Thai plant to serve as Ford hub

Ford Motor Co has set a lofty goal of using its Thai factory as an Asean manufacturing hub once it commences eco-car production after the Board of Investment (BoI) approves its development plan.

Ford is one of 10 automobile makers including five existing eco-car manufacturers that officially applied for the second phase of the government's eco-car scheme at the end of last month, with a combined investment of 139 billion baht.

The 10 projects are set to produce 1.58 million eco-cars with investment about 100 billion baht higher than the combined outlay from the five eco-car manufacturers in the first phase.

The existing five manufacturers are prepared to invest another 86.8 billion baht for the production of 753,000 eco-cars, while the five newcomers are prepared to spend 52 billion baht to roll out 828,000 units.

Matt Bradley, Ford's president for Southeast Asia, said the company is now ready to expand its production in Thailand into the small-car segment, which meets varying demands of Asean countries as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Ford entered Thailand in 1995 and has to date invested US$2.4 billion in production, design, distribution and services.

At present, Ford produces 280,000 vehicles a year at two factories in Rayong province, with half the output for domestic sales and half for export.

Ford set up Ford Thailand Manufacturing in 2012 at a cost of $450 million with annual production of 160,000 vehicles.

In 1997, the US car maker formed a joint venture with Mazda to operate a $1.66-billion production plant in the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate in Rayong called AutoAlliance (Thailand) or AAT. Ford accounts for half of AAT's annual production of 240,000 units.

''Thailand is now the major producer of Ford in Asean, outpacing the Vietnamese plant, which produces 20,000 units per year,” Mr Bradley said.

He said even though political turmoil has affected the country's economy in terms of investment and consumer confidence, Thailand in the long term will still boast a competitive edge over its regional peers, given its established automotive fundamentals and support by the government.

Last year, Ford sold 96,000 cars in Asean, up by 8% from 89,000 in 2012, and held a 3% market share in Asean, with sales in Thailand amounting to 51,200 cars, down 6.6%. Ford had a 4% market share in Thailand's automotive market in 2013.

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