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2012 a banner year for Thai auto industry

The last 12 months proved to be a golden year for the Thai automobile industry, which achieved record sales and production figures that put it in the world's top 10 auto-manufacturing countries. Another year of brisk sales is expected this year with local production targeted to reach 2.5 million units.

Globally, car production is forecast at 82.8 million units with estimated demands of 81.9 million mainly due to the end of subsidies in Japan and the economic decline in Europe for the sixth year in a row, according to research firm HIS.

In Thailand, piled-up demand due to the halt in production caused by flooding and the first-car buyer scheme were the biggest driver behind domestic sales last year, helping auto companies recover strongly from their flood-losses.

Somchai Poolsawasdi, director-general of the Excise Department, said about 1.3 million applications for the govt scheme (worth around Bt90 billion in rebates) had been filed as of the deadline on December 31, 2012 - 500,000 higher than the estimate.

Official auto sales during the first 11 months of the year reached almost 1.3 million units, and the 1.4-million full-year target is sure to be passed.

According to figures from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, auto sales in Thailand from January to November reached 1,277,287 units, growing 72.9 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Toyota was the largest brand with sales of 475,820 units, followed by Isuzu with 191,897, Honda with 150,745, Mitsubishi with 114,624 and Nissan with 108,825.

The severe flooding in late 2011 had caused disruption in the supply of parts, and auto plants were idle for months, but domestic sales are expected to reach 1.4 million units while overall production is estimated to hit 2.4 million units. As demand piled up for automobiles because of the disruption, another important boost was building up - the government's first-car-buyer programme.

With excise-duty rebates of up to Bt100,000 being offered per vehicle, the scheme dramatically increased the demand for locally produced passenger cars with engine sizes of not over 1,500cc, as well as pickups - both priced under Bt1 million.

Toyota said that for qualifying models such as the Vios, as many as 70 per cent of customers had applied for the rebate, while other brands have had similar experiences. They include Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Honda, Chevrolet and Ford.

COMEBACK

Honda, in particular, made a spectacular comeback after resuming production in April. It has since launched 10 new models, including its latest eco-car, the Brio Amaze, and became the second-largest player in the market for the first time.

Pitak Pruittisarikorn, executive vice president at Honda Automobile (Thailand), said that since the company resumed manufacturing operations, it had launched new models on an accelerated schedule to meet customer needs and maintain confidence in Honda.

The new Honda Civic, which officially launched in May, reached reservations for 25,000 units within five months, while a large number of the City CNG have been ordered since its launch in August.

Honda is confident that turnover will continue to grow steadily right through to this year's end, especially for the models that qualify for the first-car tax-rebate programme. The scheme expired on December 31.Meanwhile, more investments are expected on a continuous basis from both assemblers and parts manufacturers. Despite the flood crisis in late 2011, auto-makers are still confident of helping to drive the Thai automobile industry forward.

According to Kasikorn Research, 2013 will be another record-breaking year for the Thai auto industry.

KResearch expects this will be another promising year for the Thai automobile industry as carmakers plan to ramp up production for export orders. As a result, it expects that car exports will again hit a record high of perhaps 1.23 million to 1.29 million units, up 20-26 per cent year on year.

This increase will support domestic car sales that may contract by 2-7 per cent to between 1.34 million and 1.41 million units, because much car demand has already been absorbed by the first-car-buyer programme.

"Because of this, domestic car sales in 2013 may decline from those seen in 2012. Nevertheless, an expected increase in car exports should help offset smaller domestic demand and bolster overall auto production to a new high of 2.5 million to 2.6 million units, thus rising 5-9 per cent year on year," the centre said.


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