2019 by Sojitz G Auto PH (SGAP), moved up to No. 9 from No. 10 by outselling Foton Motors PH. A year earlier, Geely had gained entry to the Top 10 by selling more vehicles than 10th placer Kia PH (now KP Motors Corp.)

At the end of the first quarter, CAMPI and AVID reported that sales declined in March compared to February due to the imposition of a provisional safeguard duty adding more tariffs on imported motor vehicles, plus the renewed lockdown in the National Capital Region and nearby provinces that forced dealers to shut down operations. On the other hand, the industry managed to post an 8.9% Q1 year-on-year increase in sales.

Ford was on a roll in March, selling enough vehicles (5,194) to be only four units away from catching up with 3rd placer Nissan (5,198 units sold.) Ford’s surge in sales may be traced to the Territory, the affordably priced, made-in-China subcompact SUV that is loaded with high tech features.

Meanwhile, Hyundai slid farther down in March from No. 6 to No. 7 as Honda Cars PH, Inc. sold 186 more vehicles than the Korean carmaker.

THE BEST MONTH FOR FORD AND SUZUKI

Ford and Suzuki had their best month in April when both brands moved up the Top 5 ladder.

In April, 4th placer Ford scored YTD sales of 6,532 vehicles versus Nissan’s 6,221 and thereby replaced Nissan as No. 3.

At the same time, Suzuki registered 6,390 YTD sales compared to Nissan’s 6,221, thus enabling it to rise to No. 4. Nissan, which had been No. 3 since mid-2019, was relegated to No. 5.

Among the three- Ford, Suzuki and Nissan – Suzuki was the best performer for April with 1,695 units sold that month. And since Suzuki was only 172 units behind Ford, Japan’s small car specialist had reason to aim for the No. 3 spot.

STRONG YEAR-ON-YEAR GROWTH IN 1ST HALF

In the first semester of 2021, the industry scored strong growth in total vehicle sales compared to the same year-ago period, but month-on-month growth was tepid. CAMPI and TMA reported that YTD sales indicated a 56.1% improvement over the same period last year, while AVID reported a 55% increase year-on-year.

But CAMPI and TMA posted a weak 2.2% growth in June versus the previous month, while AVID claimed June sales compared to May improved “by a hairline.” Aside from the industry’s robust year-on-year sales performance, the big news in June was that Suzuki finally succeeded in replacing Ford at No. 3 by selling 9,987 vehicles versus Ford’s 9,855. In May, Ford led Suzuki by only 47 units. Although Suzuki’s lead of 132 units over Ford was slim, it was bigger than 47 and pegged Suzuki to the No. 3 spot for the month.

The other big news in June was that Honda overtook Hyundai via a margin of 903 more units sold to grab the No. 7 slot and push Hyundai down to No. 8. However, Hyundai was in no danger of descending to No. 9 because it enjoyed a lead of over 2,900 units in June over Geely.

GHOST MONTH 2021

After CAMPI and TMA posted a modest 4.7% year-on-year growth in July, the industry experienced a decline in sales in August due to the reimposition of Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), the hardest of lockdowns, in the National Capital Region and other high-risk areas from August 6 to 20. The situation was aggravated by the “Ghost Month” from August 8 to September 6 when many people postpone business investments and big-ticket purchases like buying a new car.

What’s more, the Final Report of the Department of Trade & Industry and the Philippine Tariff Commission in July finding that there was no basis for the imposition of a safeguard measure on the importation of CBU (Completely Built Up) passenger cars and light commercial vehicles was not promptly executed and did not revert vehicle prices to the original in August.

Against this bleak backdrop, CAMPI and TMA reported an 11.5% decrease in sales for August 2021 compared to the same month last year, while AVID posted an 18% decline in sales for the month versus August 2020. As AVID president Ma. Fe Perez-Agudo, concurrently president of HARI and Changan Motors PH said: “The entire industry hit a pothole in August this year due to the necessary health restrictions.”

Despite the setback, industry leaders set a total sales target of 295,400 units for 2021, reflecting 20.9% growth versus actual sales posted last year. Undoubtedly, they anticipated higher sales in the coming “-ber” months which signal the start of the Christmas shopping season.

Meanwhile, the contest for 3rd place narrowed down to only two players Suzuki and Ford, Nissan having dropped out of the running since as of YTD August it was 1,423 units behind Ford. You may recall that in June, Suzuki replaced Ford at No. 3 by selling 9,987 units versus Ford’s 9,855. But in August Ford cut Suzuki’s lead to only 33 units.

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A SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER

The industry posted a 12.4% decline in sales in September compared to the same month last year, but still aspired to hit its target of selling 295,400 units by year-end. YTD September, the industry sold 191,605 vehicles, which reflects a 29.5% increase over the same YTD period in 2020.

For Ford Motor Co. PH, September 2021 is the month to remember as it recaptured the prized No. 3 rank with 14,704 units sold versus Suzuki PH, Inc.’s 14,445. In September, Ford gained a healthy lead of 259 units sold over Suzuki, which the previous month had an edge over Ford of only 33 units.

Except for Ford’s ascension to No. 3, the Top 10 ranking remained the same in September as in August, led by Toyota and Mitsubishi and bookended by Kia.

September was also a very good month for Geely, distributed by SGAP, as it firmly retained the No. 9 rank with 3,818 units sold compared to Kia’s 2,690. Geely’s advantage over Kia in September was 1,128 units sold, almost the same as its 1,251 advantage in August.

INTO THE HOME STRETCH

Since AVID has yet to release its sales report for November, we are listing only the top five performers November YTD. (In 2021, no AVID member made it to the Top 5, but two have ranked eighth and ninth, respectively.)

Based on the CAMPI November YTD sales report, the Top 5 are listed as follows:

Among the Top 5, Toyota and Mitsubishi have never been challenged for their No. 1 and No. 2 rankings. It is the No. 3 perch that has changed hands several times, with Nissan, Ford and Suzuki hotly contending. The year began with Nissan at No. 3 and ended with Ford reclaiming it.

So far, it looks like Ford has solidified its hold on No. 3 by padding its lead over Suzuki with 587 more units sold. Meanwhile, Nissan is only 204 units away from overtaking 4th placer Suzuki.

Having sold 240,642 units YTD November, will the industry hit its target of selling 295,400 vehicles by year-end? The industry has to sell 54,758 units before December 31 to achieve this goal, and the moderate restrictions imposed by Alert Level 2, which will continue until year-end, could enable it.

Unfazed by the possible spread of the dreaded Omicron virus, car companies continue to launch all-new or upgraded models, open more dealerships nationwide, offer attractive cash discounts and lighter monthly payment promos aside from improving and extending after-sales and Preventive Maintenance Service packages.

Industry players had earlier transitioned to digital marketing and sales by creating digital showrooms, organizing virtual launches and activities, facilitating online bank loan applications to make things easier for customers. Enhanced customer and ownership experience remained top priority.

Summing up, in 2021 the Philippine automotive industry looks forward to a Merry Christmas, having successfully navigated the disruptions of the second pandemic year and now remaining on track to at least partially recover in 2022.