By Kap Maceda Aguila

AMERICAN CAR brand General Motors (GM) has announced it will cease local manufacturing and subsequently withdraw the Chevrolet brand from Thailand “by the end of the year.” The news, primarily distressing to some 1,900 people employed by the automaker (with some 1,200 involved in the Rayong manufacturing plant alone) also has ramifications for the Philippine market. More on that later.

Anyway, Chinese car maker Great Wall Motors is said to be receiving the factory that GM will vacate within this year under a purchase agreement. In related news, Chevrolet cars in Thailand are reportedly going for as much as 50% less than their original tags. “Buyers have to make a deposit to reserve a car and then pay the balance on the day of delivery,” according to a report from Bangkok Post.

But, again, what is the implication for the Philippines and its legion of Chevrolet owners — and those who are looking at getting one? Those who don’t know it yet should be aware that our Chevy Colorado and Trailblazer units are sourced from the soon-to-be-shuttered Rayong assembly line. There’s an uncertainty — at least for now — about where The Covenant Car Company, Inc. (TCCCI), importer and distributor of the Detroit-headquartered bowtie brand, will get its vehicles, post closure.

To assuage doubts, TCCCI quickly reacted via a press statement which reads in part thus: “Following the difficult decision by GM to cease local manufacturing and withdraw the Chevrolet brand from sale in Thailand by the end of 2020, GM wishes to reaffirm its partnership with TCCCI and continued focus on growing the Chevrolet brand and business in the Philippines.”

GM Southeast Asia President Hector Villarreal “reconfirmed GM’s partnership with TCCCI in the Philippines and the company’s ongoing commitment to ensuring (that) regional customers’ after-sales needs are met.” He maintained, “The Philippines remains a very important market for GM and Chevrolet, and we will continue working with our valued partners at TCCCI to grow Chevrolet in the Philippines.”

Aside from Thailand, GM will also terminate the Chevrolet stint in Australia and New Zealand by next year in a bid to “transform its international operations, building on the comprehensive strategy it laid out in 2015 to strengthen its core business, drive significant cost efficiencies and take action in markets that cannot earn an adequate return for its shareholders,” according to a GM release. It will also retire its Holden brand.

Tellingly, GM President Mark Reuss had said they “explored a range of options to continue Holden operations, but none could overcome the challenges of the investments needed for the highly fragmented right-hand-drive market, the economics to support growing the brand, and delivering an appropriate return on investment.”

We say tellingly because while the territories they’re retreating from are RHD, we in the Philippines are among LHD markets. TCCCI isn’t confirming yet, but we can hazard a guess that the Trailblazer might be sourced elsewhere such as South Korea and China (both RHD territories, by the way). The Colorado can come from a little farther away — Brazil. And guess on which side of the road they drive there.

It’s business as usual, said TCCCI SVP for Marketing Lyn Buena, in an interview with Velocity. Chevrolet Philippines promises to preserve the “ownership experience,” and looks forward to “no disruption” in the supply chain of vehicles and spare parts. “In fact, new opportunities might open because of the changes,” she said, without elaborating.

In a previous meeting with the members of the motoring media earlier in the month, TCCCI revealed that it was planning to unveil three new Chevrolet models in 2020. Ms. Buena now said “it might not be three anymore,” and that they’re looking at either Q3 or Q4 for the launches.