MARICAR CRISTOBAL-PARCO never thought of joining the car industry after graduating from the University of the Philippines in 1992. And she never thought she would one day head a luxury brand in the Philippine car industry that remains dominated by males, at least at the top echelons.
Parco also had to “slow down” at one point of her career because she wanted to devote more time to her family. But her slowing down perhaps gave her the opportunity to generate the impetus for her to become president of Asian Carmakers Corporation, which markets BMW vehicles in the Philippines.
“When I was studying, I didn’t even imagine myself in the car industry. Yes, I could drive, but I didn’t think I’d be in the car industry. It’s the same thing when I got off college – you send your CV [curriculum vitae]out and it was Honda that responded to me. And I thought it was a really good company. I was part of the pioneer group – I was part of the first 100 employees of Honda,” Parco said referring to Honda Car Philippines Inc. (HCPI) which she joined also in 1992.
After HCPI, Parco found herself working with Ford Philippines also as a pioneering employee when that brand reestablished itself in the country in 1998.
At Ford, she learned how to think big, while her stint at Honda taught her about discipline. “You know the Japanese” when it came to discipline, Parco said.
Her stint at Ford, however, affected time for her family that led her to question whether it was worth it to continue working in a job that required a lot of traveling.
“But I needed to slow down a bit, because my previous post at Ford [Philippines] really demanded a lot of my time. It required a lot of traveling, especially to the [Ford] regional office [in Thailand],” Parco said.
“It’s sad [at the time]that my eldest son was already going into pre-school, and his drawing of mom was inside a jet plane. That was so heartbreaking, so I said ‘my goodness I have to do something’,” she added.
Then an offer came from Prestige Cars, one of the leading BMW dealerships, for her to be vice president for marketing. Parco said she never sought the offer from Prestige Cars and called it “divine intervention.” While she realized she was not giving enough time for her family when she was working at Ford, Parco said she was not ready to leave the car industry.
“From a distributorship level [at Ford], I went down to the dealership level [at Prestige]because I wanted to slow down since I was also trying to start a family,” she said.
“I wasn’t ready to leave the [car]industry. I still wanted to do the same thing. So I felt it [offer from Prestige Cars]was divine intervention,” Parco added.
Although she went from working from the main office of a car brand in the Philippines to the dealership level, there was no doubt BMW had better products. More important, Parco was able to devote time to her family while working for Prestige Cars starting from 2003.
“I had my second baby when I was there [at Prestige Cars]. Now I have two boys,” she said.
Parco joined Asian Carmakers in 2009 as marketing director and in 2011 she was appointed president of the company. Motoring writers surely took notice of that development because Parco was a media relations officer at HCPI.
When asked if she is the youngest head of a car company in the Philippines, Parco jokingly said that distinction now belongs to Glenn Dasig, 42, who currently heads the company that markets the Peugeot brand in the country.
A lot of things have happened since Parco took over the top position of Asian Carmakers.
When BMW vehicles were first marketed in the Philippines from 1990 through dealerships (as opposed to the ‘gray market’), the brand’s model range was only the 3 and 5 series.
Today, BMW’s line-up in the Philippines is very comprehensive and up to 50 variants from at least 14 models are available. To be specific, the BMW line-up offered in the country is composed of seven sedans, five SUVs, and the Z roadster. Each model has two to three variants. Three M series high-performance cars are also available: M3, M4 and M5.
Parco said the brand has grown from four to eight dealers nationwide, with one in each in the cities of Cebu, Bacolod and Cagayan de Oro. There are four dealers in Metro Manila and one in Pampanga province.
“That is one of our strengths as a [luxury]brand in the country. We have the biggest [dealership]network in the premium, luxury segment. Our representation is nationwide. And we also have a very wide product range,” she added.
“In sedans alone, we have seven [models]already,” Parco said.
“Whichever niche you belong to, we have an answer. We have a specific vehicle to cater to your needs,” Parco added.
Contrary to common belief, marketing a luxury brand in the Philippines is not a simple as stocking up the best-selling models and waiting for the moneyed buyers to write their checks. And given the wide range of BMW models available in the showrooms, Asian Carmakers has to do “fearless forecasting” to make sure it has enough cars in the showrooms but does not overstock.
“We have to carry the stocks for some vehicles. We do indent [sales]because they [buyers]are very specific. It is a requirement to carry two months inventory,” Parco said.
“It’s very tricky because we have to plan very well. All our cars are built up and most of them come from Germany. Some of the X Series models like the X1 and X3 come from the US. The lead time from ordering until the time it reaches our dealerships will be about five months,” she added.
“So we have ‘fearless forecasting’ here. It is hard, it is difficult knowing that we have diverse products. It is tempting to order all of them. But we have core models that have historically been very well accepted globally and also here like the 3 Series. That [3 Series] has been our perennial leader and top seller and will contribute about 30 percent to our mix,” Parco said.
The 3 Series used to have a bigger market mix for BMW but the brand has diversified its product line-up that gives premium car buyers more to choose from. Also BMW knows very well how discerning its customers are and how their needs change over time.
“We know our customers are very discerning and they know what they want. Their needs change,” Parco said.
She explained that a single and successful person will likely buy a coupe or a compact vehicle, and will upgrade to a four-door sedan in the order of the 3 or 5 series once he or she starts a family. That same individual will later seek a more executive-type of vehicle once he or she is established in a profession or vocation.
There are also vehicles that address multiple demands like the X6.
“For example the X6. It’s an SUV with a coupe-like hood or trunk. Who wants a sporty SUV? Right? But when you look at the target market [of the X6], there are people who were sporty when they were young but they had to give up their sports car because of their family and all that. And the wife probably wants an SUV for the weekend. Then this becomes a compromise because the wife gets what she wants, you have an SUV. But the driving dynamics of a sporty vehicle the husband still gets [from the X6],” Parco said.
Among the luxury brands in the Philippines, she said Mercedes Benz, Lexus and Porsche offer competition.
“Mercedes-Benz’s C-Class remains a contender for our top-selling model the BMW 3 Series while its E-Class competes with our BMW 5 Series,” Parco said.
“Lexus is also becoming more aggressive with its IS350 against our BMW 3 Series while its NX200 competes with our Sports Activity Vehicles BMW X1 and X3,” she added.
Asian Carmakers is also aware of the competition Porsche presents to BMW’s higher end models.
“While it is in a niche segment, we consider the Porsche Macann a strong competitor of our Sports Activity Coupé, BMW X4,” Parco said.
She sees competition in the Philippine luxury car market becoming stiffer because of the number of players.
“The industry is becoming increasingly competitive with more players coming into the segment, but we are ready to meet the demands of customers with a strong product lineup,” Parco said.
“In fact, we recently introduced our first multi-purpose vehicle to the premium segment – the first ever BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. This proves our strengthened dedication to further building a dynamic portfolio for the Philippine market,” she added.
Besides offering wide and diverse line-up of BMW vehicles, Asian Carmakers also makes sure each of its customer experiences the brand, not only through the after-sales services.
“But more than delivering the most innovative automobiles, we provide a customer experience that is unique to the brand. At BMW, we believe that luxury is defined by the whole experience wherein the customer is engaged by the brand. The exclusive type of service that is provided to the customer from the moment he/she encounters the brand to how he/she is welcomed in a dealership and supported during ownership, makes something premium; and this is exactly what BMW offers,” Parco said.
In the next five years or so, she sees the BMW brand maintaining its strong position because Asian Carmakers clearly understands the needs of its very discerning market.
“I envision BMW as the consistent leader in setting the standards and pace in the luxury segment,” Parco said.
“I believe that we can realize this by truly understanding what local customers need. The market is always changing. So, identifying trends and drawing the opportunities from them should be key to continued success,” she added.
Looking back, Parco admitted her career in the car industry was about slowing down and accelerating again, and despite her heading a luxury car brand in the Philippines she has more time for her family.
“Can you imagine [when I was at Ford Philippines], because it was a plant our time in was at 7:15 [am]and I lived in Paranaque not in Santa Rosa? So I had to leave the house at quarter to six [5:45 am]. So my baby would be asleep when I left for work and we had long hours because we had a compressed 5-day work week. Our official time ends at 5;45 pm,” Parco said.
But hardworking people like Parco do not leave the office at the exact time working hours officially end. So when she was still working for Ford, Parco usually arrived home with her eldest son already asleep.
Parco’s stint with Ford Philippines also required a lot of travel also within the country. Her last year at Ford Philippines also carried with it regional responsibilities that saw her reporting to Thailand every month where she would spend at least three days in that country.
Now that she is with Asian Carmakers, she can spend more time with her two sons, 10 and 15 years old. Besides the support and trust given to her by Gov. Jose “Pepito” Alvarez of Palawan who is the chairman of Asian Carmakers, Parco is also thankful for the support her husband, a banker, has given her all throughout. They happen to be college sweethearts.
“It’s much easier now that I am here [at Asian Carmarkers]because I can balance my time and all that. It’s difficult but I am also very fortunate that I have the support [of Asian Carmarkers, my family and husband],” Parco said.