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
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.
TEXT SIZE - +
— 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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Abuja Blast Impacts Lives, Livelihoods

Officials say they are looking at ways to help bombing victims and boosting security More

Cambodia Technology Adviser Criticizes Cybercrime Draft Law

Phu Leewood says current criminal code can be used to prosecute offenders and that there is no need for a separate law More

Photogallery A Year Later, Boston Remembers Deadly Marathon Bombings

City pauses to honor victims and salute emergency workers who came to their assistance in frantic moments after blasts More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid