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Myanmar 2014 Photo: The new car showrooms of Yangon

Dongfeng Motors (DFM) showroom on Baho Road, Yangon

Now that we have explored in detail the (used) car landscape in Yangon and Bagan, we get back to Yangon to study a new phenomenon in Myanmar: new car showrooms. With the country loosening up its political situation and opening up to the outside world, economic sanctions have thawed and with that carmakers have scrambled to get a foot in the awakening new car market and are officially returning to the country after decades of absence. In fact, many manufacturers have opened their first car showroom in Myanmar only in the past 12 months. Yes, there are still countries in the world that are discovering the pleasures of that new car smell. How refreshing. I managed to visit 7 showrooms in total in Yangon, there are ranked here based on how impressive the experience was. Note Ford, Chevrolet, Honda, BMW (opened on 21 November 2014), Mercedes (opened on 29 November 2013) and Tata also have showrooms in town.

Omnipresent DFM Brand Ambassador Sai Sai Kham Leng

1. Dongfeng Motors (DFM)

The DFM Yangon showroom opened on 18 February 2014. In my view, the Chinese manufacturer stands out for a variety of reasons. Firstly its location not in central posh Pyay Road which had up to now attracted most new car showrooms in Yangon but in Baho Road, a popular, very ‘mass market’ street parallel to it. This is clever as it avoids frontal competition with other manufacturers while staying near and relevant, and also closer to its target market.

Dongfeng Ko1H (left) and K01 (right)

Secondly, Dongfeng already has the most complete range of all carmakers present in the country, starting with 6 microvans and pickups: the US$7.499 K01 pickup, the more recent US$7.999 K01H pickup, the $8.999 K05 Delivery Van, $9.999 Ko7H Delivery Van and $14.999 Ko1 Refrigerator and Freezer. Looking at the car landscape in Yangon filled with used Japanese Kei pickups, this commercial range from Dongfeng is spot on and dirt-cheap despite the extravagant import taxes. The Chinese manufacturer knows this is its’s best hook to lure consumers away from used cars and has displayed half its commercial range outside the showroom for all to see. Inside, the S30 sedan, H30 Cross hatch, Oting SUV, Succe Minivan, U-Vane MPV (in fact an LDV Maxus) and Rich pickup are all there – the entire range. Prices go from US$14.999 for a Rich Single Cab 2WD to US$39.000 for the U-Vane 17 Seater. The S30 starts at $20.999 and the H30 Cross at $22.499 while the Succe starts at $19.999. Still high given the questionable interior quality, dated designs (Oting, Rich) and engines but miles below say Toyota or Kia.

Dongfeng’s most popular new nameplate in Myanmar: the Rich pickup

But the most impressive element of my Dongfeng experience was the salespeople. While in all other stores I would have either a door-opening stewardess following each and every one of my steps smiling but without uttering a word until the store manager comes to greet me a good 5 minutes later, or for smaller showrooms the store manager would timidly come towards me with hesitant English. Fair enough, this is a new thing in this country. However as I entered the Dongfeng showroom, I had not yet closed the door behind me that I already had two complementary salespersons attending to my needs: the lady instantly gives me a complete range price list (I love the transparency) while the bloke unlocks the cars I am curious about and talks engines. When I asked which was their most popular model, they both pointed without hesitation to the Rich. Makes sense as it’s their cheapest, but all other showrooms pointed to their most expensive fares in the hope I would rather fall for them. They were the only ones to ask me to fill prospective client form, sharing a discreet but disappointed look when the penny dropped I didn’t live in Yangon, the only ones to give me a 2015 calendar as present and the only ones to ask if I wanted to test drive any of their cars, like, right now? Well done Dongfeng.

Finally, looking at both outdoor advertising billboards throughout the city, the local automotive press and their showroom layout, Dongfeng seems to be the only carmaker with a really consistent marketing strategy featuring a Brand Ambassador, the ultra-famous , aspirational for Dongfeng’s target market which would be workmen and professionals in their twenties and thirties. Sai Sai is on every piece of Dongfeng collateral all the way up to the calendar. All-in-all a very impressive delivery by Dongfeng. Other brands’ commentary will follow shortly.

2. Mazda

Mazda gets to rank as the second most impressive showroom I visited in Yangon. This store has only been open since October 20 and at the time of my visit (exactly two month after its opening), a full-on Christmas promotion event was occurring with free food, a magician, a DJ and rather *magically* a definitely Burmese Santa Claus! The staff was very dynamic and completely fluent in English-savvy salespeople.

The manager told me they sold over 100 cars since the showroom opening, which sounds a little inflated, however this was the only showroom of all the ones I visited where I witnessed a happy customer driving away with his new car – a Mazda CX-9 with a giant “Happy new year” sticker flanking the driver’s door. I was told the CX-5 is Mazda’s best-selling new car here which is consistent with my street observations. The store displayed one CX-5, one BT-50 pickup along with 3 sedans: the Mazda 2, 3 and 6.

The store did seem overstaffed though, with at least 10 salespeople, the catering company manager serving the snacks. All this for me and a group of 4 customers who arrived together during the 30 minutes I stayed in store which was the Saturday before Christmas.

Finally, in what is potentially the most revealing piece of information in this visit to the Yangon Mazda dealership, a smaller showroom adjacent to the Mazda is under refurbishment to welcome a brand-new Chana/Changan dealership. Japanese Mazda and Chinese Chana/Changan are associated by a joint-venture in China so it makes total sense that the Chinese manufacturer’s first dealership in Myanmar finds itself next to the Mazda showroom. Astute positioning and segmentation will have to be in place to make sure all 3 brands cohabit without any internal competition, especially as dirt-cheap Chana commercial vehicles have the biggest sales potential of all in this country.

3. Kia

In third place I choose Kia. The Korean manufacturers sports the second biggest showroom in town among the ones I got to visit. The entire 9-model range is on display, ordered from most affordable to most luxurious. We have the K2700 pickup, Rio, Cerato, Optima, Carens, Sportage, Sorento, Carnival and Quoris. Everything is very orderly here and nothing is blatantly wrong but there is nothing strikingly amazing either. Christmas and New Year decorations are all in place, the staff is polite and smiley but there’s not that many people interested (yet) to buy a new vehicle here.

Sandar Lwin, Corporate Sales Executive and acting as the store manager, came down from her office shortly after I appeared in store and was happy to announce Kia just launched a leasing option on all their models – the only dealership communicating this info to me, which may also mean they are the only manufacturer to offer this option in Myanmar so far. She told me the Optima, Sportage and Sorento are their most popular models –  the first two gel with my observations on the ground but the Sorento definitely doesn’t. Trying to push her upper range onto the (supposedly) expat buyer are you?

4. Morris Garages (MG)

Surprisingly, this was the largest showroom I visited and by very far. But it felt a little empty, with the MG range still relatively limited in Myanmar. This showroom opened on 4 June 2014. The Customer Service Assistant for local distributor LS Auto Nay Win Htet was visibly stunned that a potential customer actually did enter his store, all the cars were closed and required him to get back to his office to scramble for the keys, brochures for all models. English communication wasn’t really possible except for a few key words.

At least pricing he knew by heart, but it is the main reason why no one visits this store. There were 4 MG3 displayed, starting at US$17.600, 3 MG6 Turbo starting at $32.000, 2 MG350 starting at $28k and one MG750 at $44k. The focus on the collateral is clearly on the English ‘heritage’ of the brand, as I saw at the last Beijing Auto Show. Oddly there was one Range Rover and one Porsche Panamera parked inside the store. MG are ready for better times but very sleepy for now.

 

5. Toyota

To my knowledge this is the first new car dealership opened in Myanmar since the country reopened its borders, a little more than one year ago. It is called Toyota Aye and Sons and located on Kabe Aye Pagoda Road not far from the new Mazda showroom. This Toyota showroom was built next to a Toyota Service Center that has been operating for over a decade. Given Toyota’s domination of the used car market in Myanmar, I was expecting a massive showroom. In fact it is the second smallest I have visited. Toyota plans more showroom both in Yangon and in the country’s capital Nay Pyi Taw in 2015 though.

Only 3 cars are on displace and you couldn’t fit half one more: one Prado, one Camry and one new generation Corolla. A second new gen Corolla was parked outside the showroom on the day I visited. These ended up being the only two new gen Corolla I saw in the entire trip. Toyota new car prices start at a very reasonable US$20.000 for a Hilux single cab and end at an extravagant US$190.000 for a Land Cruiser station wagon.

The whole store was rather old school with a board displaying all models on sale along with the available paint colours. The store person was one of the most knowledgeable I got to speak with, telling me they sell about 30-40 units a month which rings true. Their best-seller is the Hiace which at the time sounded odd as I hadn’t really noticed that many new ones in the streets of Yangon, but after staying in Bagan I understood why: most premium hotel have one to transport their customers. And they’d rather (and can afford) to buy new, unlike the majority of the population.

Locally-assembled Suzuki Super Carry pickup in one of the two Yangon Suzuki showrooms

6. Suzuki

The smaller one of the two Suzuki showrooms in Yangon is the one I got to visit, located near the old horserace course. This is a tiny, ‘family’ showroom with a very friendly manager, Aung Myo Naing, who was more than happy to explain at length to me why they were only selling used Suzuki Swift in the store. Taking into account the extravagant import tax imposed by the Myanmar government, they can sell a 2011 Swift for around US$15k whereas a new one would cost at least double that if imported into the country. It’s worthwhile noting that at no point were imports from India mentioned, only from Japan. The Swift is manufactured in India by the Maruti-Suzuki joint-venture, at a much lower cost but with questionable quality and security standards. Japan imports it is for Myanmar.

Myanmar Suzuki Super Carry brochure

The most interesting piece of information Aung Myo Naing shared with me is that the Suzuki Super Carry is assembled locally – to my knowledge the only vehicle to be produced by Myanmar at the moment. This particular showroom sells between 35 and 80 locally-assembled Super Carry a month depending on company orders – one company ordered 20 at once. This would make the Super Carry the best-selling new model in the country, which is something I will cover shortly.

7. BAIC (Beijing Auto)

Located at the start of Kabe Aye Pagoda Road a few minutes drive from Toyota, this BAIC showroom ended up being my most underwhelming dealership experience in Yangon. There was no personnel in the store that seems to have taken the place of a used Toyota service store. The used cars fill the area around the store, with salespeople setting their desk outside with their laptops! Two blokes in shorts from the service shop came with me inside without uttering a word, one climbed with me into the BAIC A1 (E-series) I was curious to look at, just said ‘Made in China’, the price in Myanmar Kyats (16 million, or US$15.600) and smiled, clearly more interested in selling me a used Toyota.

The range extends to the MZ40 minivan and Senova sedan but although brochures for these two models were available in the showroom, they were nowhere to be seen. Reversely, despite displaying two A1 hatchbacks, there were no brochures for it. The showroom itself is rather impressive, dominating a busy crossroads, but it looks and feels abandoned. Icing on the cake: a flamboyant Rolls Royce is on display in the showroom. Wait what?

Great branding, but ‘propaganda wall’? 

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