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Automobiles

Southeast Asian auto sales sink 40% for largest drop in a decade

Coronavirus keeps customers away in March, with April looking worse

A Toyota Motor dealership in Bangkok stands quiet as the coronavirus keeps customers away. (Photo by Akira Kodaka) 

BANGKOK -- New-vehicle sales in Southeast Asia plummeted 40% on the year in March, the biggest monthly drop-off in the past decade, data compiled by Nikkei finds.

Automakers sold only 196,802 vehicles in six of the region's leading markets that month as the coronavirus pandemic undercut both demand and consumer outings. 

Because Southeast Asian auto production essentially ground to a halt last month, sales in April likely fell by an even wider margin than in March.

In Thailand, one of the region's biggest markets, sales plunged 42% to 60,105 vehicles in March. Many Thais have seen their income decline after the government declared a state of emergency March 26. 

"Consumers have become cautious about spending," said a representative at Toyota Motor's local arm.

The Philippines suffered the biggest drop at 67%, with only 12,104 vehicles sold in March. Luzon, the country's largest island and home to the capital city of Manila, imposed a stay-at-home order March 17, which closed auto dealerships.

Malaysia ordered social restrictions on March 18, cutting auto sales 59% that month to 22,478 vehicles.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest auto market in terms of volume, endured a milder decrease than its neighbors. March sales shrank by 15% on the year to 76,800 vehicles.

Auto sales have undershot year-earlier numbers in Southeast Asia for six consecutive months, based on data from national industry groups and other sources. But the March drop was steep compared with the 4% contraction in February. Sales in the first quarter of the year retreated 21%.

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