Here's an interesting little story in the auto industry that has some very unusual twists and turns. It involves two great Japanese brands in Mitsubishi and Nissan, as well as Tata from India, yet somehow results in the introduction of Chinese automaker Dongfeng in the Philippines.
Yes, that's correct: Dongfeng is coming to the Philippine market in force. But we'll get to that later.
The story starts when we were able to catch up with George Blaylock. His name may sound unfamiliar to some, but in the Philippine auto industry, he's well known. The Blaylock family, after all, is one of the driving forces behind the Diamond Motors network of Mitsubishi Motors dealerships. And they're one of the oldest auto dealership groups.
Blaylock's history with Mitsubishi goes way back, but one of the more important moments in that story was the time when a Japanese executive was assigned to Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation (MMPC) back in the 1990's. His name was Makoto Uchida, and Blaylock recalls that he and Uchida became friends. Through the decades the two kept in touch, and would get together in Japan after Uchida's stint in the Philippines. Blaylock says that even their spouses became friends, as both can speak Spanish very well.
While Uchida was busy working with Nissan, Blaylock was also busy with the auto business. His Diamond Motors group is very successful, but his group wanted to try something different: they wanted to get into the auto distributor business.
Many of the bigger brands were already taken, but Blaylock set his sights on something different: his group got into business with Tata Motors from India. And so the company set up Pilipinas Taj Autogroup to introduce and distribute Tata Motors in the Philippines. They focused on commercial vehicles such as the Super Ace and other heavy duty trucks. They also had some passenger cars like the Indica, among others, but really, the most potential to be had was in the commercial vehicle business.
There were some issues though. Tata had some issues with supplying units from India. Logistical issues (among others) led to lost opportunities as Pilipinas Taj didn't have the units to sell to clients. And given the diversity of the Philippine auto industry with a lot of new Chinese auto brands, a distributor and its retail network must be able to supply a customer's needs quickly. They have to strike when the iron is hot, and waiting months for a unit or fleets of units became Blaylock's problem.
In the auto importer/distributor business, you need to keep your dealers happy. And the basic function in that is to supply the demand that dealers produce. A day late and a unit short simply will not do.
And then came Uchida-san. According to Blaylock, he told the Nissan executive that he needs another brand to sell. And here's where it gets interesting: Uchida became a very senior executive in Nissan, and heads up the Japanese automaker's presence in China.
Foreign automakers couldn't just set up shop in China; their laws indicate that if a foreign automaker wants to operate in the country, they must have a joint venture with a local automotive company and produce cars in the PRC. That's why you see SAIC-Volkswagen, BMW-Brilliance, Changan-Ford, so on and so forth.
For Nissan, the JV partner was Dongfeng.
Dongfeng is one of China's biggest automotive conglomerates with their own brand in the Dongfeng Automobile Company (DFAC), as well as joint-ventures with Nissan, with Honda, with Cummins, and even with Peugeot and Citroen. But it was Dongfeng that Blaylock was interested in, as DFAC can supply the demand that his dealers have for commercial vehicles and heavy duty vehicles.
Uchida told Blaylock to wait, and so he did. Last December, Blaylock says his friend Uchida called saying that a team from Dongfeng is coming to the Philippines to talk with him. A couple handshakes later and the deal was done.
Dongfeng is coming into the market in a big way, and Blaylock's Pilipinas Autogroup Inc. (PAI) will be the major distributor. They'll bring in small and medium sized vans and trucks, as well as have a lot of heavy duty vehicles on order. As for supply, Dongfeng executives say that they can bring in units as quickly as 45 days from the time it was ordered. Special purpose vehicles will take more time, of course.
Before PAI, some Dongfeng vehicles were imported by various groups (and still are), but Dongfeng and PAI are working together to really make a strong impact in the market when they have their grand launch in the market come March 2020.
For now, Dongfeng will be available in select dealerships in key areas such as Cainta, Davao, Pampanga, Isabela, Cebu, and Sucat.