Here’s an update on Southeast Asia’s automotive markets at the close of 2017. Used cars made up the largest sector in the car markets of Myanmar, and Cambodia. Thailand ranked number 12 among the world’s top motor vehicle producers. Indonesia was the largest car market in Southeast Asia. Region-wide, Toyota reigned supreme as the bestseller except in Malaysia, which was happy to stick with homegrown brands.
The ASEAN car market represents a diverse assortment of brands and a great deal of variety in the way member countries respond to their specific needs. The mix includes thriving homegrown brands, world-class motor vehicle producers, as well as heavens for new and pre-owned cars and trucks.
– Thailand and Indonesia –
Thailand and Indonesia are major regional economic players. Indonesia boasted the largest automotive market, while Thailand ranked number 12 among the world’s leading motor vehicle producers. In 2017, its total production was expected to top two million units, of which more than half were exported. A slight decrease in 2017 export volumes was more than offset by a 12-percent increase in the internal car market.
The Thai automotive industry has been a success story since 2000. The country produced a little over 400,000 motor vehicles in that year. Toyota Hilux has long been the bestselling model especially in the provinces throughout Thailand. Apart from carrying goods and agricultural products, the truck was used in various forms of human transportation. But for people living in or near the city, Toyota and Honda cars were the preferred choices.
Indonesia, the ASEAN’s largest automotive market, ranked number 17 among the world’s top motor vehicle producers. Its 2017 production was expected to far exceed 1.2 million units, up from 1,177,389 in 2016, during which 1,048,134 new units were sold on the domestic market. Sport utility vehicles (SUV), all purpose vehicles (APV), and larger trucks were the favorites, considering Indonesia had the largest population in the ASEAN.
The two countries are grappling with the same problem – traffic congestions. A TomTom traffic index ranked Bangkok, and Jakarta number 2, and 3, respectively, among the cities with the worst midtown traffic snarl-ups. It was a high price to pay since it was the automotive industry that generated incomes from exports, employment, and tax revenues. As technology advanced, both countries were hoping to count on electric cars and new urban public transport to improve traffic flow.
– Myanmar and Cambodia –
It was a different situation in Myanmar and Cambodia. Strong economic growth in recent years has seen sharp increases in demands for pre-owned motor vehicles. In both countries, new cars accounted for less than 10 percent of total sales in 2016, during which Myanmar imported as many as 120,000 secondhand vehicles from Japan. Here Toyota Probox was the favorite. Trouble was the all-purpose vehicle from Japan was designed for driving on the left side of the road (the steering wheel being on the right-hand side). After independence, Myanmar had changed to move traffic in the right side of the path. If you are front seat passengers, watch out for passing and oncoming vehicles when you get out of the car in Myanmar. Judge the space available when getting off the bus, because you could find yourself in the middle of the road.
To solve the problem, the Myanmar Government has enacted a law banning the importation of secondhand automobiles designed for driving on the left side of the road. But it would take a long time to see any results. To meet an increasing demand for new automobiles, Suzuki has recently opened a factory in Myanmar. In 2017, it produced 2,700 Suzuki Carry trucks, of which about 1,000 units were sold in the domestic market. In big cities like Yangon and Mandalay, more new cars from Europe and Japan continued to make their presence felt, albeit very slowly.
Meanwhile in Cambodia, secondhand Toyota Camry and Lexus SUV’s were the favorites among people in urban areas. The country imported pre-owned automobiles mostly from the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. In the small new-car market, the Cambodians generally preferred the Toyota brand with pick-up trucks being the all-time bestsellers. The same was true in nearby Thailand and Laos, where the light-duty trucks were used to carry both farm products and human passengers.
– Malaysia –
The only ASEAN country with successful homegrown brands, Malaysia boasted the third largest automobile market in the Region. Here, new car sales exceeded 580,000 units per year with the Perodua taking the largest portion of the market. (UMW Corporation held 38 percent of shares in the Malaysian car manufacturer.) Perodua sold about 200,000 cars per year, far outranking Honda which sold a little over half that number. Proton, another homegrown Malaysian brand, came in third place, while Toyota in fourth.
– Other ASEAN Member Countries –
Keep an eye on the Philippines, whose automobile market grew by a whopping 20 percent in 2016. The same was expected in 2017, during which new car sales were expected to be about 450,000 units. Singapore was an entirely different story. It was government policy to keep new car sales growth below 0.25 percent. Meantime, it was focusing on proper maintenance of existing automobiles and developing urban public transit, for which Singapore has already invested US$22.9 billion.
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