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How automotive brands adapted amidst COVID-19 in Southeast Asia

How automotive brands adapted amidst COVID-19 in Southeast Asia

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This post is sponsored by Isentia. 

In Southeast Asia (SEA), the strict movement control restrictions this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic were expected to hit the automotive industry hard, as with other industries regionally and globally. Or so assumed.

Isentia set out to discover the changing landscape in the automotive industry during these unprecedented times. We uncovered automotive-related discussions in mainstream and social media across major Southeast Asian countries – namely Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Drawing from media analytics data obtained between 1 October 2020 and 15 November 2020, Isentia identified the key trends across key SEA countries as we enter 2021.

Notable trends

1. Car launches despite economic slowdown amid the COVID-19 pandemic

A study of online journalism coverage and social media postings in key Southeast Asian countries seems to suggest that despite being hard hit by the economic downturn and restricted movement, carmakers have continued to push momentum with the launches of various car models.

For instance, BMW Indonesia, keeping with the need to socially distance to keep safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, held a virtual launch of the BMW M2 Edition by Futura 2000. The brand even delivered a brand new BMW using container-sized boxes as a precaution.

2. Innovative ways to entice customers

The car industry is seen as a key driver of GDP in many countries and trouble in the automotive industry could spell trouble for the wider economy. Some governments have offered aid to companies, but that may not be enough, and as such, carmakers around SEA who have been hit hard by COVID-19 have turned to innovation as a way to boost sales of their vehicles.

For instance, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (and Hap Seng Star) launched the first Autohaus car dealership with luxury boutiques in Malaysia aimed at providing customers and their cars with exclusive Mercedes-Benz design series and accessories. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, Mercedes-Benz just marked its 50th anniversary with an event at the Wanaherang factory in Bogor, West Java, featuring two locally assembled popular high-end SUV vehicles in Indonesia.

Over in the Philippines, Morris Garages (MG) Philippines partnered with Miss Universe Philippines winners in a competition for a chance to win one new MG car.

Notable markets


Mentions of automotive brands both in online coverage and social media stand out in Malaysia as compared to other key Southeast Asian countries, owing to high traction on posts. Online journalism coverage was largely business-centric and included news items on Perodua Malaysia recording the highest-ever monthly sales in its 27-year history, despite the waves of nationwide lockdowns this year due to COVID-19.

Ho Paik San, associate insights director, said: “The auto segment in Malaysia is seeing gradual recovery despite some key challenges such as stricter lending approvals from financial institutions and an unfavourable foreign exchange environment. With new car launches such as Proton X50 and the all-new Honda City, consumers remained incentivised to take advantage of the government stimulus packages, including a waiver of sales taxes on cars until the end of 2020.”


Online journalism coverage and social media buzz in Indonesia also pointed to more car launches amid the COVID-19 pandemic and with the restricted movement in the country. Nissan Indonesia, BMW Indonesia and Mazda Indonesia contributed to posts and coverage on car launches in the country during this period of analysis. Also in Indonesia, car brands used interesting ways to boost car sales given the current economic downturn. 

“The 2020 to 2021 transition will be even more exciting as the automotive industry’s focus is giving more attention to the emerging markets. It may be said the emerging markets in Southeast Asia are key and pivotal to the automotive industry’s continued growth, as global vehicle purchases continue to climb,” said Lady Ochel Espinosa, regional insights manager for Emerging Markets (SEA) at Isentia.

Brand analysis

1. Digital journalism coverage

Honda and Toyota were the top automotive brands observed in digital journalism coverage in two out of six Southeast Asian markets – Honda in Malaysia and Thailand, and Toyota in the Philippines and Vietnam.

These were largely attributed by Honda Malaysia launching the new 2020 Honda City in four variants priced between RM74,191 and RM86,561 [1], while Honda Thailand was the brand with the number one market share focused on the world’s first Honda City Hatchback model as the first five-door eco-car in Thailand.

Meanwhile, posts about Toyota in the Philippines were largely surrounding the brand’s launch of new car models and the special service campaign to attend to fuel pump concerns on its Innova and Fortuner models, while Toyota Vietnam continued to be the leading brand in the car industry in Vietnam according to Interbrand’s annual global brand equity ranking, and a report by the Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers Association naming Toyota Vios the leader in terms of cars sold in Vietnam in September.

According to Nhi Tran, senior insights manager for Vietnam at Isentia: “The ‘local factor’ has become a competitive advantage in the car industry. Besides being trusted as having the best quality and durability, the Japanese brands such as Toyota, Honda, Mazda have also strengthened the ‘Japanese brands for Vietnamese’ image via focusing on locally assembled models and corporate social responsibility programmes.”

isentia3 jan 1

2, Social media buzz

Toyota was the top automotive brand mentioned on social media in two markets – Thailand and Vietnam. Buzz for Toyota in Thailand was driven by mentions of several Toyota-related events; meanwhile for Toyota Vietnam, buzz included posts on lower sales for Toyota Camry due to COVID-19 and a review of the Toyota Innova 2020. 

isentia3 jan 2

To view the full report and analysis, click here.
Click here to view the full brand rankings.

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