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SE Asian Nations Watching US Plans for Auto Industry

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The deadline for the major U.S. automakers to present plans to Congress on how they would use $25 billion of emergency loans to bailout the industry is fast approaching.  General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have until this week to show U.S. lawmakers they will be able to use the money wisely, and that they will change the business approaches that have put them at risk of financial failure.  VOA's Jeff Seldin reports from Washington that some Southeast Asian nations will be paying close attention to what lawmakers decide.

The struggles of the so-called "Big Three" automakers - General Motors, Ford and Chrysler - have not been limited to the U.S.  G.M. spokesman Tom Wilkinson says the company's operations around the world are being affected.

"We've probably ramped back in most regions again as the economic crisis has started to spread," he said.  "I would expect in most regions carmakers are slowing production or looking at slowing production."

One country that will be affected is Thailand.  G.M. says it is closing a plant southeast of Bangkok for two months starting in mid-December, and will cut more than 250 jobs.

"The slowdown in production in Thailand is really being driven by slower sales in that Asian region," said Wilkinson.

The GM plant produced 100,000 cars and trucks in 2007, and is scheduled to reopen.  But Thai officials are watching for developments out of Washington.

In a statement to VOA, the Thai Minister of Commercial Affairs says: "U.S. companies can and do play a very important role" in Thailand's automotive sector.  She also says the collapse of any one of the major U.S. automakers could hurt related industries, like Thailand's rubber industry, which produces finished tires and sells rubber to tire manufactures in other countries.

Hanhyeong Pyo, an associate at the Hyundai Research Institute, says South Korea is also watching and waiting. He says many major U.S. companies will likely fall like dominoes if one of the Big Three automakers fails, which could make it more difficult for South Korea to borrow foreign currency.

There could also be other, serious consequences.

Pyo says the collapse of a major U.S. automaker could deepen the U.S. recession, slow consumer spending, and make it more difficult for South Korea to sell its exports in the U.S.  

The latest economic data from South Korea shows industrial output fell more than two-percent from September to October, a sign its export driven economy is already slowing faster than expected.

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