Thai vehicle sales fell by 15.4% year-on-year to 48,942 units in October – the fastest rate of decline so far this year, according to data released by Toyota Motor Thailand. The gloomy data reflects a worsening global economic outlook and ongoing political uncertainty in the country. A domestic index measuring consumer sentiment shows confidence fell to a low for the year in October.

Commercial vehicle sales plunged by 28.3% to 30,515 units, with the all-important pick-up truck sector falling by 30.1% to 26,089 units. Passenger car sales rose by 20.4% to 18,427 units, although compared with previous months the rate of growth has slowed.

In the January-October period, vehicle sales rose by just 0.2% to 510,200 units, with the strong gains made earlier in the year now completely wiped out. Commercial vehicle sales were 10.8% lower at 325,395 units, with pick-up truck sales falling by 12.8% to 278,789 units. Toyota’s pickup sales fell by 14.7% to 115,836 units in the ten-month period, while second-placed Isuzu reported a 3.5% drop to 105,467 units.

The passenger car market has benefited from the launch of important new models in the last year, including the Corolla Altis, Honda Jazz and more recently the Honda City. Cumulative ten-month sales were up by 27.9% at 184,804 units.

Toyota Motor Thailand (TMT) expects vehicle sales to decline further in November, but added that the Bangkok Motor Expo to be held later in the month could help lift volumes in December.

TMT’s president Mitsuhiro Sonoda said he expects his company to make fewer vehicles than the 570,000 units it expects to produce this year, as overseas demand continues to decline. He added that domestic passenger car sales will likely continue to grow, but he is less certain about the outlook for domestic pickup truck sales.

Earlier this month, Adisak Rohitasune – senior vice-president of Asian Honda Motor, said he expects Thai vehicle production to decline in 2009 from a peak of 1.45 million units in 2008, with exports falling sharply from an expected 2008 peak of 800,000 units.

Tony Pugliese