Thai vehicle sales plunged by almost 20% in November to 46,068 units – from 57,410 units a year earlier, according to data released by distributor Tri Petch Isuzu Sales Co Ltd. Compared with the previous month volumes were 5.9% lower, as domestic confidence was hit by the country’s growing political instability and the worsening global economic outlook.

Vehicle sales in the first eleven months of the year fell by 1.9% to 556,267 units, a significant reversal from the market’s strong first-half performance. The market is now on course for its third consecutive year of decline, with full-year volumes now expected to just clear the 600,000-mark.

Passenger car sales amounted to 18,176 units in November and 202,980 units in the first eleven months of the year – up by 28.4% compared with the same period of last year. Pick-up truck sales amounted to 23,403 in the month and 293,627 year-to-date – down by 14.7%. Toyota sold 19,771 vehicles in November, for a 42.9% share of the market, followed by Isuzu with 10,208 units (22.2%) and Honda 7,855 (17.0%).

The domestic political crisis reached a climax in November when the People’s Alliance for Democracy opposition party occupied Bangkok’s two main airports, cutting the Thai capital off from air traffic for almost a week. Protestors managing to push through some of their demands, including the ouster of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat – brother-in-law of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was himself forced from office in the 2006 military coup amid corruption allegations.

The PAD failed to force the government to resign, however, and the country remains extremely polarized politically – between the rural electorate which was courted by Thaksin’s PPP party with cheap loans and grants in the early 2000s and the growing urban middle-classes. There are many political issues outstanding and the current lull is not widely seen as the beginning of lasting stability.

The Thai economy is in for a very rough ride next year, as manufacturers announce production cutbacks amid falling orders and as the tourism sector prepares for a drop in visitor numbers. GDP forecasts for next year vary, but are mostly within the 0-3% growth range. This would make 2009 the worst year since the 1997 Asia financial crisis.

Tony Pugliese