New vehicle sales in the Philippines continued to rebound in May 2021, to 22,062 units from depressed year-earlier sales of 4,788 units, according to member wholesale data released jointly by the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc (CAMPI) and the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA).

The vehicle market plunged in the second quarter of last year after the government imposed strict lockdown orders nationwide to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the rebound in May of this year is an encouraging sign that the economy may be starting to recover, the market remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

GDP continued to contract in the first quarter of 2021, by a worse-than-expected 4.2%, with consumer and business sentiment affected by a resurgence of COVID-19 infections and the slow rollout of vaccines in the country. This was the fifth consecutive quarter of economic decline, after GDP shrank by 9.5% last year as private consumption and investment plunged.

The associations’ data showed vehicle sales rose by almost 59% to 110,217 units in the first five months of 2021 from 69,463 units a year earlier. Passenger vehicle sales were up by over 82% at 35,024 units, while commercial vehicle sales rose by almost 50% to 75,193 units.

This does not include data from members of the Association of Vehicle Importers and Distributors (AVID), which reported a 40% sales increase to 20,353 units in the first four months of the year from 14,572 units previously.

Toyota continued to lead the market with 52,518 sales in the five-month period; followed by Mitsubishi with 16,929 units; Ford 8,244 units; Suzuki 8,189 units; and Nissan 7,495 units.

The market’s recovery has also been slowed by the introduction at the end of February of “provisional safeguard duties” by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) designed to help protect the local industry.

Duty of PHP70,000 (US$1,443) on imported passenger cars and PHP110,000 (US$2,268) on imported light commercial vehicles is scheduled to be in place for over six months.

CAMPI and TMA last month said they expected their members to increase sales by 30% this year, after a decline of close to 40% to 223,793 units in 2020, but were wary of the downside risks of a new wave of COVID-19 infections.