Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thailand's auto industry tunes up for investments

Thailand forecasts 100 billion baht worth of investment in the automobile industry over the next three years based on the industry's new master plan.

Vallop Tiasiri, general director of the Thailand Automotive Institute, said yesterday that there would be a new wave of investment in the country's automotive industry.

He projected the amounts committed would reach 100 billion baht through various projects over the next three years.

To handle such an inflow, the institute is mapping out an industry master plan. It recently held a conference with local automobile and auto-parts makers to brainstorm the direction of the master plan in collaboration with the Industry Ministry.

Mr Vallop said Thailand could act as a gateway to Asean, which is nearly as large as the Chinese and Indian markets. In addition, Thailand has improved many facilities and services to accommodate multinationals.

Deputy Prime Minister and Industry Minister Kosit Panpiemras said that under the master plan, the government would work together with the private sector, particularly in areas of human resources, technology and supporting industries and the auto-parts industry.

The plan aims to enable automotive and auto-parts producers in Thailand to efficiently improve their capabilities to meet the changing environment and tougher competition in the world market.

According to Mr Kosit, Mitsubishi Motor has been investing around 800 million baht in technology development for its one-ton pickup truck production.

In addition, Ford has expressed interest in investing more than US$1 billion, or around 34-35 billion baht, to expand its auto production in Thailand, while Honda plans substantial investment in the local production of eco-cars _ the energy-saving, small-engine vehicles.

In addition, two more Japanese automakers are planning to apply for eco-car production by November, said Mr Kosit.

British and Italian carmakers are also exploring the possibility of investing in the production of motorcycles and passenger cars in Thailand, said Mr Kosit.

But automotive and parts makers yesterday voiced concern over the stability of the Thai government and the continuity of the country's economic policy.

''What the private sector wants from the next government is a clear economic policy. The government is required to give us a long-term direction _ what it expects of the industry over the next 10-15 years,'' commented a representative from General Motors Thailand.

Most of the car producers' representatives also expressed concern over the stability of the Thai baht, which would affect their performance.

Pramot Pongthong, president of the Thai Auto Parts Manufacturers' Association, said the government should include in the master plan a scheme to develop an auto-parts testing centre to boost the country's competitiveness.

''China and India are eagerly developing local facilities to accommodate investment in their automotive industries, including auto-part testing facilities. Thailand's competitiveness could be eroded if the country ignores this project,'' he said.

Actually, such a plan was proposed to the government four years ago, with the required investment of 5-7 billion baht, he said.

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