TOKYO - Combined new-vehicle sales in the four largest markets of Southeast Asia - Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines - surged 46.5 percent last year to 989,884, according to figures compiled by Automotive Resources Asia, a Bangkok, Thailand, marketing and consulting company.
But sales slowed considerably in the final four months of the year, it said, raising concerns about 2001.
Sales rose by at least 50 percent from year-earlier levels in the four markets combined in each of the first eight months of 2000, peaking with an 89.2 percent surge in May.
However, sales rose only 29.1 percent in September, 39 percent in October, 36 percent in November, and a mere 4.3 percent in December.
New-vehicle sales in December fell 2.4 percent in Malaysia, 17.8 percent in the Philippines, and 10.4 percent in Thailand. But Indonesia's sales rose 62 percent in December.
'The market is beginning to look less stable,' Graeme Maxton, economist and co-founder of autoPOLIS, a United Kingdom consulting firm, said in Tokyo.
Car sales in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Kampuchea, Brunei and Myanmar, 'could drop back to 1998 levels,' he warned.
Including Korea in his assessment, Maxton said, 'Many countries risk a W-shaped recovery, rather than a U-shaped one.'
John Bonnell, Automotive Resources Asia's executive director said: 'There is a great deal of nervousness in each of the ASEAN markets. Business confidence and consumer confidence are down. As a result we are looking for a weakening of sales in the coming months, though nothing drastic.'
For 2000, sales in Malaysia rose 18.9 percent to 343,173. Sales in Indonesia rose 218.2 percent to 300,573. Sales in Thailand rose 20.1 percent to 262,189. Sales in the Philippines rose 12.8 percent to 83,949.
By maker, Toyota Motor Corp. led the region tracked by Automotive Resources Asia with a 20 percent share of the market in 2000. Malaysia's Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional Bhd., maker of Proton cars, owned 8 percent by Mitsubishi Motors Corp., was second with 18 percent, and Mitsubishi was third with 12 percent.
Malaysia's Perodua and Japan's Isuzu Motors Ltd. were tied for fourth with 10 percent each, followed by Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. in a tie with 6 percent each.
Proton and Perodua, aided by favorable taxes and tariffs, combined to grab 80.4 percent of the Malaysian market in 2000.
The best-performing European or North American carmaker in the four nations was Ford Motor Co. It snared 6.3 percent of the Thai market last year, 7.0 percent of the Philippine market, 1.8 percent of the Malaysian market and 0.03 percent of the Indonesian market.