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by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Mexico’s E-commerce Sector to Rise Amidst Challenges

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E-commerce in Mexico is witnessing a steady growth and is slowly becoming one of the most dynamic sectors of the country’s economy. In the last five years, e-commerce market in Mexico has grown significantly, as retailers strengthened their digital strategies to grow sales. The online channel is becoming an indispensable part of retail and despite all operational challenges that exist in the market, opportunities are too attractive to be missed.


The article is part of series focusing on e-commerce in LATAM, which also includes a look into e-commerce market in Brazil


In recent years, Mexico has attracted interest from global brands to expand in the country, where online retailing is expected to grow substantially – revenue generated by e-commerce is expected to reach US$ 17.6 billion by 2020, growing at a rate of 16.6% annually. Mexico’s distinctive geographic and demographic characteristics make it one of the most promising e-commerce markets in Latin America, where global companies are looking to expand. Its proximity to the USA is advantageous, making it an attractive target for USA-based retailers looking to grow internationally (Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, among others). Additionally, the growing population of young, working-age, tech-savvy Mexicans with sufficient disposable income is the key target for global retail chains, particularly for companies eyeing growth through e-commerce channel.

Mexico’s distinctive geographic and demographic characteristics make it one of the most promising e-commerce markets in Latin America, where global companies are looking to expand.

Lack of consumer trust 

In the last five years, e-commerce has witnessed double-digit growth and the trend is likely to continue in the long term. However, the market faces few challenges, which are impeding growth. To begin with, low consumer confidence in online transactions is a major barrier. Mexican users are skeptical when it comes to internet-based transactions due to distrust in payment methods and fear that the banking information provided will be misused, amidst high level of banking-related frauds prevalent in the country. According to a study conducted by Aite Group1, in Q2 2016, 83% of the interviewed respondents witnessed identify theft, while 70% were victims to online banking frauds. Consumer willingness to make online purchases is further shattered by the unsatisfactory online shopping experience delivered by some retailers due their relatively poor website designs and product display. According to a joint study by The Cocktail.com and ISDI, Challenges of E-commerce Mexico in 2017, consumers typically lost confidence in the online purchase process when trying to look for information on the products sold, making payments, understanding shipment and delivery policies, and dealing with returns.

Dependence on cash

Mexico is a cash-based economy, with 90% Mexicans preferring to make payments in physical currency. High dependence on cash is largely caused by limited access to modern financial infrastructure – as of 2016, there were only 37.7 ATMs and 10.3 bank branches per 100,000 people. Moreover, large proportion of the population remains unbanked along with low credit card penetration in the country. The dominance of physical currency in Mexico limits e-commerce growth, which is dependent on online payments. To overcome this challenge, players are adapting to align with customer preferences, as the significance of cash is impossible to overlook in Mexico. E-commerce players are introducing hybrid payment systems. For example, Linio and MercadoLibre allow customers to pay in cash, through banks, pharmacies, and convenience stores (OXXO and 7-Eleven), for items bought online. Walmart has introduced more than 2,000 kiosks in its physical stores, where customers can pay in cash for products bought online.

EOS Perspective

Although several large players, such as Amazon, Walmart, and MercadoLibre operate in the market, e-commerce sector still faces several obstacles and has yet not developed to the levels of other e-commerce markets that exist globally. For the Mexican e-commerce market to grow, it is imperative for the retailers to boost consumer confidence by ensuring that the buyer is safe; one way to achieve that is to make sure that the purchase process does not end with payment confirmation. Instead, the complete purchase process should be made transparent by enabling consumers to track all orders, receive notifications on shipping process, as well as making the return policy/process agile and convenient for shoppers.

For the Mexican e-commerce market to grow, it is imperative for the retailers to boost consumer confidence by ensuring that
the buyer is safe.

In spite of all quirks and challenges of the market, undoubtedly, Mexico offers a promising future for e-commerce with its sizable upsides – high internet and mobile penetration, growing purchasing power among consumers, declining smartphone prices, presence of e-commerce giants, such as MercadoLibre and Amazon looking to expand operations, among others. According to the Mexican Association of Online Sales (AMVO), five years ago in Mexico, online sales of large retailers including Walmart, Sanborns, Sears, Liverpool, and Palacio de Hierro comprised merely 1% of their total sales. This share rose to nearly 20% by 2017.

The e-commerce market is developing, demonstrated through sustainable and constant improvements – for instance, the country is making efforts to steadily develop infrastructure, customers are offered wider payment options through offline channels, and Amazon’s entry in the market has acted as a catalyst to e-commerce development, boosting customers’ trust in online shopping websites. With the launch of Amazon Prime in 2017, Amazon reduced shipment time to 1-2 days and expanded free shipping option across Mexico – a significant step that would revolutionize online retailing with other players trying to follow Amazon’s lead.

Mexico is ripe for e-commerce to boom. Even though the market is at nascent stage of development and faces challenges, it is also laden with myriad of opportunities. Online shopping accounts for a small share of the total annual retail sales in Mexico – e-commerce comprised 1.6% of total retail sales in 2016 and is likely to grow to 2.6% by 2019 – which represents a huge opportunity for players, as Mexicans have just begun adopting shopping through e-commerce. Players operating in the market understand the tremendous future growth prospects that the market offers, hence, are focusing to expand operations. With the right growth strategy, understanding of the market, and knowledge of consumer buying behavior, it is possible to survive and grow in the market, even though it is packed with challenges.
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Notes:

  1. 2016 Global Consumer Card Fraud study conducted by Aite Group; n (number of respondents interviewed in Mexico) = 303
  2. American e-commerce companies: Amazon and Best Buy
  3. American retail companies: Walmart and Sears
  4. Latin America-based e-commerce companies: Linio and MercadoLibre
  5. Mexico-based department store chains: El Palacio de Hierro, Sanborns, and Liverpool
by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

NAFTA 2.0 – Mexico Left with Little Choice but to Renegotiate, and Fast

Over the years, NAFTA has been one of the most contentious FTAs that have ever been inked, especially for the USA. While the treaty and its merits (or mostly alleged lack of them) featured in political campaigns of a few previous US presidential candidates, NAFTA’s shape and scope have never been revisited in its many years of existence – until now. Mexico, along with Canada, wishes to maintain the NAFTA as is, however US president Donald Trump has strongly condemned the treaty and, though earlier threatened to walk away from it completely, has agreed to attempt a renegotiation. Any possible changes to the shape of NAFTA might have profound impact especially on Mexico, however, the country has little choice but to renegotiate. Some of the negotiation objectives, such as tougher ‘rules of origin’, can be greatly damaging to Mexico’s several sectors, including the automobile industry. The upcoming elections in Mexico in July 2018 may further complicate matters – if the renegotiations are not completed by then (which is a highly probable scenario), they may be brought to a standstill, especially if the government changes. This presents a great deal of uncertainty for companies that have investments in Mexico.

The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which came into force in 1994, removed trade tariffs and duties on most goods for trade between the USA, Mexico, and Canada. While the deal has been mostly considered a positive in Mexico and Canada, its benefits have often been debated in the USA. The main reason behind this remains the high US trade deficit with Mexico (which stood at around US$64 billion in 2016) and the loss of several US manufacturing jobs to the south of the US border.

The NAFTA issue also found itself at the center of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, as he called the treaty one of the worst trade deals ever signed by the USA and talked about withdrawing from it once he came to power. Although several previous presidential campaigns also involved talks of renegotiating NAFTA (including campaigns of both Democratic candidates – Barrack Obama and Hilary Clinton, in 2008), none has been as strong-worded as Trump’s campaign. Therefore, with Trump coming to power in 2016, revisiting the 23-year old treaty became largely inevitable.

Chapter 19

Initially threatening to back out from NAFTA, Trump agreed to renegotiations, which according to him would ensure bringing jobs back to the USA. However, a few aspects on the renegotiation agenda are a hard line for Mexico. Firstly, the USA wishes to eliminate Chapter 19 of the treaty, which encompasses a dispute settlement mechanism wherein dispute resolution (in cases such as anti-dumping and countervailing duty disagreements) is undertaken by independent and binational panels instead of domestic courts. This prevents NAFTA countries from putting unfair duties on products from other NAFTA countries to protect their own industries. While the USA is trying to disregard this clause, Mexico is largely opposing it, as without Chapter 19, it would become much easier for the USA to implement protectionist policies and duties that would inherently threaten free trade. However, Mexico is not alone in pushing back this change as Canada also strongly opposes any change in the dispute settlement mechanism.

Impact of NAFTA on Mexico

NAFTA Minimum Wage

Another negotiation objective (where Canada stands in support of the USA), is to incorporate some kind of standardization for trade-related labor issues and wages, by introducing a minimum wage across the three NAFTA participants. This will be greatly damaging for Mexico, which has for long benefited from lower wage rates that have incentivized several industries, such as automobiles, to shift base to Mexico to reduce costs and maximize profits. Stating that wage-related policies are an internal matter, Mexico has strongly opposed any such amendments and may make this a non-negotiable aspect.

Rules of Origin

However, one of the most dampening renegotiation objectives, especially for Mexico and in particular for its the automobile industry, are the restrictive changes to the rules of origin. As per the current NAFTA rules, for a car to qualify for a tariff-free entry in the NAFTA region, 62.5% of the value of the car must have originated in NAFTA countries. Thus, over the years, automobile manufactures have perfected their value chains, wherein auto components such as body-works, engines, gear panels, etc., are manufactured in various parts of NAFTA countries, and then assembled in another part of the region, to attain greatest benefits in terms of costs and quality. However, the current US administration is proposing changes to these rules, which may wash away a great deal of efficiencies and synergies attained by global automobile manufacturers under the current rules. As per the proposal, the US government aims to increase the US content in the finished vehicles to 50% for these products to attain tariff-free entry into the USA. In addition to going against the basic fabric of a free-trade agreement, this will jeopardize the competitiveness of the North American auto industry, which has greatly depended on integrated supply chains that also have deep roots in Mexico. This definitely spells bad news for Mexico, as the economy has significantly benefited from investments made by global automobile manufacturers in the country.

Moreover, apart from increasing the share of US content requirement to 50%, the US administration has also proposed raising the regional content requirement for NAFTA to 85% as against the current 62.5%. While this may seem to be a positive amendment for the region in general, analysts call it largely counter-productive as not all components can be competitively sourced from the North American region. If brought into action, automobile companies would have to spend huge sums to try to source/produce most components in the North American region at competitive prices. However, if they fail to accomplish that (which is quite likely) and as a result are unsuccessful in qualifying for tariff-free entry into NAFTA, they would shift to suppliers outside NAFTA and pay WTO tariff of 2.5% to access the North American market (which they will pass onto the consumers). Such developments might mean that by increasing regional content requirements, the region may end up pushing automobile players away from the region rather than encouraging them to continue and intensify their operations. This will be catastrophic not only for the Mexican automobile sector, but also for the US and Canadian auto market. To make matters tougher, the new proposal asks for technology-based automotive parts, electric vehicle batteries, etc., that are currently not included in the origin tracing list (as they did not exist when the NAFTA was originally negotiated). Most of these products are now sourced from Asian markets.

Due to the US president’s known cold sentiment towards NAFTA, the onus of ensuring the treaty remains unterminated is on Mexico and Canada. While Mexico (along with Canada) has previously mentioned that the American demands to change the rules of origin are unworkable with and unacceptable, the Mexican government is working on a compromise proposal to toughen the rules of origin clause in hope to meet the USA somewhere half-way. As per the proposal, Mexico is willing to accept the extensive tracing list and is also willing to negotiate on the 85% North American content requirement in exchange for the USA withdrawing from the 50% US content provision. The tracing list proposal will be drawn in a manner ensuring that low-cost technology-based components that are currently sourced from Asian countries would be sourced from within North America, especially Mexico. However, the proposal, which is not finalized yet, is not expected to be presented in the current (fifth) round of talks.

Sunset Clause

Mexico and Canada’s openness to negotiate can also be gauged by their willingness to work around the sunset clause proposed by the US administration during the fourth round of negotiations. As per the proposed clause, the treaty will expire every five years unless the member countries agree to keep it in place. While the remaining two parties refused to accept this clause when proposed, they have softened their stance on the matter during the current negotiations and counter-proposed a five-yearly review system. This showcases Mexico and Canada’s keen desire to ensure NAFTA is preserved and their willingness to work around USA’s fixed stance. While the review proposal may be a better option compared with the sunset clause, purely from a business or investment point of view, it still leaves room for a great amount of uncertainty for companies looking to invest, as five-year horizon is too short for several heavy-investment industries such as automobiles.

2018 Mexican Elections

Lastly, it is extremely critical that the negotiations are completed by the set date of March 2018 as any delay will result in their overlap with the 2018 Mexican elections and that will further complicate the matters. NAFTA has not only been instrumental in providing Mexico with economic stability, but has also played a significant political role, especially in terms of economic policy. The basic framework of the treaty has ensured protection for investments and, to an extent, economic equity as over the years it restricted the government from granting protections, incentives, and subsidies to a set of companies or industries, while discriminating against others. The termination of NAFTA would allow the future government to modify the current economic framework of the country, and this will directly impact Mexico’s attractiveness as an investment destination. This becomes all the more relevant in case the leftist candidate, Lopez Obrador, comes to power in 2018.

Mexico’s Contingency Plans

While Mexico is certainly hopeful and is working towards retaining the NAFTA, it is not putting all its eggs in that one basket alone. Mexican government is looking at deepening Mexico’s ties globally and reducing its dependence on the USA. Mexico is currently negotiating with the EU to modernize its existing FTA which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. Moreover, it is looking at Argentina and Brazil as alternative sources of agricultural imports to replace those from the USA. In a similar move, Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, met with his Russian counterpart in Mexico to discuss Mexico’s openness to do business with nations other than the USA. In November 2017, Mexico participated in a meeting of the nations that were formerly a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which ceased to exist in its previous form in early 2017 (we talked about it in our article TPP 2.0 – Minus the USA in May 2017). This meeting resulted in an official announcement that the TPP nations will negotiate a new deal, without the USA, and that it will be called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The creation of CPTPP will provide a much-needed cushion to Mexico’s automobile industry in case NAFTA fails. Also, in case NAFTA toughens its rules of origin but the CPTPP relaxes them, Mexico may continue to be part of the global automobile supply chain (this time in combination with CPTPP members such as Japan, Canada, and Chile – instead of the USA).

EOS Perspective

It is safe to say that Mexico and its automobile industry have a lot riding on the NAFTA negotiations. While Mexico along with Canada are working hard to ensure NAFTA stays, US president’s tough stand on several aspects and his willingness to walk out of the deal in case his demands are not met, complicate the negotiations greatly. It is uncertain how the situation is going to develop, and even if NAFTA continues, new provisions that might find their way into the revised treaty may not offer a great deal of benefits for companies to invest and for intra-regional trade to flourish.

The pressure of upcoming elections in Mexico in 2018 makes the situation even tighter. If the negotiations are not completed before the elections, all progress made up till then can easily go in vain in the event of the government change. Therefore, companies are extremely cautious about investing/expanding in Mexico at the moment, and are likely to wait at least up till mid-next year. They may find respite in the fact that the Mexican government is trying to do its best – both in terms of being flexible during negotiations as well as diversifying its export markets and import sources – but this respite might just not be enough to ease investors’ minds and businesses’ worries over the operating and trade environment within the North American region.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Trump In Action: Triumph Or Tremor For Latin America?

Donald Trump commenced his presidency by announcing ‘America First’ policy, thus casting a dark shadow on trade and exports from other countries to the USA. Trump’s protectionist and neo-isolation policies are accepted with gritted teeth across the world, particularly by the USA’s southern neighbors. The renegotiation of trade treaties, more stringent migration policies, as well as strong focus on encouraging domestic industrialization by pruning imports might contribute to a slowdown in economic growth of a few Latin American countries. The policies set by the new president may result in economic malaise across Latin America, where people are uncertain and apprehensive towards the alarming strategies laid down by the USA.

While the degree of economic and trade impact will vary across LATAM countries, the strongest distress is likely to be witnessed across Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela. On the other hand, Brazil might partially benefit, while the impact is unlikely to be significant on other larger economies such as Argentina or Chile.

The wall between Mexico and the USA

Mexico is facing the worst of Trump’s wrath. The country is highly dependent on the USA for trade – most importantly for duty free exports. These are likely to witness a tremendous setback with Trump imposing 20% import tax on goods from Mexico to finance a wall that he intends to build to safeguard USA’s border from illegal immigrants.

Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership will further tarnish Mexico’s trade with the USA. Trump intends to renegotiate terms of NAFTA, focusing mainly on moving away from the zero trade barrier policy. By imposing tariffs on imports from Mexico, the cost of goods will increase as they enter the USA, which is likely to boost domestic production of those goods, but it will surely have a negative impact on Mexican production. Another key driver for Trump’s plans to put a break on Mexican imports is the concern over trade deficit that the USA faces with Mexico – approximately, US$ 50 billion in 2015. Hence, Trump wants to encourage domestic production to reduce imports from Mexico.

Further, Trump’s administration has also endangered billions dollars of remittances, one of the largest sources of foreign capital in Mexico, received from Mexican citizens working in the USA. Trump has threatened to tax the remittance transfers if Mexico does not support the trade and immigration limitations imposed by the USA.

Another major issue is the possibility of implementation of strict migration policies which can result in deportation of millions of undocumented migrants, most of them being Mexicans. Several other countries such as Haiti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Cuba also stand to suffer due to the change in migration policies. Mass deportation will increase unemployment in these migrants’ home countries and reduce remittances in foreign currency.

Amid the USA-Mexico tension, the Mexican peso has already witnessed a slump, almost nearing its all-time low – declined by 5% since the beginning of 2017 and by 20% since Trump came into power.

Trump’s crackdown on Cuba

The relationship between Cuba and the USA is predicted to get frosty under Trump’s administration. Cuba has struggled for several years under the USA-imposed isolation until president Obama negotiated to re-establish diplomatic relationship between these two countries. However, in his campaign, Trump threatened to reverse the restated diplomatic relationship – including easing of travel and remittances between Cuba and the USA – if Cuba does not agree to a “better deal” which Trump left undefined. Moreover, the US president has announced that he was against the Cuban Adjustment Act, which permits any Cuban, who reaches the USA to stay there legally and apply for residency.

Venezuela, not far from Trump’s radar

Trump has already turned hostile towards Venezuela considering the recent sanction imposed by his administration in February 2017 on the Vice President Tareck El Aissami, accusing him of playing a significant role in international drug trafficking. Relationship between these two countries has already turned sour amidst the deep economic and political crisis that exists in Venezuela.

Further, Venezuela’s oil exports to the USA might suffer due to Trump’s decision to revive the Dakota Access Pipeline – an oil pipeline project that can reduce country’s need to import crude oil. Presently, Venezuela exports 792,000 barrels a day of its crude oil or 38% of total crude exports to the USA, and any additional access to oil for the USA could have a deep impact on Venezuela’s oil exports.

Trump could be good news for Brazil

It appears that the only silver lining for Latin America, while Trump hovers with his protectionist policies, is Brazil’s opportunity to strengthen its ties with Pacific and European nations. Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Trade predicts new trade opportunities for Brazil, as the country aims to expand trading relations with other countries, while the USA withdraws and renegotiates key trade agreements. Moreover, Brazil (as a member of Mercosur – consisting of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) is already pursuing free trade agreement with the European Union, with next round of negotiations lined up for March 2017.

However, a few setbacks that Brazil could suffer include deportation of many of the 1.3 million Brazilians immigrants living in the USA, whose stay in the USA remains undocumented. The deportation is likely to adversely impact the remittances received by Brazil. Further, Trump’s focus on implementing higher import tariffs is likely to impact the Brazilian exports to the USA – approximately 13% of Brazilian exports are directed to the USA.

 

EOS Perspective

USA’s withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership and aim to renegotiate NAFTA is driving Latin American countries to break dependence on the USA, establishing friendly trade relations with other countries and strengthening intra-regional ties. Latin American countries are focusing to redirect trade and investment towards countries such as China and Russia, as well as Europe and Africa.

China is already a key trading partner for Latin America – with trade between the two regions growing from US$ 13 billion in 2000 to US$ 262 billion in 2013 – and USA’s withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership is likely to further deepen the ties between them. China aims to increase investment and trade in LATAM to US$ 250 billion and US$ 500 billion, respectively, by 2025.

China is moving swiftly to strengthen relationship with Latin American countries. Soon after Trump’s win, the Chinese President visited LATAM aiming to deepen economic cooperation, and to promote social and economic development in the region. During the visit, Ecuador and China agreed to a new economic Free Trade Agreement, focused to grow production and investment across energy, infrastructure, and agriculture sectors. An extension of China-Peru free trade agreement was also signed to promote bilateral trade and investment between the two countries. A closer association between China and Latin America is likely to reduce USA’s dominance and supremacy in the region.

Further, with USA’s plans to increase import tariffs, Latin American countries are slowly focusing on expanding intra-regional trading relationships, which till now have not been developed to their full potential due to dependence on the USA for trade and exports. Present circumstances are optimal to slowly start building an intra-regional trade force in Latin America, and the region’s countries should work towards strengthening existing trade and integration blocs, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Trump’s policies are likely to have a diverse impact on different Latin American countries. The region has already slowly started forging new trading relationships to reduce dependence on the USA, which proves that LATAM might be able to divert the negative repercussions of USA’s new policies and turn them into new opportunities (at least to some extent).

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Mobile Cuisine in Mexico and Brazil: Are Food Trucks Ready to Roll?

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Food trucks, a new trend in food service combining gourmet cuisine and low cost establishment, have been increasingly rolling around the world. The concept originated in the USA, where feeding consumers from trucks has been gaining popularity with the market CAGR expected at 17% between 2012 and 2017. Around 2012, this business model reached Mexico and Brazil, appearing as an attractive option for entrepreneurs to invest in the eatery business. But no matter how promising this niche may appear, inadequate regulations, lack of licenses, and poor infrastructure represent major roadblocks for the mobile cuisine business to pick up in these geographies. Do food trucks stand a chance to become the new wheels to the Mexican and Brazilian gastronomy industries?

In 1974, an ice cream truck was converted into the first taco truck in east Los Angeles in the USA, and by 2010, food trucks became a prospering industry spreading across almost all major cities in the country, as well as in other large cities globally. But it is Mexico and Brazil which seem to be promising markets with an increasing amount of investors venturing into cuisine on wheels as a prosperous and flourishing business.

1-Food Truck

2-Food Truck2

 

Mexico, where over five million people ate on the street every day in 2014, has witnessed a remarkable growth of the food truck sector, boosted mainly by the country’s increasing unemployment rate and economic slowdown. A similar situation has been happening in Brazil, where since 2014, a deepening crisis has hit the country’s economy allowing food truck businesses to become increasingly successful. In both these countries, an increased demand for cheap food has been driving the growth of food truck businesses, which are proliferating due to the low initial investment required to start such an endeavor.

3-Setting up

Despite the fact that food trucks businesses seem to be profitable and low risk, their growth is challenged by deficient regulatory frameworks, poor street infrastructure, and inadequate scope of licenses to operate. Both in Mexico and Brazil, food trucks can only circulate and sell their food in a private circle, i.e. specialized fairs, events, concerts, food parks, pre-assigned parking lots, and in some cases, business owners have to pay high fees just to park in these events.

4-Challenges

EOS Perspective

Food trucks markets in Mexico and Brazil show an immense potential due to a growing appetite for low-priced food options from the expanding price-sensitive consumer segment. This demand, paired with low investment required to enter the food truck business, makes the food truck concept an attractive option for investors and entrepreneurs looking for profitability in food service businesses.

However, the issues of inadequate regulation and lack of government encouragement for the industry in both markets continue to hamper the industry growth. An introduction of appropriate legislation would likely push the sector up on its growth trajectory. For instance, if regulations allowed food trucks to circulate anywhere in Mexico, it is estimated that the business could triple its earnings up to US$19,000 a month. Further, if dedicated laws were developed to regulate food trucks operations, business owners would be likely to pay a set fee to obtain permits and licenses to function, instead of paying varied high fees to work in a private space (which currently makes it more expensive and less transparent to operate such a business). In Brazil, some prefecture authorities have sanctioned regulations allowing food truck owners to operate in already assigned slots, however, not allowing food trucks to circulate on the city streets. Many of these assigned spaces are usually occupied by private cars, since they are not properly marked, making it difficult for food trucks owners to reach new customers, which in turns hinders the industry growth.

There is no doubt that authorities in both countries need to update and implement proper regulations and permits designed specifically for food trucks sector, as only regulation that clearly establishes operating fees and free circulation for food trucks is likely to translate into a growing market. Further, only by setting proper regulations specific to the food truck sector, local authorities would be able to guarantee consumers all sold food is safe for human consumption. Moreover, government investment in street infrastructure (e.g. electricity, running water) is required to attract new entrants, who are likely to be lured to business concept due to the low initial investment, also boosting market growth. Considering the economic situation in both countries, it is clear that the authorities should be motivated to look for any possible avenue of revenue and employment growth, taking advantage of consumers’ demand for good quality low-priced food.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

OEM Suppliers – Perfecting the Balancing Act

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Suppliers to the automotive industry (OEM suppliers) have witnessed strong and steady growth over the past few years. Owing largely to the recovery in the global automotive market coupled with high-capacity utilization at their production facilities, OEM suppliers have performed better as compared with their OEM customers, especially in terms of profitability. However, the golden period is expected to expire in the coming year. With automobile sales not rising at a similar pace as before (especially in developed markets), and growing pressure on OEMs’ margins, OEMs have been undertaking massive cost cutting programs. This in turn is putting pressure on OEM suppliers to reduce prices. Additionally, OEM suppliers are facing rising expectations from OEMs to be located close to the OEMs’ facilities, especially in emerging markets.

As the automotive industry is seeing a shaving off of sales and profits, it is increasingly exerting pressure on its suppliers. OEM suppliers are facing increased pressure from OEMs to have an increased global presence (closer to the OEMs’ own assembly lines). While this means expanding operations and investments, OEM suppliers also need to keep costs low to be competitive and meet OEMs cost reduction programs. Thus, OEM suppliers need to balance both these approaches to remain competitive.

1 - OEM Suppliers Industry Performance



2 - Balancing OEM Expectations



3 - Proximity to OEM Locations



4 - Cost Pressure from OEMs



5 - How to Manage Expectations


EOS Perspective

While the strategy for cutting costs and location proximity largely remain mutually exclusive, suppliers that best manage to meet their clients’ expectations have a chance to shine. They can look at innovative strategies such as locating themselves in a third region (that offers proximity to the clients site as well as offers low costs) to best balance client demands. But most importantly, suppliers need to device an optimal manufacturing network keeping in mind all aspects and overall cost/location benefits. Suppliers that manage to come up with innovative solutions to handle complex client requirements, are well likely to come out as industry winners during time when the industry maybe entering a crunch phase again.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Emerging Markets Take Vehicle Safety Standards Seriously (At least on Paper)!

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The article was first published in Automotive World’s Q3 2015 Megatrends Magazine

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Across emerging and frontier markets, most car buyers have generally focused on pricing, maintenance cost, and fuel economy, thereby ignoring the very important aspect of safety. The governments in these countries have also not given due importance to this aspect, as basic safety features such as air bags and ABS are not compulsory as per regulations. Taking advantage of this nonchalance of both customers and governments, OEMs have for long compromised on safety features, which are a critical part of all cars sold in developed markets.

In recent years, however, with customers becoming more aware and global safety organizations cajoling for higher safety standards, some emerging countries have introduced increased safety measures, which in turn will require significant changes in the cars sold by leading OEMs. While this is expected to affect the bottom-line of OEMs in these price-sensitive markets, not abiding to the changing environment is likely to prove equally costly, if not in the immediate term, but surely over the medium-to-long term.

Existing Safety Standards

Among the key emerging and frontier markets, vehicle safety standards in South Korea match the levels in Europe, while China has also shown immense progress in adopting the standard safety requirements in automobiles. But other developing countries, such as Mexico, India, and Brazil, lie far behind. As per current car safety standards, Mr. David Ward, Secretary General, GNCAP (Global New Car Assessment Programme) rates China-7, Brazil-5, and India-3 on a scale of 10. “This rating is based on three key factors – the state of legislation, level of penetration of different technologies in the market place, and consumer awareness levels.” However, with India and Brazil initiating the implementation of several safety-standards in recent months, they are likely to match global standards at least for crash testing. Crash prevention, on the other hands, continues to be a long term goal.

It was a big blow to India, when GNCAP conducted tests on some of its most popular entry-level variants (Maruti Suzuki Alto 800, Hyundai i10, Ford Figo, Volkswagen Polo, Tata Nano, Maruti Swift, and Datsun Go) and awarded zero-star adult-protection rating to all of them. This, in addition to having the highest number of road fatalities globally, instigated the government to commit to introducing regulations for mandatory safety standards. As per new regulations, by October 2017, all new cars will be required to pass frontal and side crash tests, whereas the deadline for new versions of existing models would be extended to October 2019. To pass this test, cars will need to have reasonable body shell strength and be equipped with airbags and other standard safety features. For conducting the test, the government plans to develop two crash test facilities, which are expected to come online in 2015/2016. In addition, the authorities plan to launch its own NCAP. India is also creating a vehicle recall policy, which will encompass testing for manufacturing defects. However, this legislation is yet to be passed.

As safety standards gain priority in India, it is a cause of concern for car manufacturers in the country, which have for long focused on only pricing and fuel efficiency in the market. From the manufacturing infrastructure and technology front, OEMs may not require many changes to adapt to these proposed changes in safety standards. This is primarily because most car models do offer basic safety features (such as airbags and ABS) in their higher variants and they also use India as major export hub for their cars destined for Europe and the US. However, this will definitely erode a fraction of the bottom-line for car manufacturers as India is an extremely price sensitive market. Moreover, a large portion of the audience in the country is not very mature and still does not put a high value to the safety factor, thereby restricting the price tag carmakers can attach for these features.

“The first reaction of the OEMs is that they are not very happy, since it will make their cars more expensive. But in the longer term, they will adapt to it as they have done in other countries. People will become aware and ask for safety. OEMs focus will be to meet the safety standards at affordable prices. For example, child support restraints are not made in India and are imported. OEMs can ask the government for concessions on these imports.” says Rohit Baluja, Director, Institute of Road Traffic Education, India.

Several leading OEMs have criticized the government’s call to boost safety standards in India. An engineer working with a leading car manufacturer in India stated, “At this moment, there are no talks about any changes being introduced to the body. These matters are handled at a very strategic level. Nothing has been discussed on this aspect as of now. In India, safety can’t really become a USP right now. Price is and will continue to remain the main selling point. If we talk about metro cities, the demand for frontal airbags has increased. So yes safety has become more important. But this is the case in metro cities only.”

It also seems that the government has succumbed to pressure from the OEMs and has softened down several of the safety standards. As per the regulations, India will be following China’s footsteps and introducing crash testing at a speed of 56km/hour instead of 64km/hour, which is followed globally (while China started testing at 56km/hour in 2006, it also increased its speed from 56km/hour to 64km/hour in 2011). Moreover, the authorities plan to conduct only ‘head impact’ tests for Indian pedestrians against the ‘head and leg impact’ norms adopted by Euro NCAP. It has further slashed the requirement for the use of child dummies for some side impact tests, which is a global standard. Decisions regarding mandatory safety belt alarm, child alert alarm, pre-tensioners, and airbags are also pending.

While several leading OEMs, have not been very supportive of the Indian government’s decision of mandatory crash tests, the ones which have preemptively incorporated these features in their cars have been the winners. Toyota, which made airbags mandatory in all its models in October 2014 in India, has seen sales surge by 34% between October 2014 and April 2015. Volkswagen, which also made airbags a standard feature in all its Polo hatchbacks, has seen the sales of its entry-level variant rise, since the decision was made in February 2014. Post its poor performance in the crash test held by GNAP, Nissan Motors has also worked on strengthening the body shell of its Datsun Go by using higher-grade steel (having a tensile level of 520 mega pascal compared with the earlier 320 mega pascal) and adding side beams on both sides to enhance the strength and rigidity of the vehicles.

Thus the way forward definitely begins with OEMs embracing the introduced changes. It is not incorrect to say that the consumers continue to be price sensitive, but that is because they are not well informed about safety. Thus, to see an actual shift towards safety, both the government and car manufacturers have to work together in changing the mindset of the consumer and promoting vehicle safety as an equally important factor in purchase decisions.

“It’s a shared responsibility of government and manufacturers to inform the consumers and move the market forward. Our project of testing cars has also helped build awareness and get media attention. We will do more testing end this year and get results beginning next year. The combination of government action on regulation, the response of individual manufacturers and the work done by NCAP will improve the whole situation in India.” says Mr. Ward of GNCAP

Brazil has a similar story, where the cheapest models of few most selling cars, such as Volkswagen Gol Trend, Fiat Palio, Chevrolet Celta, Ford KA, Peugeot 207, and Fiat Novo Uno, received only 1 star when crash tested by Latin-NCAP. Moreover, Chinese car, Geely was awarded zero stars in a similar test. This was underpinned by the absence of basic safety features such as airbags, lack of body reinforcements, lower-quality steel, weaker weld spots to support the vehicles, and outdated designs of car platforms. As a result of this, the Brazilian government mandated air bags and anti brake locking systems on all cars in 2014. Like India, this regulation faced much criticism from automakers and was at the verge of being postponed as it leads to an increase in the prices of basic models and also results in a layover of several employees in the case of few models being discontinued. However, the government pushed ahead with the regulations as decided, but offered lower import tariffs for key safety equipment to subdue the expected price rise.

In addition, the government is considering making electronic stability control a standard in all cars; however, it is still in the future. Moreover, the government plans to launch a US$50 million independent crash test center by 2017. While the center is expected to run as a government body, OEMs may provide part of the funding for its operation and even use the center; this raises concerns regarding the autonomous working of the lab. Moreover, since the regulations lack a ‘conformity of production’ clause (which requires automobile safety performance to be spot checked for the entire time the model is produced), the car models are only required to meet the crash test requirements once. Companies can also send a car of their choosing. These factors further may compromise on the credibility of the testing.

The Case of China

Unlike India and Brazil, the upgradations in China’s vehicle safety standards are stemmed from the country’s CNAP (China’s New Car Assessment Programme) initiatives. While the Chinese government has only mandated the use of seat belts and frontal airbags, the number of airbags in vehicles in China is reaching the same level as in Europe and the US. This is primarily due to the aggressive promotion of CNCAP’s safety assessment by the Chinese government, which has encouraged the country’s population to value car safety as an important aspect. “We undertake a lot of promotional initiatives such as advertisement and highway hoardings to promote safety features among consumers. This has really helped in making consumers aware regarding the importance of safety.” says Mr. Guo from CNAP. Furthermore, CNCAP has upgraded its test protocols to match its European counterpart and is expected to be at par with their standards by 2018. CNCAP has also started focusing on accident research and plans to include a test for pedestrian protection in future vehicles. It has also been considering including test scenarios for automatic emergency braking systems that will further help mitigate pedestrian collisions.

Even in case of China, the pricing of the vehicles increased with the addition of safety features but the entire price is not passed down to the consumers, especially in the base-level cars.

However, one of the key reasons why China has upped its vehicle safety standards is to build a good reputation for exports. As Chinese cars gain traction due to competitive pricing and design, they suffer a poor reputation when it comes to quality. Thus, they have consciously increased focus on safety norms to meet global standards. While they are on the right lines, they still have a long way to go in achieving global standards with regards to safety.

Safety-Standard Levels across the Major Emerging Automotive Markets

Safety-Standard Levels across the Major Emerging Automotive Markets

Thus, as safety-standards improve across emerging markets, the onus now lies on OEMs to adapt to these changes. While this will definitely impact the bottom line of the companies, it also presents an opportunity for the carmakers to gain a strong market foothold by offering these safety-features at a minimal pricing. Moreover, although these changes are happening primarily in India and Brazil right now, companies must be prepared for similar regulations to come in Mexico and other Latin American countries in the coming years.

Apart from crash testing standards, there are a lot of talks going on regarding crash prevention technology, the most important being electronic stability control (ESC). While, this has already become a standard in several countries, such as Australia, Canada, EU, Israel, Japan, South Korea, the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the USA, the Global NCAP is working towards making ESC a mandate in all cars manufactured by 2020. “Our overall priority is to ensure that all passenger cars, irrespective of where they are produced, must have the appropriate minimum crash test standards and the most important crash prevention technology (i.e. ESC) by 2020. To achieve this, the most important countries to act are China, India, and Brazil.” states Mr. Ward. With crash test standards becoming a ‘standard’ also among key emerging markets, the introduction of ESC also does not seem far from reality. In fact, Brazil and China have already begun considering making it mandatory. The OEMs that anticipate this and work towards it will have an advantage.

While it has taken several key emerging and frontier automotive markets time to realise the importance of vehicle safety, both for drivers and passengers, and for other people on roads, it is a welcome change with governments introducing several policy measures in recent months to bring about this change. The implementation of regulations and the variation in standards that exists across these markets is a cause of concern, and aspects that OEMs might use to their advantage by bypassing certain global standards. It is important that consumers also make it a point to make safety a priority when purchasing a vehicle, which would force OEMs to ensure that global standards are also followed in emerging and frontier markets. Brazil, China, India must lead the way, and demonstrate that it is possible to make safety a standard, so that OEMs follow this as a standard operating procedure across other emerging and frontier markets.

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Local Sourcing – It’s The New Global Sourcing

Not long ago, the buzz term for the automotive world was global sourcing. OEMs aimed to standardise product offerings and pricing by producing in select emerging countries that offered low production costs. This rendered the supply chain long and complex, but equally justified in the name of cost saving. Recently, however, global sourcing seems to be on the reverse gear, with local sourcing gaining momentum among OEMs globally.

Localisation brings cost-savings across the supply chain, especially in light of climbing costs in traditionally low-cost regions. According to a study by BCG, manufacturing costs in previously low cost sourcing locations like China, Latin America and Eastern Europe that for many years attracted global vehicle manufacturers, are reaching parity with manufacturing costs in developed countries, once productivity, energy prices and currency conversions are factored in.

To continue reading, please go to the original article on Automotive World.

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Mexico: The Next Manufacturing Powerhouse?

As China’s cost advantages continue to erode with its increasing wages and fuel costs, the trend of nearshoring surges in popularity. North American manufacturers have started to include Mexico in their supply chains to achieve operational efficiencies such as speed to market, lower inventory costs, and fewer supply disruptions. As a result, Mexico’s manufacturing industry has gained tremendous momentum in recent times and industry experts often cite Mexico as ‘China of the West’.

The Changing Global Manufacturing Landscape

“There is always a better strategy than the one you have; you just haven’t thought of it yet” – this quote from Sir Brian Pitman, former CEO of Lloyds TSB, captures the dire need for companies seeking to gain competitive edge. In the current business environment with shrinking profits and increased competition, companies are under tremendous pressure to gain operational efficiencies.

More than a decade ago, when in 2001 China joined the World Trade Organization, it changed the dynamics of the global manufacturing industry. It became the safe haven for manufacturers across many industries and geographies due to significantly lower wages it offered as well as the abundant workforce. However, more recently, with sharp wage and energy cost increases, declining productivity, as well as unfavorable currency swings in China, the global manufacturing industry is witnessing another paradigm shift, as outsourcing production near home has gained popularity amongst North American companies. The economic growth, skilled labor force, proximity to the US market has allured firms to open up their manufacturing operations in Latin America region. Companies are investing billions of dollars into new production capacities in Latin America to serve their North American markets. In 2011, Gartner predicted that by 2014, 20% of Asia-sourced finished goods and assemblies consumed in the USA would shift to the Americas. Although, the entire Latin American region has witnessed an influx of investments, Mexico seems to have outperformed its peers.

Why Mexico? Why Now?

Mexico received a record US$35.2 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2013 from various countries, of which 74% was directed towards the manufacturing sector. According to a 2014 AlixPartners study, Mexico continues to be the top-choice for North American senior executives from manufacturing-oriented companies to outsource. So what has suddenly attracted manufacturers towards Mexico?

On the one hand, labor costs have seen a sharp rise in China over the past 7 years. Wage inflation has been running at about 15-20% per year and this trend is expected to continue in the coming years. The tax incentives offered by the Chinese government for foreign companies are diminishing, while local energy costs and costs of shipping goods back to the USA continue to increase. As per AlixPartners’ 2013 estimates, by 2015, manufacturing in China is expected to cost the same as manufacturing in the USA. Additionally, going forward, China is set to be more focused on catering to the rising domestic demand, as its domestic businesses grow and consumers are strengthening their purchasing power. These factors have made North American companies to re-think their outsourcing strategies, previously heavily linked to China-based manufacturing. Mexico seems to have seized this opportunity and started to reap the rewards by establishing itself as a lucrative manufacturing hub.

On the other hand, a dramatic improvement in cost competitiveness is driving Mexico’s manufacturing industry growth. Mexico government’s economic reforms, sound policy framework, and investments in infrastructure have boosted investor confidence and attracted several corporations to open their manufacturing operations in Mexico. According to BCG’s Global Manufacturing Cost-Competitiveness Index of 2014, Mexico has positioned itself as a rising star of global manufacturing. Besides having a growing aerospace industry, the country now has positioned itself as a major exporter of motor vehicles, electronic goods, medical devices, power systems, and a variety of consumer products.

Including North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico has more free-trade agreements than any other country in Latin America. For manufacturers, this results in ease of doing business as well as a range of tax and financial benefits. Additionally, lower wages and energy costs offered by Mexico, strengthens its prospects as an outsourcing destination for North American manufacturers. Mexico is US’ third largest trade partner and has seen its exports to the USA increasing from US$51.6 billion in 1994 to US$280.5 billion in 2013, an increase of a whopping 444%.

US Imports from Mexico

 

The mass consumerization of IT, increased competition, and changes in consumer behavior are forcing companies to develop and deliver products at a faster pace than ever before. Manufacturers need to streamline their supply-chain operations in order to be more agile and customer-centric. Mexico’s proximity to the US market makes it compelling for North American companies to nearshore their manufacturing as this can drive transport costs down, increase their speed to market, and reduce inventory cost. Besides, it helps them to avoid supply-chain disruptions and serve the markets better by reducing shipping lead times, ensuring on-time deliveries to customers, and responding faster to customer issues.

In the past few years, North American aerospace companies such as Bombardier, Cessna Aircraft, Honeywell, General Electric, Hawker Beechcraft, and Gulfstream Aerospace have all developed major operations in Mexico. In the electronics industry, 2014 figures from BCG show that Mexican exports of electronics have more than tripled to US$78 billion from 2006 to 2013. This has also attracted the eyes of Asian electronic giants such as Sharp, Sony, Samsung, and Foxconn who invested heavily in Mexico as a part of their outsourcing strategy to effectively serve their North American markets. In 2013, they account for nearly one-third of investment in Mexican electronics manufacturing.

In the automobile sector, Mexico today is the world’s fourth largest exporter of light vehicles. On top of Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler’s significant investments towards manufacturing facilities in Mexico, the country is now gaining traction from the likes of global players such as Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Mazda, BMW, and Volkswagen. By investing in Mexico, all companies have committed to establish or strengthen their manufacturing capabilities there. According to IHS’s 2012 estimates, by 2020, Mexico will have the capacity to build 25% of the vehicles remaining on roads in North America.

Why manufacturing companies are running to Mexico with their manufacturing needs makes perfect sense due to its cheap and well-educated labor force and the proximity that can provide companies a strong supply base to cater the North American markets. Combining these factors with the rising middle-class population and increasing consumer spending across several South American nations, offers manufacturers a strong value proposition not only to use Mexico-based manufacturing to support their established North American markets, but also to penetrate and grow its customer base in emerging South American markets.

Challenging Times Ahead

Despite Mexico’s emergence as a leading destination for manufacturing nearshoring, there are certain pain-points that need to be addressed. Mexican government lowered its growth projections for 2014 after a disappointing economic performance during the first quarter of the current year. As reported by Bloomberg in May 2014, the economy is struggling to re-bound from 1.1% growth last year and many analysts predict the growth to be extremely modest in the short term.

Security concerns top the list of worries due to the nation’s history of drug-related crime and attempts to slip contraband into trucks moving north across the Mexico border. It will be interesting to see how the government plans to keep this under control, and whether these attempts will result in investors’ increased confidence in this market.

Further, despite recent reforms and investments made in infrastructure, there are large gaps that need to be filled. The country has areas with unstable supplies of water, electricity, and gas. In order to compete with the likes of China, and to further encourage the influx of foreign investments, Mexico’s government will have to make continued investments in infrastructure in the foreseeable future.

Additionally, over longer term, as Mexico continues to attract manufacturers from across the globe, leading to growth in manufacturing employment and increase of wages, the country might face a similar challenge to that of China, where labor rates continuously increase over years and cease to be as attractive as they used to be. This can hamper the nation’s competitiveness as a lucrative outsourcing destination. It is now the task for policy makers to develop policies that can enable Mexico to be more than just a source of cheap labor. To maintain good availability of skilled labor both in terms of quality and quantity that can meet the global manufacturing demands is a rather complex challenge.

 

For manufacturers operating in today’s cost-conscious environment, Mexico is becoming their top manufacturing go-to destination to shorten supply chains, cut inventory and logistics costs, and reduce delivery lead times. Although Mexico seems to be on the right path towards establishing itself as the manufacturing hub for the North American markets, it still has a long way to go in order to become the global manufacturing hub. Together with ongoing economic, social, and political reforms, as well as a progressive work environment, Mexico definitely can hope for a bright future as the hotspot for global manufacturing.

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