ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
At a high-tech factory in the world’s fastest growing auto production hub, industrial robots and white-suited workers put the finishing touches to hundreds of cars rolling off the assembly line each day.
It could be a scene from Toyota City or Detroit, but this is Thailand, a country better known around the world for its beaches and rice paddies.
With major carmakers hit by a global economic downturn, the South-East Asian nation has emerged as a rare bright spot in recent years.
Thailand’s auto production surged 70% in 2012 from the previous year to 2.48 million vehicles, according to the Paris-based International Organisation of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers.
In contrast, China and India saw only single digit gains.
Thanks to major investment by Japanese producers as well as US giant Ford, Thailand is South-East Asia’s most prolific carmaker, streets ahead of nearest rival Indonesia.
Last year, it exported about one million vehicles.
Domestic sales also continued to surge in the first six months of 2013, although they have since slowed as the number of first-time buyers lured into the market by tax breaks tailed off.
It is a general growth trend mirrored across much of the region as people switch to cars from motorcycles.
Despite worries about Thailand’s wider economic fortunes, carmakers remain bullish about the kingdom’s long-term prospects and have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into high-tech new plants to prove it.
“There might be black clouds and there might be problems, but overall the car industry is driven by people… people with two wheels who want to get four wheels,” says Uli Kaiser, president of industry analysts the Automotive Focus Group Thailand. “I don’t see that desire to stop, and I see South-East Asia as the strongest growth territory in the world.” — AFP
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