THE INSIDE MAN

Philippine Motoring Year-end Industry Report Card - Part Three

Philippine Motoring Year-end Industry Report Card - Part Three image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: | posted December 16, 2009 08:00

On best marketing behavior: the Auto Industry in 2009

Cost cutting. On everyone's lips everywhere. And they meant it. Huge decreases in ad budgets, canceled events and scaled down marketing blitzes. But to those who had a light touch, they spotted opportunities, many of them created by the loss of nerve by the strongest of their rivals. Thus there were surprise upsets in the sales charts and most of them caused by retreat from marketing. But all were one is assisting the public grief stricken by the damage caused by the storms in September. The extensive flood damage to the cars of the Middle Class last brought in a lot of activity to the independent repair shops and official car dealer network of Luzon which to this day, is still dealing with service backlogs.

Toyota

Toyota is perhaps one of the world's shortest lived global number ones but that was never their priority anyway. Ascendant on the demise of GM, Toyota's dependence on the declining North American market caused it to yield the briefly held global No. 1 to VW as it gobbles up would-be parent Porsche and benefits from the EU countries' "cash-for-clunkers" government subsidy. Locally, Toyota remains a rock steady number one. Consistent with its proven formula, Toyota has updated every single model it sells and introduced an all new Prius. It also launched the grandest showroom of all, the new Lexus Manila branch at the Fort. To top it all, Lexus, in a span of 6 months, has introduced 95% of its global model line-up and is racing to be the 3rd best selling CAMPI luxury brand. Although Toyota Motor Philippines announced cost cuts in the beginning of the year, its not evident in the quantity and quality of the events they stage and the ads they post.

Ford and Mazda

Ford, for now a global number 2 after Toyota, continues apace locally with similarly extensive updates to all its Ford and Mazda models whether from Sta. Rosa, Thailand, Germany, Japan or the USA. Ford, primarily a huge export generating factory situated in the Philippines to serve Asia with many Philippine made Ford and Mazda models, has established itself in our predominantly Japanese branded local market with its own unique way with informative showroom displays at their dealerships. Besides a shorter invite list to foreign launches, Ford and Mazda's local launches and new ad themes were never lacking in depth and fun. Ford continued supporting motorsports through its Ford Focus Cup series.

Honda and Mitsubishi

We can't resist looking at Honda and Mitsubishi as 2 peas in a pod. Honda has become dominant in the car market again with its extremely popular City and Civic, while it has no offerings in the LCV market which constitutes 65% of total motor vehicle sales locally. Mitsubishi on the other hand continues to shore up its position in the LCV market with the Strada pick up and the Montero 7-seat family SUV. Mitsubishi's plans to assemble the Lancer EX in Cainta will usher in its reentry as a force to be reckoned in the car market. Both companies have pared down the number of events and overseas launch guest lists, but both have not watered down their considerable imprint in the local events scene.

Isuzu

Isuzu's consistent 4th ranking in the sales chart continues to amaze as it sells not a single car. Isuzu's good name is what propel repeat customers for all its LCV and AUV with all the frills that give a "wow" factor to typical customers. Isuzu would prefer to sell more of its mainstream trucks but unless the government can make up its mind on used truck imports by adjusting incentives to encourage national refleeting with EURO IV truck engines, the new truck market will remain stunted.

Hyundai and Kia

The two sister Korean car makers make for spectacular watching. Hyundai, now global number 4, has hardly been around for 5 years under the guise of HARI. By now, HARI has attained near Japanese brand prestige and sales ranking. Its Tucson, i10 and Accent have all caught up to the Starex in popularity. And Hyundai continues to make a splash with its fanatically competent i30 hatchback and Genesis Coupe. Kia, barely 2 years into its Felix Mabilog led Renaissance will soon introduce a complete overhaul of its model line up and dealer network. It too has become a fast rising brand that competes in small cars, minivan and SUVs of all sizes. It set a record of sorts this year with the grand launch of the Soul, by deploying 2 dozen test units to Subic. The previous record was held by HARI when it launched the 2 dozen i10's in Anvaya Cove in 2008.

The Two Nissans

Nissan Universal Motors continues to be the back bone of the small-medium scale entrepreneur with its ultra modern Navara pick up and utilitarian Urvan. Universal continues to modernize the Patrol, which to this day is the gold standard by which all vehicles are judged in the discerning Middle East market.

NMPI in Sta. Rosa is hamstrung by the models that Nissan Japan makes available to its parent, Yuen Loong of Taiwan. Taiwan is not a part of the ASEAN free trade area and it will likely not benefit from whatever tariff reductions that will result from a China-ASEAN free trade agreement. Thus NMPI is hamstrung from offering the latest Nissan SUVs and other Nissan minivans and compact cars. Other Nissan models that can be imported from the US and Japanese factories also face high tariff walls. Even the Thai made Teana, which falls under ASEAN free trade tax rates was deemed not worth the marketing effort.

The Rallye fans

Though both Subaru and Suzuki have withdrawn from rallye motorsports, all their new cars continue to offer the long spring travel ride unique to cars developed from motorsports. Thus both continue to hold on to their highly specialized car enthusiast niches whether its the diminutive Suzuki Celerio, made in India or the sublime Subaru Forester turbo. This niche for high performance small cars is what BMW's MINI is finally elbowing into next year.

Chevrolet

Till the end, GM Philippines continued to behave to the press as part of the prosperous Asia part of GM rather than the sinking part of GM in Detroit. Still it couldn't resist handing over the distribution of its Chevrolet vehicles from the Spark to the Suburban and the upcoming Camaro and Cruze to the established Lee family of Hyundai, Nissan Universal, Volvo and at one time Peugeot and Mercedes Benz. This also opens the door to some limited local assembly as the Lee family's STAR motors can use its spare capacity.

The Premium market

After a healthy string of sales for its C30 coupe, Volvo had another hit in the self-braking XC 60 propelling Volvo to be the 2nd best selling CAMPI member luxury brand after BMW. Meantime, BMW Asian Carmakers are now ramping up for a long string of new model launches as it catches up on the global launch cycle, after a long Munich dictated pause. Locally, Asian Carmakers, part of the Alvarez group, is doing its bit of dealer rationalization, just like Columbian Auto Cars across the aisle.

Porsche and Audi sales, despite severe cost cuts in events, press drives and international launches, continue to depend on the personal charm and network of their best sales executive, one Robert Coyuito, Jr. On a smaller scale, TATA owned Jaguar and Land Rover sales, along with Land Rover sorties into image building sports events in China are also highly dependent on the charm of Wellington Soong, ESQ.

CATS Motors has also culled its press fleet activities and international launches as unpredictable swings in the future of some Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge models keep fans waiting. At least it promised the long awaited diesel versions of the popular Chrysler Town and Country and Jeep Commander. Mercedes Benz continues to introduce European levels of safety and luxury in its latest E-class and S-class hybrid models. Messrs. Felix Ang and Anthony S. Lao of CATS Motors have been particularly adept with cutting deals, specially with Lexus and Audi just up the street and a resurgent BMW ready to break traction next year.

The brands from China

After an initial spurt of expansion, Chery is consolidating its dealership network. Which cannot be said for Geely, its rival in China. News of Geely coming in or leaving just keep coming off the rumor mill but never seeing the light of day. Other China brands like Foton, BYD, JAC, Chana and FAW are keen to explore the LCV part of the market while Lifan concentrates on cars.

Used car imports

Whatever the political and fiscal ramifications of car imports through Port Irene, there are some gems to be had there that can be appreciated by car enthusiasts. Not so vintage Mercedes Benz and Porsche sports cars, along with original Leyland Austin Minis can be had. There are also some interesting Japan domestic models such as the Toyota Noah, Honda Stepwgn and Toyota Gran Via which are legally converted to left hand drive even of those models never were sold in any left hand drive markets. This trickle of used imports will never reach auto industry threatening numbers, unlike the massive Subic imports of a few years ago. Whichever side one comes on the Subic right-hand drive converted imports issue, a sloppily converted Subic Pajero was far better than a sloppily assembled owner jeep. At that time, it was genuine motoring for the masses. Masses, sadly, who always put safety at the lowest priority.

Recession or not, and as in any battle, the adage "to the victor, the spoils...." always rings true. However way one looks at it, it was still a healthy auto market in 2009.