July 27, 2012 00:00 By Pattanadesh Asasappakij
The eco-car has been sold in Thailand for more than two years now, and there are presently four manufacturers - Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi and Suzuki - that offer these cars.
Nissan was the first brand to enter the eco-car market with the launch of the March; later it introduced the Almera, which catered to customers who wanted a vehicle with a larger interior.
Being the first manufacturer to enter the market meant that Nissan and its March were able to grab the largest portion, followed by the Almera.
Honda, which launched the Brio after the March, suffered bad luck. Right after the launch it was hit by a disruption of parts caused by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March, and then the massive Thai flood towards the end of the year which submerged both its plants in Ayutthaya.
The Brio was previously expected to become one of the most popular eco-cars in the market, but due to the problems just a few were delivered to customers. Honda even had to stop taking orders at one stage since it had no idea when full production would resume.
Today, the Honda plants have been rebuilt, and it will be interesting to see how it will save the Brio. If things had gone as planned last year, the Brio’s only rival in the market would have been the March. The Brio should have had the advantage due to Honda’s strength along with its wider sales network and customer base.
But as we all know, the scenario has now changed totally. There are more competitors in the eco-car market, and every one is attractive. Meanwhile, the Brio is getting negative comments, especially in on social networks, for its rear-end design. This makes it more difficult for Honda to stimulate Brio sales while it also has to introduce other models as well.
The Mitsubishi Mirage seems to be doing very well. Besides having a presenter who is very popular among young people, the Mirage is also a nice-looking car. Whether or not it will sell as well as the March will depend on the marketing and sales tactics of Mitsubishi, which has been offering cash rebates since the launch period.
Meanwhile, the Suzuki Swift has been considered a newcomer in the Thai passenger car market. Suzuki has a much smaller number of dealers and service centres than its competitors, but it has been able to gain popularity swiftly. It has been positioned as a “Japanese Mini”, and comes with a large number of accessories to stimulate the senses.
The Swift was previously a sub-compact and the descent to the eco-car market has brought along a stronger identity as well. Sales of the Swift is brisk – dealers are having to inform customers that cars ordered today will be delivered only early next year.
Meanwhile, eco-car usage in Thailand is another interesting topic. This could be due to miscommunication or could be the unique qualities of Thai consumers.For example, when customers ask whether the eco-car can travel long distances, some answer yes. Although the engine is just 1,200cc, every eco-car has more than 70 horsepower, which is as much as a 1,300cc passenger car of the past (this segment used to be the largest in the market as well). However, it is noted that the speed should not be over 110km/h.
But consumers are sometimes told that eco-cars are not suitable for long distance driving.
Some owners, after purchasing the car, retrofit it with a natural gas system such as CNG. Although technically it is possible, all eco-cars have a fuel economy of 20km/litre, which is excellent, so running on CNG may not result in siezeable savings, especially when considering the additional engine wear and the suspension that needs to take up extra weight. This could also lead to problems in the future.
So if you purchase an eco-car, make sure you study how to make full use of its outstanding qualities.