WHILE 2016 can be considered a tough year for Thailand’s auto industry because of several negative factors, 2017 promises an interesting mix of new product launches and technological innovations.
With the carbon-dioxide-based excise duty reaching its second year, true demand for autos is coming back and 2017 may see the industry enjoying slight growth over 2016, according to experts.
After five years, a large number of people who took advantage of a government tax-break scheme for first-car buyers are also now eligible to transfer ownership, and many will be considering replacing those vehicles with newer models.
While not many new cars were introduced in 2016, with some being postponed to this year because of the passing of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 2017 will see more new models launched in Thailand.
While new models are expected to come with better performance and fuel economy, there is also heavy competition in other technologies used in cars, such as safety as well as infotainment and intelligent drive systems.
And of course, more automakers are looking at the possibilities of marketing electric vehicles in Thailand this year. The numbers may be small, but such companies as Nissan and Mitsubishi have announced their intentions clearly. With strong government support, these programmes could kick off in the near future.
Although autonomous driving has been making headlines around the world with the technology already available from several manufacturers, there is much to be worked out in terms of legislation. Thailand’s strict radio-wave laws may make it harder for these types of vehicles to be approved.
Nevertheless, consumers can still expect a large number of new technologies and gadgets that help make life easier in new models this year.
Honda will be the first company to stage an official product launch, with the 2017 City subcompact to be unveiled to the public on January 12 this Thursday. Apart from cosmetic changes, the new model will feature a new infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, allowing users to access smartphone functions.
The five-door hatchback version of the Civic is also planned for production in Thailand, with its launch scheduled for early next month.
Nissan will also be staging a new-model launch this month. The Nissan Note city car will be made under the Eco-Car Phase 2 programme, allowing Nissan to enjoy low excise duty.
This will not be a replacement for the March, which was Nissan’s first eco-car, but is positioned higher. It will come with more advanced features and higher retail pricing than the March (both share a 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine). The Note is also available with an all-electric version, although it is unclear whether Nissan will offer it here.
Mazda will be introducing the face-lifted Mazda3, which is a good example of packages offered by leading automakers in the market today. The changes are minor, but will feature Mazda’s new G-vectoring control system that improves handling and ride comfort.
The new Mazda3 is expected to come with the i-ACTIVSENSE safety package that uses radar and cameras to detect obstacles on the road and warn the driver (or even apply the brakes automatically).
The low-beam headlights turn with the steering-wheel angle, and the system also automatically switches between high and low beams depending on traffic conditions. It also has a blind-spot monitoring system, as well as lane-departure warning.
With the eco-car market set to make a comeback thanks to the end of the five-year ownership period under the first-car scheme, Suzuki is hoping to make a strong comeback as well. The all-new Swift is due to be launched at the end of this year and will serve as the major model for this Japanese brand. The new Swift has already been launched in Japan, and features many innovative features, ranging from a 360-degree camera and autonomous emergency braking to adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
Apart from the regular 1.2-litre engine, the Swift is available with a mild hybrid system boasting average fuel economy of 27.4 kilometres per litre (3.65 litres/100km).
Meanwhile, European luxury brands have been quick in offering plug-in hybrid vehicles in the Thai market.
Mercedes-Benz and BMW both assemble PHEVs in Thailand, the former at the Thonburi Automotive Assembly Plant in Samut Prakan province and the latter in Rayong province.
Apart from an extended all-electric range compared with conventional hybrid vehicles, luxury PHEVs also come with loads of attractive features, including self-parking and automatic cruise control.
Speaking of hybrids and not mentioning Toyota is blasphemy, but the Kingdom’s largest automaker may rock the boat with something more spectacular this year.
Rumours abound that Toyota is considering assembling the C-HR small crossover here, which would automatically make Thailand the export base for this model as well. An announcement is expected to be made at the end of this month during Toyota’s annual press conference.
The C-HR is a small crossover based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) that allows for a low centre of gravity and a stiff structure. The result is sporty performance and improved handling,
It is powered by a turbo-charged 1.2-litre engine, but it is capable of being fitted with the same hybrid system as the Prius, which is the first model from the TNGA platform, giving it excellent fuel economy.
Expect the C-HR to come with all the goodies, including a high-grade interior, autonomous braking and lane-keeping functions.