New vehicle sales in the Philippines declined by 12% to 26,230 units in February 2021 units from 29,790 units in the same month last year, 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 Philippines was one of the economies in Asia worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, with GDP shrinking by 9.5% as a result of prolonged lockdowns across the country which held back private consumption and investment, while exports plunged due to weak overseas demand. Vehicle sales plunged by 39.5% to 223,793 units in 2020 from 369,941 units in 2019, based on data supplied by the two associations.

In the first two months of 2021, vehicle sales fell by 7.3% to 49,610 units from 53,513 units a year earlier, with passenger vehicle sales declining by 3.8% to 15,194 units while commercial vehicle sales were down by 11.5% at 34,416 units.

CAMPI president Rommel Gutierrez said, while the vehicle market has begun to stabilise this year, he was wary that the imposition of temporary duties on imported vehicles could slow the market's recovery. 

At the beginning of February, the government imposed 'safeguard duties' of up to PHP110,000 (US$2,260) on imported passenger and light commercial vehicles for a period of over six months to help protect the local automotive industry. Gutierrez pointed out even the largest domestic vehicle manufacturers rely mostly on imports for their local sales.

The share of imports has increased steadily over the last 15 years following the implementation of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement with shipments of assembled vehicles from Thailand and Indonesia rising particularly sharply.

Sales of imported vehicles, including those imported by CAMPI members, now account for around 70% of total vehicle sales in the country compared with 40% in 2006 with brands such as Ford and Nissan having switched entirely to imports.