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Makers pin hope on eco-car Phase 2

At least eight of the 10 automakers that submitted applications to invest in Phase 2 of the eco-car programme are likely to go ahead with it, said Thailand Automotive Institute president Vichai Jirathiyut.

Despite the current political turmoil and plunging automobile market, the TAI chief said he was confident the country's target to achieve the next production milestone of 3 million vehicles annually by 2017 would not be hard to accomplish thanks to the eco-car project.

When the Board of Investment's application period ended on March 31, 10 automakers had submitted proposals to take part in Phase 2 of the government project, pledging a combined investment of Bt138.89 billion and additional production volume of 1.58 million units per year.

Five of them are existing eco-car manufacturers - Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, Suzuki and Toyota - and the balance are newcomers MG, Ford, Chevrolet, Mazda and Volkswagen.

Vichai said he had talked with executives of many automotive companies who said they still basically viewed Thailand's current crisis as a temporary situation, and the sooner it is resolved, the quicker they will be able to proceed.

Last year, Thailand assembled 2.45 million vehicles, becoming the ninth-largest automobile-producing nation.

Nevertheless, Vichai said he had some concerns about the delay of a project for automotive testing facilities and proving grounds, which formed part of the national automotive-sector master plan and was an important strategy to push Thailand ahead as an important global automobile-production hub.

"This project depends very much on the government's support," he said.

The TAI has submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Industry requesting for government investment of Bt8 billion for the project. The Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand has provided a few locations as possible sites, he said.

Suttisak Wilanan, project director of Reed Tradex, said a representative of the Japan External Trade Organisation told him Thailand was still the No 1 choice for investment by Japanese makers of automotive parts, while Indonesia and India came in second and third, even though the survey was conducted during the period of political uncertainty here.

"Even with the announcement of martial law, there have been no cancellations at all. We instead are hearing better feedback," said Suttisak, whose firm will hold the "Automotive Manufacturing Expo and Automotive Summit" at the Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre from June 19-22.

He said the exhibition area was expanded by 20 per cent from last year and no fewer than 300 Japanese part makers were expected to attend.


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