Experts forecast car sales at 1m units this year and next
Thailand's car market in 2019 will exceed 1 million units sold but with much lower growth than in 2018, say auto experts who view market sentiment as sustainable and healthy.
Signs point to 2018 car sales reaching 1 million units for the first time in five years, up 15% from 2017's 871,650, which was a 13.4% rise.
In prior years, local sales suffered from myriad negative factors, led by the hangover from the Yingluck Shinawatra government's first-time car buyer scheme and an economic downturn.
Chalatchai Paphatphong, vice-president of Inter-Media Consultant Co, organiser of the Thailand International Motor Expo, said that while the car market in 2019 won't enjoy the high growth of the last few years, the overall sector is now based on real fundamental factors.
"The positive momentum will be similar to 2018, with factors such as the country's economy and the introduction of new cars, but we are monitoring how the upcoming general election in February will beef up the volume of pickup trucks to run political campaigns," Mr Chalatchai said.
He said the sales volume of 1 million cars is now Thailand's natural level without any stimulus measures, so some slower pace in the future would be acceptable.
"It's unnecessary to stimulate the local car market with short-term measures, because all manufacturers have to prepare and invest more in their production lines," Mr Chalatchai said. "After the measures expire, demand drops sharply."
Pitak Pruittisarikorn, chief operating officer of Honda Automobile Thailand, said the car market has recovered to a normal situation since 2017, so sales volume of more than 1 million units would reflect organic growth based on many positive factors in the country.
"The current growth in the Thai market is now steady and healthy," Mr Pitak said.
He said the economy still faces some unpredictable factors from global circumstances, such as the trade war between the US and China and the volatile movements of emerging-market currencies, which will pressure Thai GDP and exports.
Morikazu Chokki, president and chief executive of Mitsubishi Motors Thailand, said the biggest factors to impact Thailand in 2019 will come from external risks. Apart from the trade war, the Brexit process and China's economic pains loom large.
"Thailand's exports continue to rely on global circumstances, but Mitsubishi expects overall shipments to not be hurt much from a decline in the country's GDP," Mr Chokki said.
Mitsubishi forecasts the car market in 2019 to reach 1.05-1.07 million units sold, a 3-5% increase from 2018.
The 35th Thailand International Motor Expo, staged by Inter-Media Consultant, ended Monday. Mr Chalatchai said he was optimistic of securing total bookings in line with expectations.
The organiser expects the 12-day car show to receive bookings for 45,000 cars and 8,000 motorcycles, up 13% and 3.7% year-on-year, respectively.
"We have received 80-90% of our targets so far," Mr Chalatchai said on the last day.
Passenger cars were the most popular bookings at 39%, while SUVs and pickup passenger vehicles accounted for 34%.
Battery electric vehicles (EVs) were led by the mini-EV by FOMM, with roughly 250 bookings, while the Nissan Leaf, newly launched in the Thai market, got 11 bookings.
Mr Chalatchai voiced confidence that money circulation would reach 55 billion baht for the 12-day period, up from 52 billion at last year's showcase. The number of visitors is expected to reach 1.5 million baht, up from 1.36 million last year, he said.