The Thai vehicle market resumed its strong positive momentum last month, after a rare blip in February when sales declined by 4.1%. Volumes rose by 24.1% in March to 67,554 units, according to data released by Toyota Motor Thailand, bringing the total for the first quarter to 166,486 units - up 12.8%. But growth was more narrowly focused and not all companies benefited.

In this latest quarter, there was been a sharp shift in buying activity towards the commercial vehicle sector, reflecting a vibrant pickup truck segment and strong demand for larger trucks thanks to a booming construction sector. By contrast, passenger car sales appear to be suffering from weakening new product activity and saturation.

Passenger car sales declined by 19% to 42,456 units in the first quarter, with Honda leading the decline with a 43.4% drop to 9,891 units, compared with 18,510 units a year earlier. Its SUV sales did even worse, with volumes almost halving to 525 units, from 1,015 units.

Commercial vehicle sales, and pickup truck sales in particular, more than made up for this loss with volumes -  rising by over 30% to 124,030 units. With the launch of the Toyota's new Vigo pickup range last August, competition levels in this segment have increased substantially. GM entered this segment with the Chevrolet Colorado last year and its sales volumes have jumped dramatically since. Isuz, the pick up truck market leader, is also nejoying buoyant demand for its D-Max range.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Mitsubishi brand experienced some of the sector's strongest growth thanks to its strong presence in the commercial vehicle market. Its sales volumes rose by over 56% to 12,361 units. For the year as a whole, the company is looking to sell around 45,000 vehicles locally and to export a further 100,000 vehicles.

Mitsubishi's Strada pickup sales did particularly well in this latest quarter, helped by an aggressive pricing campaign ahead of the launch of its replacement in the third quarter. Its passenger vehicle sales were helped by the introduction of the Space Wagon.

Toyota managed to outperform the market yet again, with its market share rising to 39.5% from 37.4% for the whole of 2004. The Vigo pickup truck was its star performer, with volumes rising by over 48% to 41,204 units.

Tony Pugliese

Thai vehicle sales by brand
Jan-March 2004
Jan-March 2005
% Change
 Toyota
54,913
65,757
19.7%
 Isuzu
36,464
43,187
18.4%
 M'bishi
7,892
12,361
56.6%
 Nissan
11,049
10,571
-4.3%
 Honda
19,525
10,417
-46.6%
 Chevrolet
1,699
7,211
324.4%
 Ford
6,044
6,008
-0.6%
 Mazda
3,737
4,434
18.7%
 Hino
2,128
2,445
14.9%
 Mercedes-Benz
1,585
1,215
-4.3%
 Others
2,561
2,880
12.4%
 Total
147,597
166,486
12.8%

 Source: Toyota Motor Thailand.