A sybarite tropics
Bangkok's Chao Phraya is an abject lesson to urban planners on how to treat rivers as a tourist attraction and not a backyard dump, hiding garbage and informal settlers. Charming boat quays and tent cafe's line the banks while artful illumination highlights the raw concrete finish of buildings and bridges. It looks even lovelier in an afternoon thunderstorm, viewed from my room at the Shangri-La. Across the river, the Peninsula's tasteful colonnaded colonial look faces off the classy tropical resort theme of the Shangri-la's. The Pen's Jester's restaurant probably serves the sweetest and most succulent scallops, bass and red snapper this side of Indochina.
It is almost a certainty that this year's Shanghai Auto Show will have the largest in everything; new model launches, crowds, participants, etc.. Frankfurt will always have a lot for the world to take interest in as European car makers have to export lest they stagnate just serving the aging European market. Though not as badly hit as North America, their recovery is just a claw back to the status quo ante; sales that are 30% short of production capacity.
Given that the North American market is groping out of the Recession, its clear that Detroit's wares still prioritize their domestic market while Asia's emerging markets smother all growth records in consumer good production. For the first time in decades, Japan's Tokyo Motor Show, is leaving Makuhari Messe for Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba. Instead of staging one month after Frankfurt, its doors open in December. How festive it will be, depends on how the Japanese economy recovers from the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster.
Arguably, motor shows are legion but when it comes to compact pick up trucks, none of these shows, with or without red vs. yellow shirt rallies none can ever over shadow Bangkok as Thailand is the world's supplier of compact pick up trucks. Besides the 40th Anniversary of the Grand Prix publishing house, the organizer of [Bangkok International Motor Show] BIMS, there's the move from BITEC [Bangkok International Trade & Exhibition Centre] to the Impact Muang Thong Thani. As the show grew apace with Thailand's motor industry, it needed a venue that approximates the the colossal exhibition spaces of Beijing and Shanghai.
The pick up phenomenon
In Thailand, the 4-door crew cab pick up truck is as common as a 4-door compact sedan, taking 43% of national motor vehicle registrations. This is why the Gulf States, Latin America, ASEAN and India all look to Thailand for the latest in LCV trends. Why a truck? Besides the tax incentives, Thailand's biannual monsoon season means a vehicle has to have the ground clearance to wade through flash floods.
Growing in size
As market leaders, Thailand's automotive industry are not content to relax in their oligopoly. As early as 2005, Thailand's pick up makers have ramped up to the 2nd generation of longer, wider, taller and more powerful pick ups, moving up into the mid-size. First was the Isuzu D-MAX, a badge engineered version of GM's Chevrolet Colorado with Isuzu's own diesel engine. Next was the Toyota Vigo, sold in other markets as the Hi-Lux. Not far behind was Mitsubishi Strada and later in 2007, the Nissan Navara. Ford's Ranger and its platform-share Mazda BT-50 kept to the dimensions of the pre-2005 1st generation compact pick up trucks like the Nissan Frontier, previous Toyota Hi-Lux and Isuzu TFR Fuego. Until last year, when Ford launched its latest mid-range Ranger T6 in Australia as Mazda revealed its new BT-50 in Japan. With all participants now closely matched in characteristics, the competition was starting to heat up.
The 32nd Bangkok International Motor Show is Ford Ranger's ASEAN debut party. Sneaking in, is a resurgent GM with its 3rd generation ASEAN pick up; the new Colorado. The Chevrolet is set up to meet a wider and more global export challenge, something the Ranger has been doing for years. There are of course the endless variants of Isuzu D-MAX's, Mitsubishi Strada, Nissan Navara and Toyota Vigo's.
Philippine import and importance
Why is the Bangkok Motor show important to the Philippine auto industry? For one, and thanks to ASEAN's AICO, there is a healthy 2-way traffic of car and car parts between Thailand and our country. Our interdependence goes beyond merely supplying pick up trucks in exchange for Philippine made parts. Santa Rosa, Laguna is the source of Ford Focus and Escape, along with parts from the Japanese brands. We are also one of Isuzu's biggest markets for the D-MAX and the Alterra.
Thai society's aristocracy has its own ways with luxury cars, too. While Thailand has a very healthy indigenous tuner and cosmetics aftermarket, there is no shortage of Audi-MTM's, BMW M sport and Mercedes AMG models. Likewise Astons, RR's and Bentleys. Thailand's plutocrats do not think twice of driving around with the Cabriolet top down. Hence, the latest convertible versions of the Porsche Boxster, BMW Z4, BMW 3-series, Audi A5 and Mercedes Benz C-class find custom here. BMW chose Bangkok to introduce the 6-series cabrio while Mercedes introduced the SLK 350 roadster.
Lexus launched its CT200h here, a month after its Manila Pen debut. MINI introduced its first 4-door car, the SUV-like MINI Countryman. Though Volkswagen sells the sleek Passat CC and Scirocco sports hatch, the emphasis on their stands are the 2 cult classics, the Golf GTI and the Caravelle/Multivan, successors to the Kombi.
The limo van
Besides limos and sports sedans, there are quite a number of luxury vans like the Citroen Jumper, Toyota Hi-Ace Super Grandia and Alphard. Mercedes is wielding its Vito against the dominant VW Caravelle/Multivan. Lower down the price chain, Mitsubishi is selling a refreshed Grandis in the form of the new Space Wagon. Lexus launched its CT200h here, a month after its Manila Pen debut. MINI introduced its first 4-door car, the SUV-like MINI Countryman. Though Volkswagen sells the sleek Passat CC and Scirocco sports hatch, the emphasis on their stands are the 2 cult classics, the Golf GTI and the Caravelle/Multivan, successors to the Kombi.
Recently, the Thai authorities introduced tax incentives to produce Eco-cars, which usually meant micro compacts. To date, only Honda, with its Brio, has followed Nissan's March into this budding segment. Ford's Fiesta, Mazda2, many Proton models and Toyota's Yaris do not fall into the ECO-car segment. Suzuki has yet to enticed to assemble the Alto and Celerio. So important is this category in Thailand today that the introductions of Chevrolet's Spark, Mitsubishi's Global small car and the latest Kia Picanto have all been moved forward.
Determination to stick to a plan
Besides being the star pupil in a class that teaches core competence in [pick up truck] local assembly for export, Thailand's energy industry is also a model for responsible consumer and ecological care. Thailand has a well developed Natural Gas program, extracting gas via pipeline from its reclusive and embargoed neighbor, Burma. An interesting counterpoint to the ECO-Car segment was voiced by GM Thailand's CEO, Mr. Martin APFEL. Chevrolet makes the inexpensive and cheerful Aveo 4-door sedan, a direct competitor to the Vios. With Thailand's well supported Compressed Natural Gas [CNG] program, an Aveo, with its superior space over a Nissan March ECO-car, can out perform the kms./THB [Thai Baht] fuel efficiency of an ECO-car.
Our experience with incentives
In contrast, Philippine tax laws and tariffs sometimes do not last long enough to make any logical conclusions to their success or failure. The best evidence is what we see on the street as car shippers and assemblers react to incentives and disincentives. A 5-year old compact car, usable as a taxi, is perceived to be better value for money than a brand new micro car. A reconditioned Isuzu NK-R, imported from Japan, costs far less to own and more profitable to haul cargo, than a new 2-door long-bed pick-up. Auto financing has narrowed the monthly amortization between small cars and compact cars, and even LCVs.
As to other brands, Ssangyong, formerly SAIC's, is now part of the TATA empire as they introduced the latest thinking in the new Korando and Kyron SUVs. Mazda's latest 3-series is now made in Malaysia, while the old one soldiers on being assembled in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Isuzu's D-MAX is now on the star one-make racing series deploying a special 2-door single cab D-MAX with lowered suspension called X-racing.
Time to revive the AUV?
People carriers cannot get any cuter than Honda's Freed. Its exactly like the Honda Mobilio, the most popular multi-passenger vehicle in the Japan Domestic model. Honda fans will love free flow desk-like dashboard, i-VTEc engine, 7 seats, 2 sliding doors, tall and big glass windows, though the omission of height adjustable front seat belts must have been a marketing oversight. Its built on the Jazz platform and should tease CR-V buyers into something more family oriented rather than macho. Its a good alternative and a fresh Japanese approach should the Philippine market still want to pursue being the MPV-AUV supplier of ASEAN.
The parking lot look
Downside? Most of the pre-launch entertainment had lots of thumping music, contortion dancing and grungy attires, hardly varied from one stand to another, though I admit to not being schooled in the nuances of noontime show dance routines. Most of the displays, save for a few like Ford and BMW, had too many variants of the same model. They ended up looking like a dealer parking lot, with no thought to photo angles or visitor access. What happened to the clean, spacious and focused style of old? Even the Chinese shows do not tolerate clutter.
The Bangkok Motor show will always be a good gauge to see where Government policies, well implemented in coordination with regional free trade agreements, can nurture economies to grow at a controllable pace and direction. We stand to lose nothing by follow, not so much their ideas but their consistency and determination to see things through.