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Monday, 6 April 2009

Civic Hybrid CKD Thailand and Prius Malaysia launch

There have been some rumours circulating among the Thai automotive press that Honda Automobile Thailand is considering to domestically assemble the Civic Hybrid under the Thailand Eco-Car incentive drawn up by the Thai Board of Investment (BOI).

Currently, the only countries in the ASEAN region that sells the Civic Hybrid are Malaysia and Singapore. In Malaysia, the fully imported from Japan (Suzuka plant) Civic Hybrid sells at a very attractive RM129,980 - exactly the same as a domestically assembled (in Pegoh, Melaka) Civic 2.0S. But Honda does not expect a lot of interest in the Civic Hybrid for now, as it has set a lowly 300 units per year sales target. In Singapore, the Civic Hybrid retails at SGD79,200, just like a Civic 2.0, but Singaporean hybrid buyers are entitled a tax rebate of 40 percent of the Open Market Value of the car which can be used to offset the Additional Registration Fee (ARF). But like Malaysia, response to the car has been lukewarm. Unlike markets like Europe or USA, environmental consciousness is not really an in thing in developing markets in the ASEAN grouping, not even in the developed island state of Singapore.

If a CKD Civic Hybrid does materialise, prices might drop even further.

Besides lower car prices, under the Eco-Car plan, car manufacturers are entitled of a corporate income tax exemption of 8 years, regardless of the projects location in the country, along with duty-free importation of machinery. On top of that, the Thai Finance Ministry is also offering a 17% excise tax rate on eco-cars that have engines smaller than 1,300cc for petrol engines and 1,400cc for diesel engines (current excise tax rate is between 30%-50% for normal passenger cars).

The requirements of the Thai Board of Investment Eco-Car plan are:
1. Minimum investment value of approximately US$ 144 million
2. Actual production capacity must not be lower than 100,000 units per year from the fifth year of the projects operation.
3. Fuel economy rating of not over 5 litres per 100 kilometers (unspecified test methodology).
4. Complies to at least EU4 emission standard with CO2 emission below 120g/km.
5. Comply to UNECE Reg. 94 and Reg. 95 frontal and side impact crash safety standards.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian distributor of Toyota and Lexus vehicles UMW Toyota Motor has confirmed in an interview with NST CBT that the 3rd generation Prius will be launched in Malaysia by the second half of this year. Word has it that initially the car was planned to be launched in the KL International Motor Show 2009, but like the British Motor Show, KLIMS was canned as a result of the gloomy car market. KLIMS 2009 was initially planned to be held between June and July. So expect the launch date to be not far away from those dates.

EV mode is previously not available on US market models (standard on EU and Japan models) due to litigation concerns. Eco-mode and Power-mode alters the electronic throttle mapping for optimal fuel economy vs performance trade-off, and it is self explanatory which does which. Roof-top mounted solar panels are used to cool down the cabin and reduce load on the electric motor driven air-conditioner (not available as standard item in all markets).

Under the new 2009 budget, hybrid cars imported into Malaysia are entitled of exemption from the 100% excise duty and 50% import duty, but it is only applicable to petrol-electric hybrid vehicles whose internal combustion engine is below 2000cc. The exemption however is not indefinites, and will only last for two years, after which the government expects local assembly operations of such cars. Whatever that means. I am not sure how is UMW Toyota interpreting the last part of the sentence. It is obviously not practical to begin local assembly of such niche market low volume vehicles.

Prices can be estimated by looking at the range of retail prices of the Prius in other countries. In Singapore, the second generation Prius retails at SGD76,988. In comparison, a Corolla Altis 1.8 retails at SGD68,988 while a Camry 2.0 starts at SGD 82,988. There have been no news yet in Singapore regarding introduction of the 3rd generation Prius.

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