Thai vehicle sales dropped 2.8% year-on-year in January to 50,454 units, with passenger car sales leading the decline with a 5.9% drop to 12,342 units.

Pickup sales performed strongest, thanks mainly to continued brisk demand for Toyota's pickup-based passenger vehicles (PPVs), but the pickup segment overall, including PPVs, still shrank in January - by 1.4% to 35,430 units.

The industry nevertheless remains mildly optimistic about the market's prospects this year - with Toyota Motor Thailand forecasting domestic sales to reach 735,000 units - 5% more than in 2005. But the boost from higher passenger car sales, as Toyota predicted, has yet to materialise despite the recent launch of the Yaris sub-compact car.

GDP growth slowed last year to around 4.6% and a pick-up in the economic growth rate is being hampered by rising energy prices and increasing domestic political tension. Consumer confidence dropped in January, with fewer people optimistic about the outlook for employment and earnings.

Most of the market decline was due to Toyota's poor performance, it reported a 14.1% drop in sales volumes to 17,936 units and market share fell to 35.5%, from 45.5% a year earlier.

The sharpest decline was in passenger car sales, which fell by 18.8% to 5,519 units, while commercial vehicles, including pickup trucks, fell 11.8% to 12,417 units.

By contrast, Toyota's main competitors reported higher sales volume for the month, with Isuzu shifting 15,310 units, Honda rising 20.5% to 4,697 units, Mitsubishi up 12.9% to 3,282 units and Nissan hiking sales 20.3% to 2,872 units.

Tony Pugliese