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Southeast Asia’s Automotive Industry Outlook In 2021

Isentia uncovered the media analytics data on the automotive industry and brands, obtained from social conversations and digital journalism coverage in the last quarter of 2020

Photo by Connor Williams on Unsplash

The strict movement control restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic was expected to hit the automotive industry hard in the Southeast Asia market. Our studies, however, have shown otherwise. The 2020 to 2021 transition will be even more exciting, as the automotive industry’s focus is giving more attention, especially to the emerging markets of Southeast Asia. 

“It may be said that the emerging markets in Southeast Asia are key and pivotal to the automotive industry’s continued growth, as global vehicle purchases continue to climb. Notably, the current pandemic’s restrictions in public transportation including social distancing measures, have been a factor in pushing for potential buyers to become full-fledged car owners not only for ease of mobility but also affecting purchase decisions and intentions on factors such as convenience and most especially safety,” Lady Ochel Espinosa, Regional Insights Manager for Emerging Markets, SEA said. 

Isentia uncovered the media analytics data on the automotive industry and brands, obtained from social conversations and digital journalism coverage in the last quarter of 2020 (i.e. between October 1, 2020, and November 15, 2020). Here are our findings in key markets of Southeast Asia – Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand – as the new year begins. 

New Car Launches Amidst COVID-19 Crisis 

Despite the pandemic situation, carmakers have continued to push momentum with the launches of various car models. Keeping with the need to socially distance for safety, BMW Indonesia, for instance, held a virtual launch of the M2 Edition by Futura 2000. The brand delivered a brand new car unit using container-sized boxes as a precaution. 

Nissan and Mazda also launched new cars amid the restricted movement in Indonesia, while Honda saw launches in Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Toyota was not one to be outdone with launches in Vietnam, Malaysia and Philippines. Meanwhile, the growing interest in electric cars spotted in Singapore, as the netizens actively participated in discussions comparing the offerings of electric car manufacturers such as Tesla and BYD, besides the new launches of traditional manufacturers such as BMW. 

Strategy in Enticing Customers through Innovation 

As a key driver of GDP in many countries, governments have offered aid to companies who have been hit hard by COVID-19, in the automotive industry. As such, the carmakers around SEA have turned to innovation to boost sales of their vehicles. 

In Malaysia, Mercedes-Benz, with Hap Seng Star, launched the first Autohaus car dealership with luxury boutiques in the market to provide customers with exclusive Mercedes-Benz design series and accessories.

“The auto segment in Malaysia sees gradual recovery despite some key challenges such as stricter lending approvals from financial institutions and unfavourable foreign exchange environment. With new car launches such as Proton X50 and the all-new Honda City, consumers remained incentivised to take advantage of the government stimulus packages including a waiver of sales taxes on cars until the end of 2020,” Ho Paik San, Isentia’s Associate Insights Director, Malaysia, explained. 

Given the current economic downturn, brands in other markets also used interesting ways to boost car sales. Mercedes-Benz Indonesia marked its 50th anniversary with an event at the Wangherang factory in Bogor, West Java, featuring 2 locally assembled popular high-end SUV vehicles. Mazda Vietnam held a big promotion of all existing cars and special edition cars to celebrate its 100th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of the Thaco-Mazda cooperation. 

Toyota Heads Brands Spotlight in Southeast Asia 

The Japanese automotive brand Toyota takes the lead with 6,271 coverages; 34,088 social buzzes and ranked top 5 among automotive brands in 5 markets – Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Thailand. Posts about Toyota were largely surrounding its launch of new car models and a special service campaign to attend to fuel pump concerns on Innova and Fortuner models in the Philippines. 

While media in Vietnam largely covered on Toyota Vios leading the car sales in the market in September last year, as according to Interbrand’s annual global brand equity ranking and a report by the Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers Association (VAMA), the social buzz included posts on lower sales for Toyota Camry due to COVID-19, as well as a review of the new Toyota Innova 2020. 

The Emergence of Local Automotive Brands in Malaysia and Vietnam 

Mentions of local automotive brands stand out in Malaysia compared to other key Southeast Asian countries, owing to high traction on posts. Digital journalism coverage was largely business-centric and included news items on Perodua Malaysia, recording the highest-ever monthly sales in its 27-year history, despite the waves of nationwide lockdowns this year due to the pandemic. Proton Malaysia also garnered high attention during the period of studies, both in digital media and social conversation. 

In other emerging markets, The Philippines’ MG and Vietnam’s Vinfast garnered attention in social media, making their way to the top five of the automobiles-related social conversation amongst the global automotive brands. 

“The ‘local factor’ has become a competitive advantage in the car industry. Besides (Japanese brands) being trusted as having the best quality and durability, the local brand, Vinfast, cannot be ignored. After more than one year of selling commercial vehicles with 03 models of Fadil, Lux A, and SA, Vinfast has successfully become the leading brand in the A-segment, posing a significant threat to the foreign brands,” Nhi Tran, Isentia’s Senior Insights Manager, Vietnam, said. To view the full report and analysis, click here.

Click here to view the full brand rankings

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