EXPATS or foreign car executives posted in the Philippines usually face the challenge of understanding the uniqueness of the domestic car market. But once they get a full grasp of what makes the Philippine car market one of a kind, they can create a loyal following for their products.
One such car executive is Malaysian Steven Tan, the president and chief executive officer of Berjaya Auto Philippines, whose career in the automotive industry spans more than 20 years with only two brands: Mazda and Ford.
Tan joined Ford Malaysia at a time when its mother company, Ford Motor Co., still had a stake in Mazda Motor Corporation of Japan. Ford Motor’s stake in Mazda Motor reached as high as 33 percent prior to the divestment of the American car firm.
“I stayed with Ford for 15 years, moving through eight different jobs in the company,” he said.
Tan eventually found his way to leading the Mazda brand in the Philippines under the Berjaya group in 2012. The Berjaya group has been doing business in the Philippines for more than 10 years but it was only in 2012 that it entered the car industry.
“It was a good opportunity [to work for Mazda]and it [reason]was not so much Berjaya, but more Mazda,” he said.
It was the second time he would be working in the Philippines.
“This is my second time in the Philippines, my first time in the Philippines was 2008 to 2011,” he said.
“I was vice president for marketing and sales in Ford Philippines,” Tan added.
PROUD OF THE BRAND
When Tan joined Berjaya Automotive in late 2012, the brand was already undergoing resurgence with its Kodo design philosophy and SkyActiv technologies.
“Mazda No.1 is foremost, a very good engineering company that designed and built cars that are legends and have cult following, cars like the RX7, cars like the Miata [RX-7] that are unique and very successful, and lived in hearts of minds of enthusiasts for a long period of time,” he said.
Tan attributed the success of the Mazda brand to the Kodo design philosophy and SkyActiv technologies.
“And about seven to eight years ago, they [Mazda] started going through about what we want Mazda to be, and they developed an engineering idea and concept and executed it, it’s called the Skyactiv technology. Skyactiv really is the technology that builds the company and the brand for the future,” he said.
The website of Mazda (www.mazda.com) says, “SkyActiv engines can compress the air-fuel mixture in the cylinders to an extraordinary degree, squeezing far more energy from every drop of fuel. With their compression ratio of 14:1, unparalleled among mass production engines, SkyActiv engines bring you both sheer driving pleasure and outstanding fuel economy.”
Tan said because Mazda has been known for its “zoom-zoom” philosophy of being fun to drive, SkyActiv addresses the need for its cars to be fuel-efficient.
“So Skyactiv is the Mazda way to preserve zoom-zoom, and be very fuel efficient and yet provide the fun to drive feeling for the Mazda vehicle,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Kodo, or “Soul in Motion” design philosophy, makes Mazda vehicles more than just vehicles fashioned from metal.
“We want a car to be more than metal; something that exudes the vitality of a living being. Cars which evoke the tension that presages movement, imbued with the warmth of a creature with a beating heart and blood in its veins,” according to the Mazda website.
Tan said the Kodo design philosophy also gives the brand’s vehicles a look that is unmistakably Mazda.
“Kodo design is something Mazda is very proud of. Kodo design is a language, it’s a language that if you look any Mazda today, the new Mazda in the last three to four years, it’s unmistakably Mazda, yet different [from each model]. So the small cars will have a different personality and character, but they all look like they’re part of a family,” he added.
UNIQUE MARKET, BUYERS
Although Tan had postings in parts of Asia including in Shanghai for a regional posting and in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines for country-specific assignments, he finds the Philippines unique.
“It’s part of Asia, but it’s also a unique part of Asia for many reasons – the Philippines has a very western outlook and culture because of its history,” he said.
“Therefore the brand orientation or how they view brands and consumption is also somewhat unique, although in large part, in automotive, this is a very Japanese-dominated country,” Tan added.
Although the car industry in the Philippines is not as developed as that of Thailand or Malaysia, he said the country’s vehicle buyers are actually the most fortunate in Southeast Asia.
“I would think that the consumer in the Philippines is the most fortunate. Because they have the most choices to get from and compared to say the others in Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, which has fewer choices than the Philippines,” he explained, saying while Thailand produces a large quantity of vehicles compared to the Philippines, much of it are exported.
Tan also finds the policies in the country’s car industry favorable for robust competition. And given the economic growth during the past years, car firms have every reason to be optimistic in doing business in the Philippines.
“There’s no different category for different manufacturers and different vehicle types, and it’s basically quite open. And that makes it very robust and very transparent, and it encourages competition,” he said.
“I think we [Mazda] are in the right place in the right time for many scenarios, many reasons. One is the Philippine economy is going through a sustainable and robust period of growth. And for many reasons, many good reasons, the fundamentals [for the Philippine economy]are strong,” Tan added.
But while other car firms in the Philippines are in a mad rush to sell as many vehicles because of the country’s economic growth, Mazda has been focused on its customer service, not just selling cars.
“Selling and making a sale is not the biggest challenge. If you price a vehicle well, if you make it very cheap and you get low down payment with the banks, you can get to sell a new car,” he said.
“This business is a long-term business, it’s not a one-year business and that’s how the bigger brands like Toyota, Honda and the others built their reputation, on long-term customer satisfaction,” Tan added.
Because of Mazda’s commitment to customer service, it has ranked high in JD Powers customer satisfaction surveys.
Tan said Mazda has also been recognized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for two consecutive years as being the most fuel-efficient car brand.
“That speaks volumes. Mazda has no hybrid, but its vehicles are still fuel-efficient,” he noted.
The concurrent CEO of Berjaya Automotive in the Philippines said he is proud of Mazda because the brand has proven that it does not have to be a big company to be unique, admired, respected and loved by car buyers.
“Where we [Mazda] want to be, what is more important to us, is to be the most loved, or respected car brand in the country, or the most passionate,” he said.
“That means more to me and my colleagues,” Tan added.