Key vehicle markets in the ASEAN region shrugged off the global economic uncertainty by reporting strong year-on-year sales growth in January, according to auto industry data.

The first markets in the region to report, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, saw double-digit sales growth last month, compared with January 2007. Sales data for Malaysia has yet to be released, but there too the market is expected to have made strong gains during the month.

Vehicle sales in Thailand, the largest market in South-east Asia, rose 17.6% to 45,431 units in January, according to distributor Tri Petch Isuzu. Passenger car sales led the recovery with a 32.9% increase to 14,794 units, after a cut in excise tax from 30% to 25% on cars compatible with bio-fuels on 1 January encouraged buyers to delay year-end purchases and wait for discounts.

Sales of one tonne pickup trucks, which were not affected by the tax cuts, reported a more modest rise -14.1% to 25,398. The industry hopes that with the general election now out of the way and democracy restored, a more sustained market recovery can take place.

Toyota expects sales to reach 700,000 units this year - up from 631,250 in 2007.

Indonesia continued its strong recovery in January, with sales rising 54.2% to 41,380 units, according to distributor PT Toyota Astra Motor.

Commercial vehicle sales rose 61.6% to 12,010 units, while passenger vehicle sales rose 51.4% to 29,370 units.

The Philippines saw sales grow 17% to 8,808 units, with cars also leading the market with a 28.5% year-on-year increase to 5,844 units.

Tony Pugliese