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Toyota distributor Borneo quits motor traders' body

Exit raises question of body's relevance since it'll represent just 1/3 of the market

[SINGAPORE] The Motor Traders Association could soon be the Minor Traders Association if the number of members keeps falling.

The Motor Traders Association of Singapore (MTA) is a grouping of new car distributors and some commercial vehicle dealers.

Its membership has been sliding over the years and the latest to leave its fold is Borneo Motors Singapore (BMS) - the distributor of Toyota, Lexus and Hino - leaving it with 26 members.

With BMS's exit at the end of this month, Singapore's top three brands - Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Toyota, in that order - will not be part of the MTA. Critics now question how MTA can continue to be relevant.

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"MTA is supposed to be the voice of new car sellers. What is the point if it does not represent the majority of the industry," asked the director of a brand who left MTA a few years ago.

Based on last year's total vehicle sales of 34,090 units, MTA members accounted for 46 per cent of total market share (this number is made up of 22,472 new cars, 8,128 commercial vehicles and 3,490 taxis).

If BMS sales are excluded, this proportion drops to 32 per cent, or barely a third of the market. Volkswagen will then be the biggest brand left in MTA. Last year, VW was Singapore's No 4 make.

BMS declined to comment when contacted. But there is speculation that its departure is largely symbolic, one that signals its displeasure with the association.

"The annual membership fee is only $1,500, so it's definitely not about the money," said the head of a luxury dealership. "It is probably to make it clear that they do not see the value of MTA membership."

In recent months, some complaints about the MTA included how it appears to champion the causes of only its committee members, and the inability to present members' views and appeals to the government, especially after the recent radical changes to the motor trade, such as the loan curbs and certificate of entitlement tweaks.

The luxury dealership head recalled that when the vehicle financing restrictions were introduced last year in February, the Singapore Vehicles Traders Association, or SVTA, whose members are mainly used car dealers, immediately met to craft an appeal to the government. The result was the lifting of loan curbs for 60 days to allow members to clear their stocks of second-hand vehicles.

But, according to the luxury dealership head, the MTA was reluctant to intercede when approached by some members for help to lobby the government to soften the impact of the loan curbs.

Senior MTA committee members could not be contacted for their views. But one industry veteran defended the MTA.

"To be fair, it does not have an easy time," he said, explaining that this is because MTA members have conflicting interests.

"It is difficult to function as a cohesive organisation because not every brand is impacted by the same issues, such as engine output or emissions," he added. "So there is no unified voice, unlike used car dealers who do not have brand loyalty and can talk about common problems such as policy and financing as a group."

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