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Myanmar Q1 2016: Suzuki Carry edges back to #1 (BSCB Exclusive)

The Suzuki Super Carry is back atop the Myanmar sales charts for just one unit.

* See the Top 20 best-selling brands and Top 100 models by clicking on the title *

The Myanmar new car market continues to open up with 2.167 registrations over the first quarter of 2016, a 52% increase year-on-year. Toyota once again leads the brands ranking, selling one in every five new vehicles in the country at 20.5% share vs. 18.4% over FY15. Suzuki soars to 16.2% vs. 9.4%, followed by Ford (7.5%) and Hyundai (6.7%) while Mazda shoots up from #13 in FY15 to #5 this year so far with 4.9% share. Lifan (#7), Jinbei (#9), Dongfeng (#10), King Long (#11) and Chery (#12) lead the Chinese charge adding up to 18.7% share vs. 22% in 2015.

The Suzuki Ertiga lands directly at #3 in Myanmar. 

Model-wise, after being outsold by the Toyota Hilux in January, the locally-produced Suzuki Super Carry edges back into the lead for just one unit over Q1 at 253 sales and 11.7% share vs. 252 and 11.6%. Launched in February in Myanmar, the Suzuki Ertiga lands directly on the podium at a brilliant third place with 4.5% share, knocking the Ford Ranger down to #4 and the Toyota Hiace to #5. The Jinbei Haise remains the best-selling Chinese nameplate in Myanmar at #6 overall above the Lifan Foison (#11), Dongfeng Rich (#12), Chery Tiggo (#17) and QQ (#19).

Previous post: Myanmar January 2016: Toyota Hilux takes the lead

Previous year: Myanmar Full Year 2015: Suzuki Super Carry and Toyota Hilux on top

Full Q1 2016 Top 20 brands and Top 100 models below.

Myanmar January 2016: Toyota Hilux takes the lead

The Toyota Hilux overtakes the Suzuki Super Carry to rank #1 in Myanmar this month.

* See the Top 20 best-selling brands and Top 65 models by clicking on the title *

577 new light vehicles were delivered in Myanmar in January, led by Toyota at 24.8% share. Chevrolet (8.5%), Hyundai (7.8%), Suzuki (7.6%) and Kia (6.4%) follow. Model-wise, while the locally-assembled Suzuki Super Carry led the sales charts over the Full Year 2015, the Toyota Hilux snaps the pole position in January, potentially boosted by the arrival of the new generation in dealerships: it holds 15.3% share vs. 7.6% for the Suzuki. Notice also the Chevrolet Cruze shooting up to #3 vs. #41 in 2015, the Hyundai H-100 up to #6, Lifan Foison up to #7 and Kia Picanto up to #8.

Previous post: Myanmar Full Year 2015: Suzuki Super Carry and Toyota Hilux on top

Full January 2016 Top 20 brands and Top 65 models below.

Myanmar Full Year 2015: Suzuki Super Carry and Toyota Hilux on top

As expected, the Suzuki Super Carry leads the Myanmar sales charts in 2015.

* See the Top 23 All-brands and Top 100 All-models by clicking on eth title *

For the first time in the history of BSCB we can share with you complete annual sales data for Myanmar. Very exciting times indeed. The data we can publish is claimed by manufacturers directly, albeit some are not sharing any figures such as BAIC or MG. When I visited the country in December 2014, I estimated the Myanmar new car market at no more than 3.000 units over the Full Year 2014. If that was correct, it means the overall Myanmar new car market has doubled in size in the space of a year, an evolution that would be in line with the fast-paced economic growth the country has experienced since opening up to the world a couple of years ago. 6.086 new passenger cars found a buyer in Myanmar in 2015, and as it is the case in virtually all of South-East Asia, Toyota is king here with an imposing 18.4% market share above Suzuki (9.4%) and Kia (9.1%).

The Toyota Hilux ranks #2 in Myanmar in 2015.

Ford and Hyundai round up the Top 5 while Chery leads the Chinese charge at #6 above Jinbei (#9), Dongfeng (#10), Lifan (#11), King Long (#16), Chana (#17) and Changhe (#18). Model-wise, the Suzuki Super Carry – assembled locally – is the best-selling nameplate in the country with 9.4% share, above the Toyota Hilux (7.1%), Ford Ranger (4.6%) and Toyota Hiace (4.4%). Popular in the touristic areas such as the Bagan valley, the Jinbei Haise ranks at a world-best 5th place just above the Chery QQ.

Previous post: Myanmar 9 months 2015: Suzuki Super Carry leads, Jinbei Haise #5

Previous year: Myanmar Full Year 2014: The best-sellers

Full Year 2015 Top 23 All-brands and Top 100 All-models below.

Myanmar 9 months 2015: Suzuki Super Carry leads, Jinbei Haise #5

The Suzuki Super Carry and Toyota Hilux are among Myanmar’s best-sellers.

* See the Top 15 best-selling brands and models by clicking on the title *

For only the second time ever on BSCB we are able to share with you official sales data for Myanmar, adding up to 4.726 sales over the first 9 months of 2015. Toyota remains the most popular carmaker with just under 18% share while below, Suzuki, Kia and Hyundai all bypass Ford which drops to 5th overall. Chery (#6) leads the Chinese offensive ahead of Jinbei (#9), Dongfeng (#10) and Lifan (#11).

Jinbei Hiace in Bagan, Myanmar

Over in the models aisle, the locally-assembled Suzuki Super Carry logically holds onto its throne with 9.3% of the market while the Toyota Hilux overtakes the Ford Ranger to hit 2nd place overall. Fittingly, the Jinbei Haise – a hit with the international hotel chains that are starting to pop up in the country – ranks 5th with 3.6% share, Chery places both the QQ minicar and the Tiggo SUV inside the Top 10 and the Dongfeng Rich makes its debut inside the Top 15.

Previous post: Myanmar 1st Half 2015: Discover the Top 85 models (BSCB Exclusive)

Full 9 months 2015 Top 15 brands and models below.

Myanmar H1 2015: Discover the Top 85 models (BSCB exclusive)

As expected, the Suzuki Super Carry leads the Myanmar sales charts in 2015.

* See the Top 18 best-selling brands and Top 85 models by clicking on the title *

It’s a rare moment when a country opens up to car sales data, and just as it is opening up to the world, this is what is happening today for Myanmar. The data we can publish is unverified and claimed by manufacturers directly, albeit some are not sharing any figures such as BAIC, Changan, Dongfeng or MG. When I visited the country last December, I estimated the Myanmar new car market no more than 3.000 units over the Full Year 2014. Over the First Half of 2015, 2.852 new passenger cars have reportedly found a buyer in Myanmar – giving us a credible doubling in size of this still nascent market.

The Ford Ranger ranks #2

Toyota has already taken control of the brands ranking with just under 20% share, above Ford at 11.2%, Suzuki at 10.2%, Kia and Hyundai. Chery ranks 6th and Lifan 11th, while in the premium aisle Mercedes lands at #10 and BMW at #12. As I estimated last December, the locally-assembled Suzuki Super Carry is the most popular nameplate in Myanmar with just over 10% market share, followed by the Ford Ranger – that’s a little surprise – and three Toyotas: the Hilux, Hiace and Corolla. The Chery QQ shows its bonnet at #6, the Chery Tiggo at #8, Ford Ecosport at #13 and Lifan Foison at #18. The complete ranking is below the jump.

Previous post: Myanmar Full Year 2014: The best-sellers

Myanmar 2014 Photo:

1. The cars of Yangon

2. The cars of Bagan

3. The new car showrooms of Yangon

4. How Chinese carmakers are faring

Full H1 2015 Top 18 brands and Top 85 models below.

Myanmar Full Year 2014: The best-sellers

The Suzuki Super Carry and Toyota Hilux are among Myanmar’s best-sellers.

This concludes my Myanmar Photo Report series, see all Photo with over 120 high resolution pictures here. Based on meetings and conversations with various dealership managers and observations on the streets of Yangon and Bagan, I can share with you an estimate of the best-selling new nameplates in Myanmar in 2014. Firstly lets keep in mind this is still a minuscule new car market with most cars entering the country being used imports from Japan. I estimate the Myanmar new vehicle market at no more than 300 units per month, and no more than 3,000 new sales over the Full Year 2014.

1. Suzuki Super Carry

The Suzuki Super Carry is currently the only new vehicle manufactured locally and therefore one of the few ones able to compete with dirt-cheap used Japanese mini trucks. According to store director Aung Myo Naing, 35 to 80 new Suzuki Super Carry find a buyer in the country each month depending on group orders, giving the model a 20% market share over the year with an estimated 600 sales.

2 x new Toyota Hiace at the Yangon Toyota dealership

2. Toyota Hiace

Toyota has a whole sold 30-40 new cars a month in Myanmar this year, and their best-seller is the Hiace which, at the time when store manager Aung Aye confirmed it, 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. I estimate 15-20 Toyota Hiace find a buyer every month in Myanmar, adding up to 200 in 2014.

Toyota Hilux in Yangon – December 2014

3. Toyota Hilux

Still extravagantly priced (US$78.000 for a double cab) due to high import taxes, Myanmar construction companies still find it hard to resist the charms of a new Toyota Hilux that can be imported from neighbouring Thailand where it is manufactured. The 1.5 cab is by far the most popular and along with a constant stream of used examples, the Hilux already accounts for a significant part of the Yangon traffic. I estimate sales of 10-15 a month in Myanmar in 2014, adding up to 120 for the Full Year.

The CX-5 is Mazda’s best-selling new vehicle so far in Myanmar.

4. Mazda CX-5

The Mazda dealership just opened on October 20 but Mazda already reports dynamic sales in the country, in line with street observations and the activity at the dealership, and singles out the CX-5 as its clear best-seller so far. I estimate 20 a month over the last two months of 2014.

Thai Ford Ranger

5. Ford Ranger

This ranking is based solely on observations in the streets of Yangon as I didn’t have the opportunity to meet anyone at Ford Myanmar. Like the Toyota Hilux, the Ford Ranger can be imported as new pretty easily from neighbouring Thailand and local new sales could reach 40 units over 2014.

Should follow in this order: the Kia K2700, Optima, Sportage, Honda CR-V and Kia Rio but monthly sales could potentially be counted on the fingers of one hand. Other successful new models in Myanmar worth mentioning include the Kia Carens and Picanto and Chevrolet Trailblazer and Spin. I also spotted my very first 2015 Nissan Navara in Yangon as well as one shining new Mercedes E-Class and one Ford Explorer.

Myanmar 2014 Photo: How Chinese carmakers are faring

King Long Minivan in Old Bagan, Myanmar – December 2014

If Chinese manufacturers have been one of the fastest off the starting blocks at establishing a new car showroom presence in Yangon, this has not translated (yet) onto the car landscape. A estimated the market share of Chinese manufacturers in the Myanmar car park at between 3 and 5%. It is closer to 0.5% when deducting the numerous Chery QQ taxis imported by the Ministry of Industry back in 2011-2012. These imports have not resumed since. The complete overview is below.

Chery QQ taxi in Yangon, Myanmar – December 2014

Aside from low-cost taxis, a segment in which the Chery QQ fits perfectly alongside the Tata Nano and used Toyota Probox and Nissan AD (among the most popular), kei mini pickups and vans are the most frequent types of vehicles in Yangon as described in Myanmar 2014 Photo: The Cars of Yangon. This is currently the biggest opportunity for Chinese carmakers in Myanmar as their microvans and pick-ups are the only ones able to compete on price with used Japanese kei imports.

Changhe Freedom

Moreover, microvans are fast going out of fashion back at home in China, replaced by more spacious MPVs like the Wuling Hongguang or Baojun 730. Manufacturers like Chana, soon to open a showroom in Yangon, or Dongfeng, which cleverly pushed its sub-$10k pickups to the front of their Yangon showroom, are desperate to find new markets for these vehicles that used to sell like hotcakes in China. It’s a slow start though: I only spotted one Dongfeng micro pickup during the week I stayed in the country.

Lifan Foison (right)

Chana Pickup

So far, Changhe has had the best luck with Myanmar car buyers, with 8 Freedom minivans spotted in a couple of days in Yangon, some used as taxis, as well as a couple of pickups. Lifan is next with 5 Foison minivans and 2 pickups spotted. I also picked two Chana pickups but their license plates in Burmese characters indicates they were registered before 2013.

Jinbei Hiace in Bagan, Myanmar – December 2014

The touristic region of Bagan uses a large amount of MPVs – used Japanese Toyota Hiace and Alphard imports – to transport tourists from hotels to temples. There is a great opportunity here for Jinbei, King Long and Golden Dragon to sell their Hiace clones at half the price of a new one, the same way they do very successfully in Egypt, also tourist-focused. Indeed, I spotted one Jinbei Hiace and 3 King Long minivans there.

King Long Kingo in Bagan, Myanmar – December 2014

Passenger cars is where the Chinese are struggling in Myanmar as they are at home. MG is priced way too high to really be competitive against the likes of Kia and Toyota, and the average Dongfeng is still at $US22k, much higher than the standard Japanese import: as low as US$6k for a Toyota Probox, $12k-$15k for a Toyota Corolla or more recent Suzuki Swift. As a result, there are not many in the streets: I spotted on MG3, one Changan CX30 while Brilliance seems to have been slightly more successful at importing used cars: I saw 3 hatchbacks in the 4 days I spent in Yangon.

ZX Auto Grand Tiger in Bagan, Myanmar – December 2014

Trucks and motorcycles, on the other hand, are a different story. The Chinese have a monopoly on these two segments like I witnessed in Vietnam and Mongolia, two other countries sharing a border with China. Motorcycle sales are set to grow exponentially if/when they are allowed in Yangon. Note Forland is a separate brand from Foton here with its own showroom, Skat trucks are very popular, Foton Ollin trucks a little less.

The Photo Report continues below.

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’? 

Myanmar 2014 Photo: The cars of Bagan

Nissan March

After studying the car landscape in Yangon, we now travel 650km North to Bagan. If motorcycles were banned in Yangon, they definitely rule the streets of this tiny countryside region famous for its valley counting over 3000 temples, most of them Buddhist. I spent most of my time here in New Bagan which is the closest place to the main temples where most hotels are located. Bagan is still a relatively well-kept secret: a breath-taking amount of magnificently restored temples coupled with an exquisitely friendly and laid-back local population makes it the perfect week-long escape from civilization: wifi internet at Western speeds is a distant memory hence the lack of updates on BSCB for a few days in the past week.

Chinese Luojia motorcycle in Bagan

The motorcycle is the default private means of transportation in Bagan, and the Chinese have a monopoly on these. A few brands spotted include Fekon, Dayang, Luojia, Feiling, Kembo, Canda, Yinxiang, Tarbo and JLM. Hadn’t heard of any of these before? Not to worry – me neither. Don’t own a bike? There are plenty of crumbling old Toyota light trucks (Dyna or Liteace) or kei pickups (Honda Acty) to carry you around. Or you can also create your own truck: I have seen a few interesting examples of homemade lego-like vehicles that have one thing going for them: they work!

Toyota Alphard

There are no new cars here, only used imports mainly from Japan as in Yangon. Most of them are MPVs to transport tourists from one temple to another and the Toyota Hiace of all generations – including the ones with the distinctive Japan-only “H” logo on the front grille – as well as the Alphard from one generation ago are the way to go.

Toyota Mark II Grande

There are two types of ‘luxury’ taxis at work in Bagan: the Toyota Mark II Grande and Toyota Crown Royal Saloon with its Mercedes-looking front, as well as a few ‘standard’ taxis wth the most popular being the Nissan AD and its clone the Mazda Familia.

Nissan AD

Toyota Alphard

I did spot a couple of King Long MPVs as well as one Jinbei Hiace. Being closer to China, this region’s heavy commercial vehicles are, as are motorbikes, totally dominated by Chinese manufacturers, the most popular being Skat. On a random note, I also discovered a new Japanese nameplate: the Isuzu Filly MPV, a clone of an old generation Toyota Alphard. Finally, I did spot one Thailand-registered current gen Ford Ranger and two Chinese-registered vehicles: a Toyota Highlander and a VW CC.

Chevrolet Bus in Bagan

Toyota Alphard

Honda Acty

Toyota Hiace

The next iteration in this Myanmar series takes us back to Yangon where we visit the very first new car dealerships in the country.

The Bagan Photo Report continues below with 26 additional pictures.

Myanmar 2014 Photo: The cars of Yangon

Yangon street scene – December 2014

Over the past week I was lucky enough to be able to visit Myanmar (aka Burma), exploring its biggest city Yangon as well as the Bagan valley, home of over 3000 temples. This is the first in a series of 5 Photo that will detail the car landscape in these two parts of the country, the all-new car showrooms popping up in Yangon, the Chinese models that have made it to Myanmar and finally the best-selling nameplates in the country. First we go through the cars of Yangon. Called Rangoon until 1989, Yangon is not the capital of Myanmar anymore, this honour goes to Naypyidaw since 2005. It is however and by very far the biggest city in the country with 6 million souls calling it home, Myanmar as a while counting 51 million inhabitants.Yangon also houses around 90% of all 300.000 cars in circulation in the country, as evidenced by the constant traffic jams plaguing the city’s roads at all times of the day. Myanmar counts 2.3 million vehicles, including 2 million motorbikes that rule the countryside but these are banned in Yangon.

Toyota Probox

Toyota Probox and Succeed

The first striking impression in Yangon is the fact that 2 years of relative openness of the country that followed almost 5 decades of military dictatorship have led to an invasion of used Japanese models, with the steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side of the car. Sounds familiar? That’s exactly what I had observed during my Trans-Siberian trip last year. In fact, the most popular Japanese import in Yangon was also #1 along the shores of Lake Baikal: the Toyota Probox, along with its slightly more upmarket variant the Succeed. Detailed observation of the Yangon traffic shows that the Probox is so successful here that it represents around 20% of all vehicles in circulation in town! 95% of them are taxis, but there are also a few private ones. They are mainly white and grey as these the colours Japanese consumers prefer. Seeing 4 Probox in a row in traffic is a common occurrence: it happened four times in my last two hours in town.

Toyota Probox x 3

Why such popularity of the Probox? The variants spotted in Yangon were mainly the bare-bones base version, a simple but very-well engineered and reliable station wagon that can accommodate 5 passengers comfortably as well as 300kg-worth of cargo if need be. The Probox goes under the radar in Japan sales charts simply because it is mainly sold as a Commercial Vehicles and LCV models rankings are traditionally unavailable there. The most common models in Yangon date back from 2006 to 2010 and can be bought locally between US$6.500 and US$10.000. Once a used imported model gets really popular in a developing country, it tends to breed more popularity, exponentially resulting in an overwhelming presence, due to mechanics knowing the model literally by heart. The same phenomenon is currently happening in most of Africa.

Nissan AD

In second place in Yangon traffic is the Nissan AD, the bare bones variant of the Nissan Wingroad, here too a very functional station wagon mainly used as taxi. Other popular taxis in Yangon are the Toyota Caldina station wagon (sold as Carina outside of Japan), 2001 Toyota Fielder, Honda Partner (the commercial variant of the Honda Airwave), Mazda Familia Van (a clone of the Nissan AD) and 1993 Toyota Corolla but the latter was much rarer than on the 2010 YouTube videos of Yangon streets I published earlier on BSCB.

A very happy Chery QQ taxi driver indeed

Among other Yangon taxis, two models are proof of the new commercial links the country is establishing with the outside world. As evidenced in my article Myanmar 2012: Chery QQ3 the new favourite, the Chery QQ can be seen very frequently here, exclusively as taxis. Flying in the face of the atrocious quality reputation Chinese manufacturer Chery is carrtying along, most QQ taxi drivers will tell you they are very happy with their diminutive car: low fuel consumption, enough room for passengers and no maintenance needed. Interesting.

Tata Nano

The second one was a surprise as I was unaware of it having crossed the Indian border into Myanmar: the Tata Nano can be seen in sprinkles around Yangon, here too almost exclusively as taxi. Despite all my best efforts I didn’t manage to get into one for a ride: the drivers were asking way too much compared to other taxis or they weren’t even interested in taking us. Afraid we wouldn’t fit?

Suzuki Carry

As far as used ‘workhorse’ vehicles are concerned, used Kei pickup and vans rule, notably the Suzuki Carry and Daihatsu Hijet. The Suzuki Super Carry is also extremely frequent but sold as new and assembled here in Myanmar, so its popularity will be covered in the ‘best-sellers’ article. Other successful Kei pickups in Yangon include the Honda Acty, Nissan Clipper (pickup) and Clipper Rio (van), Mitsubishi Minicab and Subaru Sambar. One size larger, the Toyota Town Ace and Liteace of all generations (and their other Japanese brands’ clones like the Mazda Bongo) are an absolute Yangon staple. The 1982 Toyota Town/Lite Ace looks like it was the only pickup circulating in the country for many decades and a very strong heritage of it can still be seen nowadays. These two nameplates may soon be replaced by the Hilux if import taxes get relaxed as we will see in the ‘best-sellers’ article: I spotted a lot of current generation Hilux imported directly from Thailand either as used (most probably) or new.

Daihatsu Hijet

Nissan Clipper

If a good 70% of all traffic in Yangon are taxis, commercial pickups or buses, there are still a significant amount of private cars, of which 95-97% are used imports, mainly from Japan but also from Thailand or China. A specific section is dedicated to the Chinese cars I spotted in the country and another one to the best-selling new cars in Myanmar, so we’ll study the used car market in Yangon for now. Why such a high ratio of used cars? Simply because the Burmese government imposes a 165% tax on all imported cars and apart from a few rare exception we’ll study further on, the only cars that can lower down their price to around US$12.000 even after tax while still remaining in almost mint condition and not requiring too much maintenance are the ones bought in Japan 4-5 years ago or more. It is well documented that Japanese consumers have an issue with buying a used car, so Myanmar has become, like many other developing Asian countries (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam…), Central Asia, Russia and almost all of Africa, the dumping ground for used, unwanted Japanese fare.

Toyota bB in Yangon, Myanmar – December 2014

Suzuki Swift

What do Yangon private car buyers favour? Essentially anything small enough to be cheap but recent enough to be reliable. The most common private car in Yangon is the Suzuki Swift and this was confirmed to me by the Suzuki salesman I interviewed, the 2011 model (current generation) is particularly popular. Also very successful are the Toyota Belta, Honda Fit, Nissan March, Mazda Demio, Toyota Vitz, Ist, Passo, Ractis, Bb, Wish and Caldina. What I had not seen before in other countries enamoured with used Japanese cars are kei cars, and they are aplenty in Yangon, among them the Suzuki Alto, Wagon R, Daihatsu Mira and Nissan Otti from one or two generations ago the most popular.

Range Rover Evoque

The luxury choice in Yangon is the Toyota Mark X, with the Toyota Crown from all generations also very present. I also welcomed back the Toyota Verossa that had left me perplexed back in Russia last year. Also worthwhile to note are a handful of current gen Japanese Toyota Corolla, Allion and Premio and Nissan Latio (aka Versa). Older, smaller SUVs are also very successful here: the 2nd gen Toyota RAV4, first gen Honda CR-V and Toyota Hilux Surf are favourites, as well as all generations of Toyota Prado and the more recent Mitsubishi RVR (aka ASX).

Toyota Hiace

Favourite MPVs are the Toyota Hiace and Alphard. A few oddities: one Vauxhall Astra station wagon, one Renault Duster, one Range Rover Evoque (Jaguar Land Rover did open a dealership in Myanmar in May), one Cadillac CTS and one ATS, as well as two Hummers.

Honda Insight

If in Mongolia a lack of import tax on hybrid cars resulted in a flood of Toyota Prius, here in Yangon the title of most surprising popular model goes to the Honda Insight, extremely frequent in the streets of the biggest city in the country – and I did not spot one single Prius!

Mazda Pathfinder

A few of you asked about Myanmar-specific cars that used to be the norm for the decades when the country had closed borders. I have some sad news here: as expected, the opening of the car market to competition has resulted in the all-but disappearance of these gems. During the entire trip I did spot 6 Mazda Pathfinder Jeeps in various degrees of disrepair (either dark blue or green as these were originally military vehicles), as well as a dozen Myanmar-specific Jeeps including a handful of Shan Star Jeeps, but it’s fair to say that unless someone launches a full-scale restoration service, these precious vehicles will be wiped off the surface of Myanmar within a few years.

This concludes the exploration of the (used) car landscape of Yangon. Next stop is Bagan in the centre of the country.

The Yangon Photo Report continues below with 32 additional pictures.