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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

How A Test Drive Instilled Confidence In Geely For Its PH President

When Mikihisa Takayama was assigned to head Geely, Sojitz’s new automotive venture in the Philippines, he knew he’d be facing an uphill battle. This was in 2019.

Just a year prior, Takayama-san held a relatively easy job, heading Mitsubishi Motors Philippines’s financing arm, MMPC Auto Financial Services Corporation or MAFS (now known as JACCS Finance Philippines Corporation).

Being in charge of handling auto loans for the country’s second best-selling brand was a cushy assignment; after all, literally everyone, maybe even the family pet, knew what Mitsubishi was. It was a household name, and business came in readily.

Then, in June 2018 a shocking news came out: Sojitz, a Japanese-based diversified conglomerate (think along the lines of Ayala Corporation or San Miguel Corporation), decided to sell off its 49 percent stake in Mitsubishi Motors Philippines—a stake it held on to since 1996.

It was then Takayama-san got the call. Sojitz was assigning him to bring in the Chinese brand, Geely.

Immediately, Takayama-san felt it was a daunting task. The facts laid before him didn’t present a pretty picture: essentially, no Chinese passenger car brand poised any noticeable threat to the established players. What’s more, Geely didn’t carry any brand panache; it couldn’t lean on any so-called European origin.

At the time, the privately-owned Chinese carmaker was known only as the savior of Volvo Cars (after they purchased it from Ford in 2010) and Lotus (after they acquired a majority stake in parent company Proton in 2017). Geely sure was knowledgeable in business, but can this know-how translate to making good cars?

One thing changed Takayama-san’s mind, and surprisingly enough, it’s the same one that’s managed to convince both pundits and would-be Geely owners in the Philippines: a test drive.

One test drive in the sub-compact crossover, the Coolray, was enough to convince Takayama-san that Geely had what it takes to take on the Philippine auto industry. Not only was he enamored with its styling and performance, but he was also impressed with its level of technology and sophistication. The unsurmountable challenge seemed easier now.

Armed with the knowledge and confidence that they have the right products, Sojitz leveraged its 60-plus years of experience in the local auto industry, and by extension, the auto financing industry, to formally launch Sojitz G Auto Philippines on June 8, 2019.

The rest, you could say, is history.

In less than two years, Geely expanded its product line-up to include the Azkarra and Okavango. In that short span of time, they’ve catapulted themselves into one of the Top 10 best-selling auto brands in the Philippines with 1,313 sold year-to-date (as of March). And the Coolray that convinced Takayama-san? It’s currently the best-selling 5-seater sub-compact SUV with 744 units sold (we also voted it as one of our Top 5 Picks last year, in case you missed it).

Despite the economic slowdown, Geely also managed to grow its dealer network, welcoming well-known multi-brand principals into their fold.

By May, Takayama-san heads off to a new assignment for Sojitz Corporation, but his replacement, Yosuke Nishi is equally knowledgeable and aims to push Geely to even greater heights. Part of the pioneering management team, Nishi-san has even bigger plans for his “baby”—a Top 5 ranking in terms of sales within the next three to five years.

An impossible goal? To naysayers, maybe. But if Geely’s track record is any indication, it’s certainly doable. No task seems too challenging for them now.

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