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February 16 2021

How automotive brands in Southeast Asia must adapt to shifting themes post-COVID

Kiron Kesav, PHD Malaysia General Manager Strategy & Platforms, tells WARC it is vital for automotive brands in Southeast Asia, even those already recovering from periods of lockdown, to adjust to shifting themes in a post-pandemic world.

Where are the flying cars? If past predictions about 2020 were anything to go by, most of us should have been driving around in flying cars last year. Instead, what we have is a massive pandemic and the automotive sector featuring prominently in the list of the most affected industries as a result.

The story in Southeast Asia is no different. Two of the largest markets (Indonesia and Thailand) were already slowing down before the lockdown and then came 2020 with substantial sales declines – an average of 32% across the key markets.

But, having driven into 2021, is it all gloom and doom for Southeast Asia’s automotive sector? It would seem not, as long as brands take heed of the following three points:

  • Opportunities abound as more people avoid public transport due to health and safety concerns
  • The pandemic has changed mobility patterns and consumer preferences
  • Carmakers need to realign with consumer expectations and reimagine their marketing and branding

People are starting to shy away from public transport, with the effects showing even in countries like Singapore where public transport has long been a primary mover of people. Singapore has seen a decline of 26% in mobility to transit stations; in other countries, even sharper drops: Malaysia 61%, the Philippines 49%, and Indonesia 40%. In addition, ride-hailing and ride-sharing apps, which had seen explosive growth in the region, are also expected to slow down.

This is where the silver lining appears for the auto sector: 58% of Malaysians and 30% of consumers in Indonesia and Thailand intend to buy a car in the next six months. This is even more significant considering the current penetration of car ownership in these countries. With the exception of Malaysia, where 80% of households own a car, the numbers of car owners are low in most countries in the region. This presents an opportunity for car manufacturers.

Brands need to be bold, imaginative and experimental to come out successfully on the other side. We may still be far away from flying cars, but even so, we really have exciting times ahead.

Kiron Kesav deep dives into current consumer wishes and behavioural trends; and the added values for consumers of engagement, service and partnerships. This article was first published by WARC. To read the full interview with, click here 

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