Thu, Dec 09, 2004 - Page 11 News List

For automakers, Asia is the key

AFP , SINGAPORE

Auto sales in Asia are expected to grow at a world-beating 16 percent annually over the next 15 years as the region becomes critical for the industry to offset sluggish growth in other key markets, industry experts said yesterday.

Excluding Japan, regional auto sales will grow from 12 million units in 1999 to 31.3 million in 2020, Graeme Maxton, managing director for Asia for auto consultancy firm Autopolis, told an industry conference in Singapore.

If the projections materialize, it means Asia will account for one out of three cars sold globally in 2020 from one out of five in 1999, Maxton said.

For this year, Maxton said auto sales were expected to expand by 7 percent in Asia compared with 1 percent globally.

"Asia is the still best place to be ... excluding Japan, it's the fastest growing automotive region. Our view is extremely positive about Asia," he said.

Asia's appetite for autos, a reflection of the region's dazzling economic growth, could not have occurred at a better time for the US$2.6 trillion industry, with the traditionally strong markets of Europe, Japan and North America facing sluggish growth.

"[Those] markets are really not terribly fast growing," said Max-ton, who is also a contributing editor with the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit. "So Asia is absolutely critical to the state of the industry and the last three years have been absolutely fabulous."

Manohar Khiatani, director of the logistics and transport cluster at Singapore's Economic Development Board, agreed the world's automakers were looking to Asia as the No.1 source of growth.

"I think it will not be an exaggeration to say that in the current market conditions for automotive companies, Asia is the first imperative," said Khiatani, who also spoke at the conference. "Asia will continue to be the growth juggernaut for the automotive industry for the next few years."

Apart from buying vehicles, the region is also increasingly becoming a major manufacturing site, accounting for 35 percent of the world's auto production, Khiatani said.

China is one of the main markets to watch out for over the next decade as its automakers make huge strides in catching up with the rest of the world, Maxton said.

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