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Ex-Japan auto opportunity

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Ford vehicles on display at the company’s dealership in Siem Reap town last year. Photo by: Will Baxter

ALTHOUGH the trickle-down effects of Japan’s March earthquake have  hurt certain Cambodian auto sellers, some of their competitors say they have experienced an upturn  in sales.

Auto imports to the Kingdom fell 8 per cent during the first four months of this year, according to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce released earlier this week.

Industry insiders attribute the drop partly to the earthquake and the resultant slowdown in production capacity.  Domestic firms sourcing vehicles from Japan say they have struggled to meet demand.

As a result, firms from the US, South Korea or China that source parts and assemble vehicles outside of Japan said yesterday they had received greater attention from Cambodian consumers.

“We were surprised by these orders from customers who were normally the other [dealers’] customers. They’re approaching us,” Rami Sharaf, chief executive officer at RMA Group Cambodia, said.

RMA Group, which imports Ford vehicles, had experienced the most demand for pick-up trucks, Sharaf said.

He estimated that pick-ups accounted for 50 to 55 per cent of Cambodia’s new-vehicle market.

Even so, Sharaf claimed he had benefited less than a smaller dealer might have, given the size of his business.

“We feel a demand, but not an exaggerated one,” he said.

The company had suffered some minor setbacks as a result of Japan’s quake, Sharaf said, although he declined to describe them in detail.

China’s Great Wall Mot-ors  had also experienced increased customer interest over the past few months, Peang Mann, chairman and chief executive of Great Wall importer Worldwide Garage Company, said.

The gap left by Japanese-focused car dealerships had led to greater awareness of his brand and its price points, Peang Mann said.

“There’s a lot of demand because the price of the car is so cheap compared to Japanese and American models,” he said, adding that he expected interest to continue to build over the coming months.

Great Wall offered 10  models in Cambodia, although pick-up trucks were the most popular, Peang Mann said.

He put the market share for Great Wall trucks at between 40 and 50 per cent.

As many as five Chinese auto companies would be operating in the Kingdom by the end of next year, he said.

Not all of the Kingdom’s auto dealers have noticed a change, however.

Lim Visal, a director of  Hyundai seller Camko Motor, said the effect had not been substantial. He claimed there had been an increasing demand for Hyundai vehicles prior to the quake.

Lim Visal also said Cambodia’s auto market was dominated largely by used cars from the US, which were unaffected by the Japanese earthquake.

He emphasised that any interruption of supply from Japan would  be temporary, and would therefore fail to make a significant difference to local auto dealers.

According to Lim Visal, minivans and trucks are Camko’s biggest sellers.

“We totally dominate this segment, with or without the supply problem to the Japanese competitors,” he said.

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