Establishing an auto-test centre
Last week's Autotalk column generated the most number of reader comments in three years, with 75 per cent of the 48 e-mails agreeing with what I had suggested.
Both those who agree and those who disagree with me all have interesting perspectives that I would like to share with you today.
I had said that last week's article was purely based on my viewpoint as someone who has been involved in the automobile scene for many years. That's why I understand the problems that affect the retail price of automobiles in this country and those that cause inconvenience to auto companies.
Many of the e-mails suggested that since Thailand has grown to become a leading global auto manufacturer, it should also set up an automotive institute or a government organisation that would help carry out testing of automotive products.
In fact, there have been several attempts urging the government to invest in an automotive testing centre using money from national coffers. Personally, I think there is a more urgent need for the government, which doesn't have that much money while a large number of people in the country are still mired in poverty. It's more urgent for our government to commit billions of baht in constructing other needed public utilities.
It is understood that apart from billions of baht needed in initial investment costs, the testing centre would also require an annual budget to pay for the officials, diagnostic programme development and for maintaining tools and equipment so that they are in good condition. The government would also have to spend more money updating the equipment in order to catch up with fast-developing technologies.
It is also widely accepted that there is corruption in every government budget, and this corruption is blooming more than ever these days because many think that corruption is acceptable. This is a way of thinking that should never occur in any country or era.
And if an auto testing centre is to finally take shape, it should be a joint effort that involves the private sector. A central agency should be set up and it should be managed freely without government influence. Although some say that the government should step in and manage the centre to ensure every manufacturer gets fair treatment, let me ask: Are government agencies these days really fair and trusted by every auto manufacturer?
The problem with automotive product standards is something that the government must turn into a law. But in order to save costs most effectively (and no manufacturer will deny this), there must be a comparison of standards between large global manufacturing bases and ones for Thailand. I said last week that just adopting the EURO, SAE, JIS and TUV standards should be enough in order to gain credibility.
However, some fear that if the testing centre project fails, there would be less chance for Thai engineering students to learn about product standards. However, I think that the government or colleges are able to coordinate in sending students for training at overseas testing institutes.
When the government rids itself of corruption and the economy as well as the public are financially strong, it still wouldn't be too late to build a testing centre.
It is strange that calls for the construction of this centre come not from the manufacturers but from government servants and politicians.
Thinking rather pessimistically, I can understand that government officials want the new centre so that many more positions will be created. There will be a shift of officials from the crowded areas here, and the testing centre will have a sizeable budget for carrying out its operations. Meanwhile, the director of the testing centre will also become an important and influential figure for the auto industry, and this could turn into a dangerous situation.
Whenever there is a project with a high construction and management budget, Thai politicians, who have always been accused of corruption in an open manner, would naturally be interested in pushing for the centre to be built during their term.
I just hope that if the green light is given for the auto testing centre, there would be no corruption and the centre would prove worthy of the investment.