News / Asia

Thailand Races to Supply SE Asia’s Demand for Vehicles

Thailand Racing to Supply SE Asia’s Demand for Vehiclesi
X
October 22, 2013 8:33 PM
Thailand is gaining a reputation as the “Detroit of the East” for its booming automobile industry. It is now the world's third largest maker of commercial vehicles, behind only the United States and China and ranked ninth in total vehicle production. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Rayong, Thailand, where many foreign-branded auto makers are producing vehicles for Southeast Asia’s growing middle class.
Thailand is gaining a reputation as the “Detroit of the East” for its booming automobile industry. It is now the world's third largest maker of commercial vehicles, behind only the United States and China and ranked ninth in total vehicle production. Many foreign-branded auto makers are producing vehicles in Rayong for Southeast Asia’s growing middle class.

This is one of the estimated two-and-half million vehicles rolling off Thailand's assembly lines this year.
 
Ford's regional president, Matt Bradley, praised the country as a highly successful model for manufacturing.

"Thailand, I think, has made a concerted effort from government policy in the last 15 years to plan to support the automotive industry. Ford has been in Thailand about 17 years and just since 2007 we've invested over a billion dollars in our manufacturing and product cycle plant footprint in Thailand," he said.

The automotive sector is now Thailand's third largest industry comprising 12 percent of the country's GDP and employing 400-thousand workers.

Bangkok's clogged roads attest to the success - with sales accelerated by government tax rebates to first-time buyers. 

But can these vehicles rival those made in Japan, Europe or the United States?
 
Honda executive vice president Pitak Pruittisarikorn said the Japanese automaker was making high quality vehicles here at a competitive cost.

"For Honda, cost efficiency is one of our key strategies. So we have established the good relationship with the strong and the highest quality parts suppliers, global suppliers and local suppliers," said Pitak.

  • About 2.5 million cars and trucks will be built in Thailand in 2013. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • A robot helping to make a vehicle in a Honda factory in Thailand. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • Future expansion of the Thailand's auto production industry could be hampered by a labor shortage. But women are already a vital element of the workforce, comprising one nearly third of workers in some factories. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • Sparks fly as a robot helps to assemble a vehicle in a GM factory. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • Honda is among auto manufacturers in Thailand striving to take a larger share of the domestic market from dominant Toyota, which in recent years has sold nearly one in three vehicles purchases in the country. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • A worker welding inside the body of a car on a GM assembly line in Thailand. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • About 400,000 workers are employed in Thailand automobile factories. These workers in the Ford canteen enjoy a free meal during their shift. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • An engine completing a ten minute "hot test" after being assembled at the GM Duramax plant in Thailand. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • Some automakers manufacture their own engines in Thailand. Others import them. This Ford engine is made in India. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)
  • Automakers say while they strive to make cars in Thailand which meet global standards the vehicle designs need to be modified to meet the criteria of Southeast Asian roads and driving habits. (Steve L. Herman/VOA)

Some automakers operating in Thailand import critical parts, including engines, from overseas.
 
However, GM Powertrain plant manager Jennifer Bigelow said the American automaker not only assembled its engines on site but also sourced their components in Thailand.
 
“It is definitely cost effective. We reduce shipping costs, we develop partners here that we can then work with and develop that partnership to help improve our engine and our product,” said Bigelow.

Manufacturers must also tailor their vehicles to meet regional demand, designing components such as four-cylinder diesel engines, which take advantage of the widespread availability of affordable diesel fuel.

“The product engineering teams do extensive research in each of the markets in which we operate to make sure that we are developing a product that is suitable for not only the environment but also the driving habits of the markets in which we are selling vehicles to,” said  GM executive Michael Perez.

Thailand's dominant auto production industry, led by Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers, faces obstacles, even though it exports vehicles beyond Southeast Asia (ASEAN) to Japan, the Middle East and North America. 
 
Expansion is hampered by a shortage of labor in a country with nearly full employment. That has led to opportunities for women, who comprise nearly one-third of the workforce at some Thai auto plants. 
 
And when extensive flooding in 2011 shut down manufacturing plants and parts suppliers, upstart Indonesia briefly overtook Thailand in production, ushering in a rivalry certain to continue for many years to come.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs