Thanks to Duterte foreign policy shift, Russian, Chinese carmakers pivot to PH

Dominic Menor, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 05 2018 09:48 PM | Updated as of Apr 06 2018 04:13 AM

Russia's GAZ, China's JAC Motors set foot in Philippines

The Gazelle Motors Corp. booth at the Manila International Auto Show at the World Trade Center in Pasay City on Thursday. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

The Gazelle Motors Corp. booth at the Manila International Auto Show at the World Trade Center in Pasay City on Thursday. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

The Gazelle Motors Corp. booth at the Manila International Auto Show at the World Trade Center in Pasay City on Thursday. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

The Gazelle Motors Corp. booth at the Manila International Auto Show at the World Trade Center in Pasay City on Thursday. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

The Gazelle Motors Corp. booth at the Manila International Auto Show at the World Trade Center in Pasay City on Thursday. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Car enthusiasts knew what they intended to see, where to go and which product-unveiling they wanted to bring out their cameraphones for at the Manila International Auto Show (MIAS) at the World Trade Center (WTC) in Pasay City on Thursday.

The Ford, Hyundai and BMW launches were highly anticipated, stamping their class as the day’s “celebrities.”

At the corner of the WTC, two companies were less about captivating the audience and reinforcing name-recall.

For JAC Motors and GAZ, car manufacturers from China and Russia, respectively, they’re at MIAS hoping to make a proper introduction to the Filipino market and leave a strong impression on them.

A year ago, seeing a participant from Russia and another from a state-owned Chinese car manufacturer at an auto show in the Philippines would’ve been unlikely, but this is the by-product of the drastic pivot in foreign policy under President Rodrigo Duterte.

Kristina Dubinina, sales director at GAZ, said the idea to set up shop in the country began when a Filipino delegation that included businessmen visited Russia in May 2017.

That’s where Dubinina and Eastern Petroleum chairman Fernando L. Martinez were introduced.

“We just met and discussed opportunities and possibilities. I showed him the catalogues of GAZ, especially the minibuses,” Dubinina recalled.

“And Dr. Martinez showed me the program that President Duterte is pushing, about the modernization of the transport infrastructure in the Philippines and within one day, we agreed that it might be the big deal, the big chance.”

JAC's FIRST

Cannon Wang, a regional sales manager at JAC’s passenger-car department, said lower trade tariffs under the current administration encouraged the state-owned company to put up a local dealership.

According to Wang, the JAC showroom in Alabang is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.

“Since this year, our governments’ relationship has been warming up and we’re enjoying some benefits on the tariff decrease,” he said. “This year is a good way to open the market.”

The local GAZ distributorship, under the Gazelle Motors Corp. of Eastern Petroleum Group of Companies, which is located in Makati, launched on March 1.

JAC Motors, in partnership with Muntinlupa-based Triesenburg Auto Corp., opened its building on March 21.

With its buses and minivans, GAZ’s vehicles fit the specifications required by the government, which has been pushing to upgrade public transportation.

Dubinina said GAZ can provide such an alternative.

“The modernization program has a very stable, very logical background. People want more comfort, more safety and for such a paradise like the Philippines, more environment-friendly and more reliability,” she said.

“We know our products, we know we can cover these challenges. I think it’s the right way to go for a country and we’re happy to support such a program. This is an honor for us.”

All of GAZ’s bestsellers — including the Next minibuses and cargo vehicles— are in the country, said Dubinina, who has familiarized herself with the Philippines’ transport needs.

“The adaptation of the products for specific markets is a must,” she said.

“So, the air-conditioning system is specially developed not for desert heat, but for hot climate with high level of humidity because there’s a big difference when you develop a car for Egypt or Morocco.”

For the new players in the local auto industry, they’re preaching patience in a country that sees their products as in many ways foreign.

Wang said it’s important to focus on the clientele.

“Every unit we sell and every customer we deal with, we want to make them satisfied. And we want to spread this reputation, the customers’ mindset to their friends, neighborhood. Satisfaction is key to opening new doors,” he said.

“We work with strong partners so we’re confident we can accomplish that, but we need to build a good, solid foundation in the first stage and I think we can create a good reputation in the future.”

Dubinina said companies are confident in what they offer, but it’s crucial for potential buyers to experience their products and how they do business to build trust.

“I see that people like what they see. Now they just need more (opportunities) to try them out,” she said.

“Of course, everybody needs to time to try a new brand. For us, it’s important that our end customers and local partners feel that we are near. 

“Physically our plants are in Russia but all the time, our team is here. We insist on a very high level of service, on reliability and stability of our product.”