The automotive sector is revving up again
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - April 1, 2019 - 12:00am

She got my attention even before I met her. But wait, let me get this clear — I’m not the snobbish kind. On the contrary, if you give me an earth shaking exclusive story, I’m all yours, at least for that moment.

But Hyundai Asia Resources Inc. president and CEO Ma. Fe Agudo’s invite was not for any news or announcement. Instead, she invited my boss Philippine STAR business editor Marianne Go and I for a quiet lunch at Antonio’s in Tagaytay. It’s a fine place for lunch, of course, and just a few hours drive from Manila.

But no we weren’t going to drive to Antonio’s. We were going to fly in. And fly in we did, taking off from the helipad of St. Luke’s in Taguig around 12 noon one warm Friday of March. 

It was a short ride of just about 20 minutes, but I had a picturesque view of the serene Taal Volcano. 

Upon arrival, our gracious host explained to us that eating in a quiet place that is far from the maddening crowd is a good way to get to know each other. 

True enough, we had a quiet, relaxing time. She did get my attention. I was all ears as we chatted about anything under the sun — from celebrities to millennials to the latest trends in business.

Of course, I couldn’t help but ask how the automotive industry is now after a challenging 2018. 

Overall, Ms. Fe is optimistic on the prospects for the year. 

She said there are already positive signs especially with the government’s implementation of its Build Build Build program which has an overall impact in boosting  the economy.

“I’m very positive,” she tells us. 

The mid-year national and local elections are also expected to boost car sales, Ms. Fe adds.

She also said that gasoline prices have stabilized and the interest rate environment is also correcting already. 

“If these factors continue, we will be able to keep our prices affordable,” she says. 

Hyundai is known in the market for its sleek and stylish, but affordable vehicles.

She also noted with pride the awards won by some of Hyundai’s vehicles.

I learned, for instance, that the 2019 Hyundai Kona, alongside the Kona Electric CUV, won an award. It was named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year by a jury of independent American and Canadian journalists and analysts. 

The award was announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January, marking the first time a Hyundai vehicle has won this prestigious award.

Soon, it was time for us to head back to Manila. I enjoyed the hearty meal, the ride and the nice chat about Hyundai and the automotive industry in general. It’s good to know that it’s revving up again. After all, it is a major sector of the economy, employing more than 120,000 workers. 

Energy

Meanwhile, back in chaotic Manila, some are wondering what’s happening in the energy sector with the government scrambling to bring in LNG players to the country.

A ranking official of a major power player said the Philippines won’t be able to absorb more than one LNG facility in the country. Yet, the energy department continues to entice LNG investors to come to the country to place their bets on the government’s plan to have an LNG hub in the country as Luzon’s main source of natural gas — the Malampaya natural gas — is nearing depletion.

But there are already many private sector proponents that plan to do the same and they are some of the biggest names in the industry. Will the market be able to absorb it? 

I’m also wondering whatever happened to the plan of Gregorio “Greggy” Araneta III build a $2 billion LNG facility in Bataan with at least 600 megawatts, a plan which also had the backing of Japanese investors.

From the inbox

My previous column, The Cobra Effect, had quite a number of reactions from readers, smokers and non-smokers alike. In that piece, I tackled many situations wherein an attempted solution to a problem makes the problem worse. 

I am reprinting here one particular message which I hope anti-smuggling authorities would heed. 

Reacting to my view that higher sin taxes — without addressing smuggling — would only worsen the prevalence of smoking, the reader said it is important to 1) continue with the government’s drive to educate  smokers on the effects of smoking to one’s health and to tax it beyond affordability, (2) mount an unrelenting approach vs. cigarette  smugglers or bootleggers.

Well said. Thank you, dear reader. 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales.

AUTOMOTIVE FE AGUDO
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