New vehicle sales in southeast Asia’s six largest markets combined increased by 5.3% to 988,948 units in the fourth quarter of 2018 from 938,692 units in the same period of the previous year, according to data collected by AsiaMotorBusiness.com from local associations and government departments.
This represents a marked slowdown from growth rates of almost 10% in the third quarter and 7.5% in the second quarter. Nevertheless, full-year sales were up by 6.0% at a new record high of 3,563,923 units in 2018 from 3,361,786 units in 2017, driven mainly by the region’s two largest markets – Indonesia and Thailand – as well as a rebound in Vietnam.
Thailand’s vehicle market enjoyed the strongest growth rates in the region last year, with rising incomes driving strong domestic consumption growth. Fourth-quarter sales rose by close to 18%, resulting in a more than 19% rise in full-year sales to 1,041,291 units. Toyota Motor expects the overall market to drop moderately in 2019.
Sales in the region’s largest vehicle market, Indonesia, rose by almost 7% in the fourth quarter after growing by 12% in the third quarter. Full-year sales were up by 6.6% at 1,151,291 units, driven by strong demand for commercial vehicles, particularly from within the construction and mining sectors. Passenger vehicle sales grew at a much slower pace – reflecting a series of interest rate hikes last year which has held back consumer spending growth.
Malaysia’s vehicle market declined by 4% in the fourth quarter of 2018 after rising by 16% in the third quarter – when the market was lifted by a sales tax holiday between June and August. Over the full-year the market was up by a better than expected 3.8% at 598,714 units, but sales in 2019 are forecast to be flat in view of slowing global economic growth and the weak outlook for export demand.
New vehicle sales in the Philippines continued to fall sharply in the fourth quarter of 2018, by over 21%, compared with strong year-earlier sales when buyers front-loaded purchases ahead the introduction of a new tax structure at the beginning of 2018.
Full-year sales declined by more than 14% to an estimated 401,500 units, which is largely blamed on higher taxes. Domestic sentiment has also been hit by a sharp decline in the peso and rising inflation, prompting the central bank to hike interest rates by a total of 150 basis points last year.
Sales in Vietnam continued to recover in the fourth quarter of 2018, with volumes rising by over 37%, resulting in a more than 10% rise in full-year sales to 276,817 units. A change in regulations at the beginning of 2018 had a significant effect on imports, particularly in the first of the year, prompting complaints from regional trading partners such as Thailand and Indonesia.
Economic growth accelerated to 7.3% year-on-year in the fourth quarter of last year from a revised 6.8% in the third quarter, driven by strong service and manufacturing sector growth and inward investment. This rounded off a strong year for the economy, with full-year GDP growth estimated at 7.1% – up from 6.8% in 2017.
Indonesia’s new vehicle market ended 2018 on a positive note, with fourth-quarter sales rising by 6.9% to 294,852 units from 275,722 units a year earlier.
Full-year sales increased by 6.6% to 1,151,291 units from 1,079,535 units in 2017, according to data compiled by industry association Gaikindo – which do not include some of small-volume players including Mercedes-Benz. The total number is likely to be around 1,158,000 units last year.
The market remained buoyant despite a moderate slowdown in household consumption growth last year following a series of interest rate hikes by the central bank and significant currency weakness. GDP growth remained within a narrow range in the third quarter, at 5.2%, underpinned by higher government spending and fixed investment. Fourth-quarter GDP data had not yet been released.
Indonesia’s vehicle market benefitted from the continued rebound in commercial vehicle sales from extremely depressed levels in 2016, with full-year sales rising by almost 18% to 276,631 units from 235,310 units in the previous year. Helping to drive growth was strong investment in infrastructure and private construction projects. Passenger vehicle sales were up by just 3.6% at 874,660 units from 844,224 units.
Toyota’s overall sales declined by 5.2% to 352,161 units in 2018, mainly reflecting rising competition in the MPV segment which it dominates, while Daihatsu was moderately better off in second place with sales rising by 8.8% to 202,738 units.
Honda posted the sharpest decline among the major brands, with sales falling by over 13% to 162,170 units last year, while Mitsubishi Motors’ sales were up by 79% at 142,861 units – reflecting strong demand for its Xpander compact MPV which was introduced in July 2017.
New vehicle sales in Thailand continued to surge ahead in the fourth quarter of 2018, by close to 18% % to 295,155 units from 250,942 units a year earlier, based on wholesale data collected by the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI).
Full-year sales increased by 19.5% to 1,041,739 units last year from 871,650 units in 2017, the first time the market has exceeded one million units since 2013 – which at the time was lifted by the previous government’s first-time buyer incentives. The end of the five-year lock-in period for tax rebates relating to this programme also helped lift the market last year.
The latest available data shows Thai economic growth slowing sharply in the third quarter, to 3.3% year-on-year from 4.6% in the second quarter, due mainly to declining export activity – particularly to China. Domestic consumption remained strong in the country, driven by low interest rates of 1.5% and rising incomes. Full-year economic growth is estimated at between 4.1-4.2% last year, significantly below the Finance Ministry’s target of 4.5% -due to declining exports.
Sales of pickup-based vehicles rose by close to 10% to 465,844 units last year, while sales of passenger cars increased by over 15% to 399,657 units and SUV sales jumped by almost 44% to 81,988 units.
Toyota Motor said it expects the Thai market to decline by 3.8% to close to 1 million units this year, in line with slowing global economic growth and taking into account the strong domestic market growth of the last two years.
Malaysia’s new vehicle market declined by 4.1% to 143,743 units in the fourth quarter of 2018 from 149,957 units a year earlier, according to registration data released by the Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA).
This follows a strong third quarter for the market, after the newly-elected government under Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad scrapped the Goods and Service Tax (GST) at the beginning of June only to replace it with a new 10% Sales and Services Tax (SST) at the beginning of September – effectively giving buyers a three-month tax holiday.
The association’s president Datuk Aishah Ahmad also pointed to delays in the government’s approval process of new vehicle prices, which she says has led to delays in new model launches.
Full-year sales were up by 3.8% at 598,714 units last year, despite rising uncertainty as economic growth slowed sharply in the second half of the year mainly as a result of declining exports. Consumer spending and fixed investment remained strong, however, according to the latest available data. Full-year economic growth is estimated at 4.8%, compared with 5.8% in 2017.
The MAA expects the overall vehicle market to be just slightly positive in 2019, with new models such as new SUVs from Proton and Perodua helping to underpin demand.