The Philippine new vehicle market expanded by less than 2% to 37,474 units in March 2024 from 36,880 a year earlier, according to member wholesale data released jointly by the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc (CAMPI) and the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA).

Sales increased at a much slower rate last month compared with the first two months of the year with the market having already rebounded strongly in the last two years from the pandemic lows.

Economic growth was expected to have picked up in the first quarter of the year, driven by strong government and household spending, with GDP growth estimated to come in at over 6% year on year after slowing to 5.6% in the fourth quarter of 2023.

The central bank left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at 6.5% at its April meeting, compared with a low of 2% two years ago, to keep inflation under control.

According to Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation’s chief economist, Michael Ricafort, the high cost of auto loans was beginning to affect vehicle sales however.

In the first quarter of the year, sales rose 13% to 109,606 units from 97,284 in the same period of last year with passenger vehicle volume increasing 14% to 28,211 units while commercial vehicle sales were up 12% at 81,395 units.

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Toyota reported a 10% increase in sales to 49,667 units in the first quarter followed by Mitsubishi with 20,867 units (+17%); Nissan 7,909 (+24%); Ford 7,531 (+28%) and Suzuki 4,395 (-2%).

Toyota announced plans to begin production of a new Tamaraw utility vehicle in the third quarter of 2024 with deliveries to follow in the fourth.

The model was expected to be a passenger version of the Rangga concept vehicle and would be based on the latest IMV-0 platform used by the Hilux pickup truck and Innova MPV.

The previous model was used widely by government departments, utility companies and small businesses.