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Malaysia Overtakes Thailand As ASEAN’s Second-Biggest Auto Market

Malaysia has overtaken Thailand to become Southeast Asia’s second-largest auto market, after Indonesia, a major shift in a region that has become a key battleground for Asian automakers.


Nikkei Asia compiled sales data released by industry groups in those three countries plus the Philippines and Vietnam and found that Malaysia’s sales figures, which had been third for a long time, topped Thailand’s for three consecutive quarters through January-March 2024.


According to the Malaysian Automotive Association, auto sales increased 5% in the first quarter from a year earlier to 202,245 vehicles. This followed an 11% increase in 2023 to a record 799,731 vehicles.


Sales tax exemptions for domestically produced vehicles — part of the government’s economic stimulus package — provided a tailwind for the national car brands Perodua and Proton, which held about 60% of the market share.


The tax exemptions started during the pandemic year of 2020, and although they ceased in mid-2022, the fulfillment of tax-free bookings continued to boost figures in 2023, according to the association. “Many new model launches including electric vehicles with very competitive prices helped to spur sales,” it said in a statement.


Ivan Khoo, a Toyota sales agent in Kuala Lumpur, told Nikkei Asia that sales in the first two months of 2024 were better than expected and that the Vios was the most popular model, as it is priced below 100,000 ringgit ($21,000).


“I see both segments, for Toyota’s ICE (internal combustion engine) and hybrid cars, will continue to do well,” Khoo said.


In contrast, sales in Thailand have been in a slump. Known as the “Detroit of Asia” due to its concentration on the automotive industry, Thailand had long held second place until sales fell 25% in the first quarter from a year earlier.


Thailand’s monthly auto sales have declined year-on-year starting last June due to increasing nonperforming auto loans and general stagnant consumption. The share of EVs is growing thanks to the entry of Chinese makers.


Indonesia also lacks momentum. Auto sales in the first quarter fell 24% from a year earlier as interest rates rose, leading consumers to hold back on purchases.


Sales in 2023 were just above 1 million vehicles, down 4% from 2022 and 30,000 fewer than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, and falling short of the 1.05 million targeted by the Association of Indonesia Automotive Industries (Gaikindo).


Auto sales in Vietnam fell 16% in the first quarter. The domestic economy has been stagnant since last year due to sluggish exports and other factors, and auto sales continue to be double-digit percentages below the previous year’s level.


Although there was a rush of demand in December before the expiration of a reduction in registration fees for domestically produced cars, sales figures returned to year-on-year declines in January and February.


Meanwhile, figures in the Philippines increased 13% in the first quarter, the highest among the five countries, after inflation eased to around 4% in late 2023 and as consumer spending remained strong.


As automakers from China, Japan, South Korea and other countries increasingly compete in Southeast Asian nations that have a growing middle class, subsidies and macroeconomic conditions are expected to be key factors for the region’s auto sales.


The Malaysian Automotive Association expects a 7.5% decline in total vehicle sales this year, although sales of hybrid and battery electric vehicles are expected to grow.


“Consumer spending may slow down due to concerns over targeted subsidy rationalization, high cost of living, implementation of proposed High Value Goods Tax, and higher service tax rate for some services including motor vehicles repair and maintenance,” the association said. – NikkeiAsia

Malaysia Overtakes Thailand As ASEAN’s Second-Biggest Auto Market
Automotive FDI: Malaysia Overtakes Thailand As ASEAN’s Second-Biggest Auto Market




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