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Myanmar opens up, Chevy walks on in

Badge cache: Holden shipped 6409 examples of the Chevrolet-badged Caprice to the Middle East last year.

GM to launch Chevrolet in Myanmar, but Holden ruled out of export program

Chevrolet logo9 Jul 2013

MYANMAR is opening its borders to the west and General Motors plans to capitalise – but don't expect to see Australian Commodores or Cruzes on the streets of Yangon anytime soon.

Vehicles in Myanmar are right-hand drive, raising the obvious question of whether the resource-rich South East Asian nation could present a timely export opportunity for GM Holden’s Adelaide plant.

But, it appears its not to be, with Holden director of external relations Craig Cheetham telling us the company had ruled out any export program to the developing country.

“The vast majority of vehicles going here (Myanmar) are coming from Thailand because it's the kind of market where you are not going to be able to sell cars at a huge price,” he said. “So it makes sense to bring them from countries where its cheaper to manufacture them.” Myanmar recently opened its borders to imports from the US following the lifting of some international sanctions previously placed on the South-East Asian nation. President Barack Obama made a historic visit to the previously closed-off nation, historically called Burma, last November.

GM's partners in Myanmar include Pacific Alpine Pte. Ltd. and Pacific-AA Motor which is a strategic alliance between a Singapore based Opel and Chevrolet dealer group (Alpine Motors) and AA Medical which distributes and supplies pharmaceutical products and petrochemical lubricants in Myanmar.

President of GM South-East Asia operations Martin Apfel said the move into Myanmar was significant for Chevrolet's expansion in the region.

“Myanmar has a population of more than 60 million people. With the market and economy opening up, and with the increasing affluence of Myanmar’s people, the potential for growth is very high,” he said.

Managing director of Pacific Alpine Pte. Ltd. Albert Pang said the automotive sector is one of the most watched in Myanmar and thanks to the lowering of sanctions, it is primed for growth.

“About 90 percent of the vehicle population in Myanmar is more than five years old. The change in policy to allow the import of new cars will see a swift response from global and regional players. We want to put our foot in the door before the floodgates open.” Chevy and Pacific Alpine have also announced plans for a social responsibility program in Myanmar that would see them donate vehicles to eight charitable organisations as well as giving engines and technical parts to mechanical training colleges.

GM's push into Myanmar comes after fellow US car-making giant Ford announced in April it would open a dealership in the country's former capital Yangon as early as August this year.

The lower cost of importing cars from Thailand to Myanmar may have ruled Holden out of another export program, but Mr Cheetham said that could change if the market expanded to larger cars.

“There would be no reason why not but I don't think there is a huge market for a Commodore SS V in Myanmar at the moment.” Holden currently exports Australian-built vehicles to New Zealand, the Middle East and South Africa and has a deal to ship Chevrolet SS-badged VF Commodores to the US.

Last year, Holden exported a total of 14,200 vehicles to global markets, including 6409 Caprices to the Middle East, up from the 4000 units it sold there in 2011.

New Zealand imported 4271 Holdens from Australia in 2012, including the Commodore sedan, Sportwagon, Ute, Caprice and Cruze small car, while 311 VE Commodores found homes in South Africa.

Mr Cheetham said the low-volume export program to South Africa was for VE Utes and sedans, but he was unsure whether it will continue with the VF Commodore that launched in Australia last month.

Around 3200 Caprice police patrol vehicle's (PPV) were exported to the US last year, but Mr Cheetham expects that number to grow significantly this year with the inclusion of the Aussie-built SS to Chevrolet's American line-up.

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