Car sales slipped by 1.4% in January, industry data showed. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

THE AUTO INDUSTRY is showing hints of recovery, as car sales in January dipped by 1.4% year on year, the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Inc. (CAMPI) and the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA) reported on Thursday.

The joint report said that sales fell to 23,380 units in January, from 23,723 in the same month in 2020, as passenger car sales growth failed to offset the continued drop in commercial vehicle sales.

In a statement, CAMPI said the slight year-on-year decline in January sales was a “positive sign” that the industry was slowly recovering.

Car sales slumped by 39.5% to 223,793 units in 2020 compared with the previous year after restrictions declared to contain pandemic lowered demand. Sales fell by as much as 99% at the height of the strict lockdown in April.

But January 2021 sales were still 15.3% lower than December sales, which stood at 27,596 units.

To recall, sales in January last year declined by almost 12% after manufacturing plants and dealerships in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) temporarily stopped operations due to the Taal Volcano eruption.

CAMPI President Rommel R. Gutierrez said the industry is cautiously optimistic.

“The pandemic still poses a challenge to the automotive industry,” he said in a statement. “We are also monitoring how the market will react with the imposition of the provisional safeguard duties starting February, which could potentially impact on the prices of imported motor vehicles.”

The Trade department slapped duties on imported cars to protect local industries after its investigation found a link between a surge in imports and the decline in local employment. Industry groups like CAMPI criticized the move, saying that it would impede auto recovery in the country.

Commercial vehicle sales, which account for 68.8% of the market, slipped 6.4% to 16,085 units in January. Broken down, sales of light commercial vehicles dropped 11.9% to 12,318 units and light trucks sales fell 8.8% to 333 units.

Asian utility vehicle sales climbed 25.8% to 3,118 units.

On the other hand, passenger car sales rose 11.5% to 7,295 vehicles.

Toyota Motors Philippines Corp. (TMP) continued to have the largest market share at 46.28% after selling 10,820 units in January. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. followed with 3,518 units sold, representing 15.05% market share, while Nissan Philippines, Inc. sold 2,321 units, representing 9.93% market share.

Nissan Philippines plants to shut its Almera assembly in Laguna next month, and will continue to sell to the country through its regional network.

Nissan said that the closure is not related to the safeguard duties or the pandemic, but is part of a global restructuring plan announced last year. — Jenina P. Ibañez