By Karen Lim
THE AsiaOne People's Choice Awards comes as a form of recognition for the automotive industry which is still reeling from recent certificate of entitlement (COE) restrictions, resulting in hikes in car prices.
The awards - organised by Singapore Press Holdings' online news portal, AsiaOne - is an annual ceremony that recognises brands, products or services based on popularity votes cast in a region-wide online poll.
Car brands came in for awards in three motoring categories at the ceremony - now in its second year - which was held at the Singapore Press Holdings auditorium on Monday evening.
The top saloon was the Mercedes- Benz E-class, while the Lexus RX350 took the top award for the category of sport utility vehicle (SUV)/multi-purpose vehicle (MPV).
The latter recently saw a price increase of $14,000.
Mr William Choo, 54, commercial director of the Lexus division at Borneo Motors Singapore, said that buyers who can afford the vehicle, which falls under the luxury segment, are 'less sensitive' to the price increase as they are able to absorb the hike.
"The luxury car market can withstand the current price increase better than the mass market," said Mr Choo.
Volkswagen (VW) Golf, which was the People's Choice for hatchbacks, sold 806 units last year, making it the bestseller in that segment.
Last Wednesday, prices rose by $7,000 for the 1.4-litre models and $9,000 for the GTI model.
When asked about the current industry situation, Dr Zeno Kerschbaumer, managing director of Volkswagen Group Singapore, told my paper in an e-mail interview that while the reduction of the COE quota and corresponding price increases have affected the car industry here, "we have been able to respond quickly to the market situation by being the only car brand to run a direct dealership in Singapore".
He added: "By selling cars directly to customers, we can understand their needs better and offer the right products at competitive prices."
There was much hype over the best-selling Continental hatchback last weekend as Volkswagen's fastest Golf, the Golf R, was launched.
Five new models will also be released from now till the end of the year.
"Despite the shrinking market, Volkswagen will continue to launch new models to give customers a wider choice," said Dr Kerschbaumer.
Lexus is focusing on customer experience to retain its customers and attract new ones.
"Service at Lexus is key to us. We always want to create the ultimate customer experience and we will continue to focus on that," said Mr Choo.
He also reckoned that one of the reasons why the RX350 was voted as the most popular SUV is the 'vast improvements' in styling and performance of the model since it entered the market in 2006.
Dr Kerschbaumer said that the Golf is one of the most popular hatchbacks as it is the 'most iconic' and "customers appreciate its timeless design, high standard of engineering and class-leading build quality".
"We are extremely honoured that the Golf has won this award, especially since it reflects the opinions of the large AsiaOne community," said Dr Kerschbaumer.
The model was also named 2009's safest car by the EuroNC Institute in Brussels.